The City of Toronto has once again told trans Torontonians that they can’t march down Yonge Street during Pride celebrations this summer.
The announcement was met with outrage at a recent Pride Trans March town hall event at the Marriott Hotel. Nicki Ward, who has created a Facebook group to gather support for a Yonge Street march, says PT should cancel the official march in protest and throw its support behind trans activists.
“When the Trans March is on Church Street you can barely tell it’s a march. It’s invisible. It gets lost in the confusion of Pride festivities,” she says. “[Pride] should go to the city and demand, not ask, for the march be on Yonge.”
This is the third year PT has requested a march permit for Yonge Street and been denied. Instead, the trans procession has marched down Church Street. But for the past two years, some activists have taken it upon themselves to march down Yonge anyway, independent of PT.
Stefonknee Wolscht, whose PT membership was revoked after she planned the first “unofficial” march in 2011, says PT must start listening to the trans community’s demands.
“Four years we have been fighting this battle,” she says. “I’m really sick and tired of it.”
Meanwhile, Mel Lisa Lebowski took aim at PT Executive Director Kevin Beaulieu, saying Pride sends a bad message to trans youth. “Pride Toronto, you are saying to trans youth ‘maybe next year you will be included, and maybe next year things will be different.’ That’s not good enough.”
Beaulieu says he is also frustrated. “Yonge Street has a real symbolic importance and the community has a desire and a demand to be there,” he says. “We tried our best to provide alternatives.”
PT offered some alternative solutions, but participants rejected most, including a proposal to change the date of the Trans March so it could begin before or after the Dyke March on Saturday afternoon of Pride weekend. Attendees, however, said this would make it impossible for community members to participate in both marches.
Many felt the city’s decision is rooted in transphobia and a deep misunderstanding of the needs of trans communities. Luka Sidaravicius, a member of the PT Trans March organizing committee, says that’s understandable, and probably an accurate assumption. “It does feel like transphobia,” he says. “That has been a complaint I have heard a lot. I think transphobia and homophobia is sometimes hard to pinpoint . . . As a trans person, that’s what I feel.”
Beaulieu says the reason for the rejection is purely logistical. Toronto Police don’t have the budget set aside for more paid police officers to manage the crowd, he says. Police also expressed concern about TTC disruption and the general inconvenience to commuters that comes with stopping traffic on Yonge Street on the Friday evening of a long weekend.
But Ward isn’t buying that. “It is absurd to argue that at 5pm of a long weekend that there will be traffic problems on Yonge Street. You can go bowling on Yonge,” she says. “If Pride Toronto can’t do this, give it to activists. Why is that not on the table? Why can’t Pride back off and take a supportive role?”
PT did not receive a written rejection from the City of Toronto. Beaulieu says city staff and Toronto Police make the decision.
“Since we received a rejection, we now re-submit for ‘plan B,’ which for the past couple years has been Church Street,” he says.
City staff involved in this decision could not be reached for comment at press time.
Beaulieu acknowledges that the city made several police officers available for last year’s “unofficial” trans march, which marched down Yonge Street immediately after the “official” Church Street march. “I imagine there’s a difference between a planned and structured road closure, and officers responding to a situation,” he says.
Beaulieu says the PT board will discuss the feedback from the Trans Pride town hall before they decide on the next step.
Davina Hader, co-chair of Queer Ontario, says she worries the city won’t issue a permit again next year, when Toronto hosts WorldPride. “We will no longer have our quaint little march on Church. We had a massive march on Yonge last year and it was very successful. We have to, and we will, march on Yonge.”
PT co-chair Sean Hillier says he plans to draft a letter to the City on behalf of the board to express its disappointment at the decision, and request that city officials reconsider. “We want to support the Trans March going down Yonge Street Friday night, and the City should approve that permit to allow that to happen,” he says. “We will approach city council to override their decision, possibly for 2013, but definitely for 2014.”
Toronto Police media relations officer Victor Kwong checked with staff at 51 Division who make decisions on summer parades and marches, but says no one had any further information.
“They aren’t even there yet,” he says. “That’s so far ahead [in the future], they haven’t even seen this . . . I will look into this further. I can’t see canceling something like this. We will definitely try to make this work because we know how important this event is for Canada.”
Xtra is following the story.