ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The Pride committee in St. John's, N.L., has reversed course and invited uniformed police officers to march in the city's Pride parade this July.
As police forces across Canada face restrictions or bans at Pride events, St. John's Pride is now welcoming uniformed members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and RCMP.
Last July, the RNC said it would play a "less visible role" at the Pride parade in Newfoundland's capital than it had in prior years, saying the force would offer traffic support but uniformed officers would not march in the procession.
The decision came at the request of Pride event organizers, who had encouraged officers to take part in the proceedings while off-duty and not in uniform in an effort to make the event "more accessible to all." The organization stressed that uniformed police would not be turned away from the parade, but encouraged officers to represent their unit in other ways like wearing T-shirts or carrying banners.
"We were semi-uninvited, where you could show up, you just couldn't tell anyone you were a police officer there," Mike Ghaney, a gay RNC constable who had written to Pride last July expressing his disappointment at the decision, said in an interview Wednesday from Corner Brook.
"That's something that LGBT officers struggle with. That you're kind of stuck between two worlds, where obviously the gay community doesn't want you there, and then you're also fighting for the right to belong in a policing community."
Growing up, Ghaney said the idea that he could both be gay and a police officer was inconceivable. Now 35 years old and married to a fellow member of the force, Ghaney said meeting other gay, lesbian and transgender police officers helped pave the way for his career.
He said the RNC has made efforts to foster a tolerant work environment, but there is always room for improvement.
Ghaney didn't dismiss organizers' concerns about inclusivity, but said he felt excluded by the uniform ban and believed it deprived people of the chance to see uniformed officers of all orientations, identities and backgrounds walking alongside the rest of the community.
"I think the police presence is so important at the parade that I felt that it would set us back in some of the progress that we have been having both internally and in working with the community," he said. "Some people are dissatisfied with the job that police are doing, and I think that's something that needs to be resolved -- not making one group avoid the other."
St. John's Pride said in a newsletter this week that organizers had met with members of the RNC and Memorial University's Black Students' Association last week and surveyed organizations for visible minorities and the LGBT community.
The group says it was agreed the organization would build on the "meaningful progress" it has made with police while ensuring the comfort of all of its members at Pride events.
"We look forward to continuing our positive relationship with St. John's Pride," RNC Chief William Janes said in a statement included in the newsletter. "Our previous participation in Pride parades has been very positive and we look forward to this summer's events."
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Pride organizers said that progress means people of all backgrounds must feel welcome at the groups event's -- including police.
"After careful deliberation, the board has decided that progress for Pride includes the continuation of the relationship between the local police and St. John's Pride," the group wrote. "The parade is to be open for all to express their identity in whatever means they deem representative. This includes the possibility that uniforms, in any capacity, represent an identity important to an individual."
Organizers said there will be a "facilitation centre" available to the public during Pride week in the event that "individuals need consultation in dealing with any issues that arise."
Halifax's police service said in February that it will not participate in this year's Pride parade amid a "national debate" about police involvement in such events, while organizers behind Vancouver’s Pride Parade have suggested officers show up in fewer numbers and leave their uniforms at home.
Pride Toronto members voted to ostensibly ban official police floats from marches and parades in January, adopting a list of demands put forward by that city’s chapter of Black Lives Matter.
The union representing Toronto's police officers in April urged the city to pull its annual Pride grant. A committee representing LGBTQ officers said it would be unacceptable for the city to give $260,000 to an event that excludes certain municipal employees.
Pride Toronto said individual LGBTQ officers were still welcome to march in the parade.
While Ghaney said he thinks Newfoundland police and Pride organizers have found a solution that suits St. John's, he isn't sure whether it would work for other cities.
"It would be great if at least people could get together and hear both sides of it," he said. "It's a case of two people being right, and how do you meet somewhere in the middle with it?"
St. John's Pride Week will run July 10 to 16.
-- By Adina Bresge in Halifax
The Canadian Press