Opinion
3 min

The future may be bleak for Pride Toronto, but queer and trans communities are vibrant

‘We want an end to instruments of oppression in our celebration — now and going forward’

Black Lives Matter march during the 2017 Toronto Pride parade. Credit: Nick Lachance/Xtra

The various communities of queer and trans folks in Toronto have pretty strong feelings about the presence of police in the city’s annual Pride parade. Two years ago, a great majority of us voted to keep officers out, for very good reasons.

Then on Oct 16, Pride Toronto announced that police were welcome once again to apply to participate — two days after the announcement of the organization’s annual general meeting (AGM).

Pride Toronto has a passionate membership who cares deeply about the issue of police presence in Pride, and we have a board who is contravening their membership’s direction — giving us no lucid reason why.

I attended the AGM last night; as a voting member, I expected it to be intense. But I did not expect the shitshow that ensued.

Half an hour after the start time listed on the agenda, the chair, Andrea van der Heijden, called the meeting to order — or rather, she didn’t. She said we could have a Q-and-A about policing in Pride before officially opening the meeting. They also warned that the meeting could be adjourned if we were not making movement on the items — it felt like a threat.

One of the questions was by Michael Erickson, a community advocate and co-owner of Glad Day Bookshop. Erickson asked what are the consequences, financial or personal, for the board if they do not allow police to march in the parade. I don’t know about personal, but it seems clear by looking at Pride’s financial statement that any financial consequence could be dire. The organization is deeply in debt, more and more each year.

There must be a reason that the Pride board and its executive director have gone against their membership, and money has always certainly been a great influencer of reasoning. Many people are demanding that that Pride Toronto be candid about what’s at stake, but I understand why they cannot.

I’ve been involved in boards and executives and non-profits and all such before. There are often things you must keep confidential, such as a legally binding agreement or a financial ultimatum. However, the way they have led this “conversation” has lacked transparency and credibility.

First, the timing of the announcement made it ineligible to be placed on the AGM agenda, even though it was top of mind for members. Second, Pride allowed a non-official discussion about the police to begin the meeting guaranteeing that people would be too riled up to move on. Third, they adjourned the meeting without addressing the one demand that could have allowed things to proceed: scheduling a separate special general meeting, with voting about this specific issue. This was asked multiple times.

However, it looks like it is going to happen anyway — we have the power to call an SGM with the agreement of 10 percent of the membership.

But why would Pride Toronto want to sabotage their own meeting? It may have something to do with the fact that the auditor, who is required to answer questions honestly, didn’t get to present the financial statement.

The only answer I have is that there is no way for Pride Toronto to continue as it is, a non-profit corporation, without funding. The organization would lose if they continue to exclude cops from the parade. The community expressed the desire for a more grassroots event, and theoretically, they could scale back expenditures and expected revenue — but they can’t scale back liability.

Huge stages with big name stars draw large cash-spending attendance numbers, which is one way to get back in the black. There must be a lot more going on that I’m not privy to, but this situation is what I read in the financial statement.

The future may be bleak for Pride Toronto, but Toronto’s queer and trans community is vibrant. We know what we want: an end to instruments of oppression in our celebration. We know when we want it: now, and going forward.

Allowing Pride’s membership to vote on an issue we care deeply about may lead to Pride Toronto’s financial bankruptcy — but I propose that it is worth it, to avoid moral bankruptcy.