Opinion
4 min

It’s time to downsize Pride

The bigger Pride gets, the less it reflects our community, our history and our values

People gather for the Toronto Pride Parade on June 25, 2017. Credit: Nick Lachance/Xtra

Pride Toronto has found itself in controversy yet again. Its annual general meeting on Dec 4, opened with questions about Toronto Police Service’s participation next summer — a response to the decision by executive director Olivia Nuamah and the Pride Toronto board to invite TPS to submit an application to march in the 2019 parade.

That invitation goes against the wishes of much of the membership and places in jeopardy the idea that Pride Toronto is a member-run organization. And it has plunged the organization into a battle with its membership, as evidenced by anger and frustration expressed at the AGM. The board decided to adjourn the meeting minutes into the formal agenda.

During the question session, Nuamah was asked about the rationale to invite police to apply to participate in the parade. She said it was an “operational” decision. What she means was not made entirely clear, but one might suspect that money was at stake.

The question of money and the ballooning costs involved in staging the massive and ever-expanding annual event are at the heart of this. Pride could have handled all of this differently with a different vision and strategy. No growth is one option. A smaller Pride is another.

If we couple no growth with a smaller Pride, queers might be onto something important. Queers might begin to lead on climate change, on sustainability, on reducing the carbon footprint, on demonstrating that bigger is not always better. Queers could lead by rejecting the notion that our traditions and cultures have to be capitalized and turned into a spectacle to attract sponsors and burnish our world-class city credentials. Queers could lead on helping to save this planet. But that would call for leadership, bravery and thinking about the future differently.

In the context of welcoming police back into Pride, Nuamah, along with Minister of Finance Bill Morneau, announced a $450,000 funding package for Pride Toronto from the Liberal government to study public safety and policing among LGBTQ2S communities across the country.

The funding did not go to Pride Canada, a national umbrella organization, or organizations with experience and expertise in investigation and policy research like Queer Ontario and Egale. Instead, Pride Toronto, a local body that runs a month-long festival will now lead a travelling national consultation tour. Surely, something is up?

In an email blast, Pride Toronto said that 2.5 million people attended the last year’s festival. The number was sent out as a measure of success and growth, a triumph. The bigger the better, the more the merrier — a sentiment that seems to frame summer festivals of all kinds. But Pride isn’t just any summer festival. Pride is a reminder that the nation and the state have tremendous power over the lives of minorities in their midst.

In fact, since 2019 marks 50 years of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada, you would think that Pride TO would be keen to both remind queers and communities beyond of how the state can impact our lives negatively and to reckon with the fact that what the state gives, it too can take away.

The securing of LGBTQ2 rights are only wins and successes as long as we remain vigilant: legislative change can reverse them. In this era of populism, it’s not scaremongering to suggest that hard-won rights and freedoms are facing repeals and challenges subtle and not — issues related to labour and migration stand out.

Recently in Taiwan the religious right organized and won a referendum rejecting same-sex marriage. It is fantastical thinking to believe LGBTQ2 rights are settled in Toronto and Canada. In fact, we know that the current Ontario premier will likely not attend the parade for reasons we can only speculate about (family cottage time was given when he was a city councillor and his brother was mayor) but in our bones we know to be something else.

As far as queer communities are concerned, Toronto has, in the past few years, witnessed questionable tactics on the part of police, to put it mildly. From the inadequate investigation of the deaths of trans people, to the ignoring of community insights and suspicions that a serial killer was on the hunt in the gay village, to the chief of police blaming the community for the serial killer’s time at large, policing for queer communities has been in crisis.

Add to this mix the ongoing harassment of sex workers, BIPOC queer young people, and trans people, and policing is quite frankly a disaster. So why invite them back without any reckoning? I believe it is in part because of a faulty logic of growth. I believe those running Pride have come to believe that bigger means something it does not actually mean. I think they believe that bigger means rights are guaranteed. I think they believe that bigger means we can’t go back. I have to tell them that their logic is all wrong.

Two-and-a-half-million people — and the idling trucks, the waste generated, the carbon emissions from tourists — is a hell of a footprint in these times of accelerated climate change. If Pride has a future it is with young people, and if young people have a future it is up to us now to begin fixing the climate and the planet. Can Pride TO continue to grow unabated without thinking about the climate? I would bargain that it cannot. In this context then a no-growth smaller Pride is urgently needed. A Pride without the police, the corporations and their marketing trucks and a Pride not brought to us by TD Bank.

Instead let’s renew Pride by being future-oriented. The first Pride in Toronto was a picnic. Given Pride TO’s current intractable problems let’s go back to the future. Let’s meet in High Park, wander among the trees and brush, rekindle radical sex cultures in the bushes, play tennis on the courts, feed the geese in the ponds, fish, barbecue, sit on blankets and sip wine out of brown paper bags and plot a new world. A new world in which future generations will not have to worry about climate change or their rights being subject to the political whims of their time.

Who’s meeting me in the park?