Black Lives Matter – Toronto (BLMTO)’s move to demand a more racially inclusive Pride parade descended into a heated debate over police presence at the event. The dispute has put a whole new spin to the Pride Toronto 2016 slogan “you can sit with us.”
BLMTO staged a 25 minutes long sit-in during the Pride parade on Sunday, asking the organisation to address the deeply embedded “anti-blackness of the festival.” They presented a list of nine demands, eight of which were asking the organisation to secure better support and independence for black events and cultural groups during Pride. The last one required that police floats and booths be excluded from Pride marches and community events.
Pride Toronto’s executive director Mathieu Chantelois signed the document and the march continued. Supporters were not yet finished cheering what they called an epic win for inclusivity, when Chantelois changed his tune.
“Frankly, Black Lives Matter is not going to tell us that there is no more floats anymore in the parade.” He told local news station CP24 on Monday. “It is definitely bigger than me and my committee. That is the kind of decision that needs to be made by the community.”
Pride Toronto announced they would meet with Toronto police to discuss their representation in future festivities. There is still no word about any “community” consultation.
Black Lives Matter’s move has been widely and harshly criticized by more conservative elements in the mainstream press. Globe and Mail published a column calling them bullies, National Post’s Barbara Kay accused them of trying to guilt white people into victimizing black people. Some voices on social media and from within the LGBT community echoed similar, if more nuanced sentiments.
They generally earned a lot of heat for rocking the celebration by drawing attention to the politicized issue of racial equality. It is especially ironic, considering that Pride Toronto decided to make them a “honoured group” for that very reason.
In an interview with CBC, Rodney Divelrus, co-founder of BLMTO, tried to highlight that the fight for black rights can not be separated from the fight for LGBT rights:
“I really want to challenge that discourse that separates black issues versus LGBT issues. Because what it does is silence the thousands and thousands of people who live in the middle and the thousands and thousands of people who want to come to Pride and feel included, but cannot because of the police.”
Including the Police More Important than Including Minorities?
A gay police officer pleaded against a ban on police floats in an open letter to Toronto Pride, published on Monday. Constable Chuck Krangle said that BLMTO’s intervention made him fear that his first participation at the parade would also be his last.
“Police officers are significantly represented in the LGBTQ community and it would be unacceptable to alienate and discriminate against them and those who support them. They (too) struggled to gain a place and workplace free from discrimination and bias… exclusion does not promote inclusion,” he wrote.
Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, insists that Toronto Pride should present excuses to police forces for signing the document in the first place.
“I’m not surprised at Black Lives Matter and their shenanigans, but when people who are the organizers of this sign a document basically saying police shouldn’t be involved … I think our officers are feeling betrayed,” declared McCormack.
Black Lives Matter Toronto assured that their fight was against the increasing presence of police delegations at pride, not the participation of LGBTQ2 officers.
“To be clear, we said, ‘No floats. No police floats,” said BLMTO co-founder Janaya Khan. “there are LGBTQ police officers on the force and we have no right to say whether or not they should participate”.
Khan, who identifies as a member of the black and the gay community, insisted that their goal was to make Pride more inclusive. She argued that the abundance of uniformed policemen “caused deep and grave concern because of the distrust that exists.”
Khan pointed out the LGBT community’s lack of sensitivity to black issues. She had previously called attention to the racism her BLM colleagues faced during a Pride Mural revealing. “Remember. White pride is still White Pride,” she wrote on Facebook. “some of y’all will be waving that gay flag as quickly as the confederate.”
The Place of a “Political Agenda” in Pride Parades
One million people attended this year’s pride parade in Toronto. Toronto’s Mayor, Ontario’s Premier and Canada’s Prime Minister were among them. Canadians everywhere retweeted pictures of the politicians, celebrating how inclusive and progressive our country has become.
Black Lives Matter interrupted our collective moment of patting ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come as a society by reminding us of how far we still have to go. And people resent them for it.
“We’re supposed to be celebrating … and now what are we talking about? We’re talking about Black Lives Matter and them hijacking the parade to facilitate a political agenda,” said the president of the Toronto Police Association (a sentiment apparently shared by a fair part of the public).
The mere fact that the presence of a political agenda at a Pride parade comes as a surprise is a big testament of how far we’ve come in a short time span. The first Pride parade was a protest against police brutality.
In 1969, a police raid in New-York’s gay bar Stonewall Inn descended into violence and triggered days of protests and riots in the LGBT community. Primarily lead by trans women of colour, the Pride movement spread across the country and across borders.
Toronto staged the first edition of what would soon become their Pride parade in 1981 to protest against a series of police raids on gay bathhouses. Toronto’s police apologized for those raids just last month.
Over the years, the Stonewall marches’ image went from controversial to inspirational. It is very telling that Hollywood made a movie about them just last year. Even more telling is how horrifically whitewashed this movie turned out to be.
Police brutality and discrimination is recent past for the LGBTQ2 community, but it is a very present issue for people of colour.
It would be wilful blindness to think that LGBTQ2’s plight is over when homosexuality remains illegal in 74 countries. North Carolina’s recent bathroom bill and Orlando’s shooting were a sharp reminder that legal persecution and rampant homophobia are an ongoing issue in western countries as well.
However LGBTQ activists are not the controversial topic they once were; politicians support them openly without walking on eggshells, companies sponsor them to show they are on the right side of history. We can and should celebrate that, but should also remember how we got there.
* Featured image by Hector Vasquez (BlogTO, Creative Commons Licence)