On Thursday morning, a day after the Vancouver Pride Society announced that police will not be welcome at Pride festivities this year, Elenore Sturko woke up to discover a tweet she had sent the night before was all over the news.
Her words had gone viral.
“When we wear our uniforms and participate in Pride events, we do so not only to stand within our community, but to stand up to discrimination within our own institutions,” Sturko said in the Twitter post.
The RCMP corporal immediately phoned her senior officers to report the situation.
“I’ve got six-year-old twins and an eight-year-old. The last thing I needed was to have a viral tweet,” said Sturko, who has been with the RCMP for 11 years, and married to her partner, Melissa, for 12.
The response from her commanding officer, Jennifer Strachan, was immediate: “She said, ‘We’re cheering you on.’ ”
Sturko didn’t mute or delete negative or inflammatory responses to her tweet: She wants to engage in the conversation.
While Sturko says she is disheartened by the Society ban, she wants to be clear:
“I am in solidarity with our need to address racism, discrimination and the excessive use of force, and it is true that not everyone feels safe in the presence of police, and that needs to be addressed.”
Sturko said participating openly in Pride is a significant way for uniformed officers to be role models within their own institutions.
“Being a part of the events gives us a way to engage with the public in a non-enforcement way, and to role-model diversity and inclusion,” she said.
Addressing discrimination within the RCMP is deeply personal for Sturko. She is the niece of RCMP officer David Van Norman, who was purged from the Mounties and forced to resign in 1964 because he was gay.
Sturko says her role within the force, as spokeswoman for Canada’s largest RCMP detachment in Surrey, represents significant changes in institutional culture, policy, attitudes and actions.
“Part of what got us to the place where we are now within the RCMP is activism, externally and internally,” Sturko said. “When I’m marching in a parade, or working at a booth giving out information as an ‘out’ person, I am showing people in our LGBT community that they can maybe see a place for themselves within our institution.
“We need diversity and people in minority groups so that we all have a place at the table, so when policies and decisions are being made and actions are being taken they can be a reflection of everybody.”
Sturko is urging other uniformed officers not to be defensive about the Society’s decision. “There is a lot of listening yet to be done,” she said.
On a personal level, though, the Pride ban is tough.
“I’m proud to be a member of the LGBTQ community,” she said.
The Society joined community calls to defund the police Wednesday, and said in a statement that law enforcement, including correctional officers, are “not welcome to march in the Vancouver Pride Parade or exhibit at our festivals.”
According to the Society, this action is being taken in solidarity with those around the globe who are denouncing police brutality after the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others.
—With files from Tiffany Crawford and Harrison Mooney