At Toronto’s Pride Parade this July, Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO), an honorary guest of the event, stopped the parade in protest for 30 minutes. At the time of the parade, then-executive director Mathieu Chantelois signed BLMTO’s list of demands, which included a commitment to increase representation on Pride Toronto staff, to prioritize the hiring of black and indigenous women and trans individuals, and to exclude police floats from the parade. Watching the action unfold on Twitter was nearly as disturbing as could be imagined, with many white straight and queer folks managing to unite on one thing—their racism. People called this peaceful protest a hostage taking, they claimed it was violent, that it wasn’t the right time. But what better time than a tradition that came out of the work of black and brown lesbian and trans people to silently protest the oppression present in the queer community?
The days following the parade were tenuous. Chantelois spoke out to the media to say that he had only signed off on the petition to get the parade moving and that Pride would continue a discussion with BLMTO about their list of demands. His flip-flopping showed an obvious lack of concern for the lives of black queer people who have historically had problems with representation in queer spaces. Naturally, reactions to Chantelois’s backtracking were not positive and he gave his resignation in early August.
Following the departure of Mr. Chantelois, PrideTO held two town halls on August 30th and 31st. First was attended by BLMTO, where they spoke about their concerns of being carded while attending Pride events (carding is a controversial police tactic that largely targets men of colour). Despite wanting to ban police floats and booths, BLMTO is open to the inclusion of LGBT officers. In a conversation with CityNews in July, Janaya Khan, a member of BLMTO said, “We believe they should not have police floats and we believe they should not be in uniform and they should not be armed. That type of police presence within the parade itself is inherently problematic and creates very exclusive space for police officers and excludes marginalized communities from participating in the parade.”
In most recent developments, on September 19th Pride Toronto released a non-committal and lacklustre apology on their website. In an era of Twitter and celebrities spouting opinions they shouldn’t, we are all used to non-apologies, but we expect better from community organizations that are supposed to represent queer people. The apology that can be found on pridetoronto.com is a mix of regret for the longstanding “history of anti-blackness and repeated marginalization of the marginalized within our community,” but they also chose to summarize what they saw as successes in the 2016 Pride. The statement is contradictory because while they affirm their commitment to upholding the promises they made when they signed the list of nine demands from BLMTO, they also follow up by saying that they will begin a “Dispute Resolution Process” that was created in 2012 after the controversy surrounding the inclusion of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. The decision about the inclusion of police floats will be made through the DRP, directly contradicting the initial agreement PrideTO made with BLMTO.
In a glaring example of the flip-flopping that has been characteristic of this organization, they said in their statement that “there has been an unbelievable amount of racism expressed by members of our community through this organization. For that, we are sorry. Individuals who proudly serve our communities in law enforcement and other roles in public safety have felt unfairly attacked and targeted by the community that it turns to for love and support. For that, we are sorry.” If this apology was supposed to be for those who have been marginalized in our community, apologizing to a group of people who chose an occupation that oppresses and targets, instead of serving and protecting, then they have surely missed the mark.
In an exchange with Vice, Hashim Yussuf, a spokesperson for BLMTO, said that “it was a very long statement but there wasn’t really much [that was] concrete. There hasn’t been much work that we’ve seen from them that shows they are committed to meeting our demands.” He also told Vice that Pride Toronto has not had any direct communication with BLMTO since the parade, and the organization found out about the “apology” from a post on social media. Not only did Pride Toronto post a vague, contradictory, non-committal, non-personal apology, but they also chose not to send it directly to the group who was affected by their unprofessional handling of a situation.
What this saga says about the current state of queer communities is that anti-blackness and racism, in general, are a problem. Queer communities are not a utopia for everyone and even large organizing bodies like PrideTO have fallen short when it comes to handling groups with intersecting marginalizations. As this article is being written, Terence Crutcher was murdered by Officer Betty Shelby in Tulsa and Keith Lamont Scott was murdered by Officer Brentley Vinson in Charlotte. In Canada, we’ve seen the deaths of Abdirahman Abdi, Andrew Loku, and Jermaine Carby, to name a few. Toronto still enforces carding that unfairly targets men of colour. There is no question why queer black folk don’t want people in a parade that started in opposition to police violence and raids, who are literally gunning down those who look like us daily across North America. Extrajudicial killings are at the forefront of civil rights discussions, so the exclusion of uniformed officers from Pride Parades seems simple. For those targeted more frequently by police brutality and structural violence, the presence of uniformed officers is a reminder that even our celebrations aren’t safe. That these people can kill us, and the institution that creates this structure of power can still be showcased in parades for those who are affected by this the most.
Basically, the queer community has a problem. Our communities aren’t void of anti-black racism. And there is going to have to be a significant amount of introspection to challenge the structures of racism that have been in place for centuries and threaten the lives of those in our community.