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Pride at the VPMA- our newest acquisition

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

Written by Marketing and Communications manager Christie Strauss

A belated happy Pride from all of us here at the Vancouver Police Museum and Archives (VPMA).

We were delighted to meet the inspirational Susan Cooper and conduct an interview with her in June. During our interview Susan generously donated numerous photos, newspaper cuttings and most excitingly, a banner from the 1998 Pride Parade to our collection.

Susan worked within the Vancouver Prison system in the 1990s and was part of an incredible group of humans making the push for 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion within the uniformed officer’s departments; the prisons, police, and fire departments. “The Law Enforcement Gays and Lesbians, that’s before they were doing the whole (acronym)”, I made a face and Susan bubbled into contagious good-natured laughter. Hearing my community referred to as simply Gays and Lesbians, and not even Lesbians first as is customary caught me completely off-guard. I needed help to understand the Queer experience of the 1990s. Susan deftly painted a picture; “I’m feminist, I’m going to SFU, I’m doing a crim. degree…and well, you know, they (referring to a feminist group she volunteered with) weren’t thrilled when I put on a uniform…Others didn’t feel like they could come out... Corrections had the advantage of the inmates living together and there are gay people. And so in corrections there's that whole side of backing so we were also kinda representing inmates.”

Susan Cooper and two other Legal BC banner holders, 1998.

The banner was generously donated to the VPMA by Susan in June of 2023.

The banner that Susan has donated originated within the Prison system, sewed by inmates from the Burnaby Correction Centre for Women. It was the ceremonial banner leading BC Legal, those who identified or supported Queer people within the uniformed officers, used in the 1998 Parade. “It (the banner) was made by incredibly talented people. They (the inmates) were paid like $1.20 a day.” The museum Curator, Sasha asked if the inmates had volunteered to sew the banner. Enthusiastically Susan said, “They knew what I was doing, and who I was. They volunteered to sew it... The Queen Bees of the women's prison backed me…The Inmate Committee and Sewing Program chose to make it and they chose the colours too.” But it wasn’t just the inmates supporting Susan. “Les was a straight ally and bridged the Oakalla boys” Some of the old guard who had been transferred from Oakalla Prison to Burnaby. “He stood up for us and you'll see him marching in flip-flops. He loved Pride and (like) all those straight guys that showed up for us (he) had the time of his life.”

The Parade of 1998 saw greater support for the Queer community within Corrections and Police, with people such as Les stepping in, however more support was still needed, “I got my friends out. We were few. Just most from BCCW and Surrey Pretrial, we had no outreach to other facilities. They were there to support me and Marshall and the Vancouver Officers.”

Marshall Smith left and Susan Cooper right, 1998

The Marshall Susan mentioned is Marshall Smith, the Chief of Staff for Mental Health and Addiction in Alberta, and was one of the driving forces of Legal BC. Susan had met Marshall at Holly Open Custody Center, “(it was) the most desirable place in BC Corrections to work ‘cause you play games with the kids, do crafts, a little case management and even community outings. That is why the senior officers who were laterally transferring from the just closed Oakalla came to youth system before retiring.” It was Susan, Marshall and a small team who helped inspire other officers in different departments to come together to create Legal BC. Whilst the banner was used in the Parade, many of the photographs show the speech given by Marshall, “I was his speech writer, and he’s giving this speech and the crowd’s really getting into it…it was just a really fun speech. And that was really the highlight of our lives, for sure….And then ‘99 we’re gone. And then we came back. We made a resurgence. This is my very brief history with this person”, Susan passes a newspaper cutting, a half sigh muffled by the rustling of pages, “unfortunately this is their obituary. Cindy. Big Cins. She’s the reason Pride uniforms and the parade became huge again, she was so hot on the fire truck with the hose.”

Cindy Kampmeinert passed away in 2008 after a motorcycle accident in India. She along with a small group of firefighters were integral to the later inclusion of the Vancouver Fire Department into the Pride Parade, although they were not the first firefighters to march. “So that’s when the Pride parade kinda lost…” Sasha offered the end to the sentence, “Lost momentum?” And Susan helped us close the interview, “I don’t know what they did after that. And then the Black Lives Matter, and people weren’t marching in uniforms…It is a tough loss as it really empowered officers working within old school environments.”

Susan Cooper marching in the Pride Parade, 1998

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has a complicated past with Pride. Pride is and has always been a protest. Behind the biodegradable glitter, celebrations and signs of love there is a history, and a present of discrimination and persecution. Following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 the VPD was asked to not participate in the Pride Parade in uniform, before being told they were not welcome. This came about due to many in the community, not just People of Colour, not feeling safe or respected.

There is not enough space within this blog to delve into this matter properly, and I do not presume as a white cis-gendered woman, living within a heteronormative facing relationship who is also newly immigrated to Canada to have any of the answers.

However as a staff member of the VPMA I would like to suggest that museums are keepers of history, that they endeavor to be safe spaces to have difficult conversations, and all museums need to faithfully present and represent our communities' past. A donation of this caliber allows the VPMA to better tell the diverse and important stories that up until recently have been more covert. Susan, thank you! Your donation and the time you’ve taken to talk with us and share your stories have inspired us and helped the Vancouver Police Museum and Archives tell more of the stories that matter.


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