On a sunny afternoon, dozens of community members, activists, journalists and politicians gathered outside of Toronto City Hall for the annual Pride flag raising.
The mood was celebratory on May 31, 2017, and the speeches all touched on themes of diversity and inclusion. The only sign that a divisive vote on defunding the Pride festival had taken place only days before was a lone protester and a few veiled references to “necessary conversations.”
“We will come together this year and work through our differences,” said city Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. “We will listen to each other, not just with our ears, but our open hearts.”
Unlike his predecessor, Mayor John Tory has shown up at every Pride flag raising.
“I’m not going to stand here and pretend that the work in Toronto, the work in addressing those issues is done,” he said.
But the one word that Tory didn’t say — nor did any of the other speakers — was “police.”
The controversy over the ban on uniformed police officers marching in the Pride parade continues to be the backdrop against which many people are viewing this year’s march, but no one was interested in dampening the mood by addressing it directly.
“Pride was a catalyst for conversation about belonging, about representation, about inclusion,” said Alica Hall, co-chair of Pride Toronto’s board. “It invited discussion about our shared experiences and our differences.”
She said she considers last year’s festival a success, and noted that Pride has always jumped into talking about important issues like the HIV/AIDS epidemic or same-sex marriage.
The implication was that anti-black racism and police violence were issues of similar urgency, though she never said it outright.
Two of the councillors who voted last week to defund Pride Toronto — Justin Di Ciano and Gary Crawford — came to the event itself, along with 11 who voted to maintain funding. But John Campbell, the Etobicoke councillor who brought forward the motion, was nowhere to be found.
The trans flag was raised along with the rainbow flag on the same pole, a symbolic gesture indicating the importance of trans rights.
“We raise both flags today recognizing that there are members of our community who continue to struggle for recognition and for acceptance,” Hall said.
But the one message that all the speakers had, was that Pride is political.
Tory acknowledged that Pride’s “political roots” still exist, even if most people experience the festival as more of a celebration.
“We will march in the trans march, the dyke march and the pride march because Pride is political, Pride is intersectional,” Wong-Tam said.
“Our marches and parades remind us that Pride was, is and continues to be a political movement,” Hall said.