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Black Lives Matter to be honoured group at Toronto Pride

Activist group hopes to inject political message back into the festivities

Members of Black Lives Matter Toronto, which will be Pride Toronto’s honoured group for the 2016 festivities.  Credit: Pride Toronto

When Black Lives Matter Toronto found out that it had been selected to be the honoured group for Pride Toronto’s 2016 parade, the group had some initial hesitance.

“We have sat down with folks on the ground and in the community who have been betrayed by Pride historically,” says Janaya Khan, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.

Khan, who uses the pronoun they, says that queer and trans black people are rarely at the centre of the celebrations.

“We also know that historically Pride has not been about our pride,” they say. “Not just about our black pride, but our pride as black queer and trans people.”

“And so when you’re asked by an organization to be their honoured group, you have to process things. Is this partly being tokenized?”

That wariness hasn’t gone away.

“I’m going to level with you here. The reality is we don’t know that Pride will do that,” they say. “We only can control what we’re going to do with it.”

Aaron GlynWilliams, co-chair of Pride Toronto, says that he understands some of that reluctance and distrust.

“There are still issues of anti-blackness within LGBT communities that I think the group wanted to be sure we were committed to addressing and also speaking to as part of our event,” he says.

Khan says that the invitation from Pride Toronto is a positive first step.

“I think that this is an important gesture that they’ve reached out to us, especially considering the reality of the times,” they say.

“The issues that Black Lives Matter Toronto are fighting for are LGBT issues,” GlynWilliams says. “Fighting for equality and fighting against discrimination is very much a part of the lived experience of our community and again achieves all of our goals.”

The presence of Black Lives Matter Toronto will give the Pride festivities a radical political element, a quality that some critics have said has been lacking in the past. And Khan wants to capitalize on that.

“We want to hold Pride accountable and take up space in a particular way that shifts those narratives and makes people uncomfortable, that makes Pride political again,” Khan says.

In addition to participating in the parade, Black Lives Matter Toronto will also be leading a human rights panel during Pride Week.

“I think it was important that this was a commitment to not only honouring them with this role but also starting the conversation with the broader community,” GlynWilliams says.

This year, Pride Toronto will also be remembering the 35th anniversary of Operation Soap and the uprising that followed.

Khan sees inspiration in those events for what radical activism can look like.

“That history of resistance and defiance, the protesting that happened as a result of that type of oppression I think is incredibly important and was transformative,” they say.

And while many white, cisgender people in the LGBT community see police violence and oppression as something that happened in the past, Khan says it’s still a reality for black, racialized and indigenous LGBT people.

“In Pride, there is often a delegation of police who are there, waving and shaking hands,” they say. “And that’s not the relationship that black queer and trans people have, and radicalized queer and trans people have with the police. It never has been.”

Khan says they’ve already seen pushback to Black Lives Matter Toronto’s involvement in Pride. But making people uncomfortable and challenging the status quo is what they want out of this.

“The question I want to ask the community and for anyone who has an issue with Black Lives Matter being the honoured group, instead of asking why, why Black Lives Matter, why should it be about them, ask why not?” they say.

“Why should we not have a year that focuses on black liberation and black lives and black queer and trans people? Because we do exist.”