Activists in support of Black Lives Matter Toronto are encouraged by the outcome of Pride Toronto’s recent annual general meeting, where a majority of members voted to accept a list of demands for upcoming festivities. However, not everyone is celebrating.
On Jan 17, 2017, two Pride Toronto members put forth a motion that the organization officially endorse and carry out all of the demands that Black Lives Matter presented last summer during a sit-in protest that saw the Toronto Pride Parade halted for 30 minutes.
The list of nine demands includes increased funding for community stages, more diverse representation in Pride Toronto’s staffing, and, most controversially, the removal of police floats and booths from all Pride marches, parades, and community spaces.
Alexandria Williams, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, says watching last Tuesday’s meeting unfold and hearing the community’s response that night made her very happy.
“I don’t know if I can place in words or be eloquent enough to describe the emotion of seeing something you knew actually come to light and not just be a theory in your mind,” Williams says. “I was happy but it was also sort of an out-of-body experience.”
Williams says she and others from Black Lives Matter Toronto came to the meeting to see who would be elected to the board, and to learn where they stand on various issues. She says she was pleasantly surprised when community members independent of Black Lives Matter Toronto put forward the motion to support their list of demands.
“It’s part of the reason I love to do the work that I do because when you’re able to ignite or invoke something in someone else for them to step up and make those decisions, to make change in the spaces that they utilize and places that they love. It’s beautiful.”
It was members Gwen Bartleman and Kami Chisholm who asked Pride Toronto to officially endorse all of Black Lives Matter’s demands.
Gary Kinsman, a long-time activist and a founding member of the Toronto Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee, seconded Bartleman’s initial motion and describes the vote as a “very, very significant development” and an attempt to “return Pride back to its more community-oriented and . . . radical roots.”
Kinsman says the demand to exclude uniformed police forces from participating in Pride festivities is important.
“Not only are the police attacking black people and other people of colour and trans people who are black and all sorts of other groups in our society, but they’ve also reverted to much more overtly doing sting operations against consensual queer sex among men,” he says, referring to the recent undercover sting at Marie Curtis Park.
He says it’s worth remembering that Pride was born in response to the Stonewall Riots —a rebellion against police oppression in New York City — and that the 1981 bathhouse raids in Toronto gave rise to the first Lesbian and Gay Pride Day here.
“When we remember all that, it was not only a significant victory for Black Lives Matter and people who support it, [but also] people who are very concerned about police violence and repression,” he says.
But not everyone shares Kinsman’s view.
Danielle Bottineau, LGBTQ liaison officer for the Toronto Police Service, says she was saddened and disheartened by Tuesday’s meeting.
“Where we go from here I don’t know. We’re waiting to sit down and chat with Pride Toronto, if that’s going to happen,” Bottineau says, adding it’s not clear to her how or if the new board (elected after the vote on Black Lives Matter’s demands) will be implementing those demands.
Pride Toronto did not respond to Xtra’s request for an interview.
Bottineau says the Toronto Police Service has not received any information from Pride Toronto about changes to this year’s Pride events and so far no meeting has been scheduled between them. Bottineau admits that if uniformed officers are banned, it will hurt the bridges built between the police and LGBT communities.
“Will that relationship possibly be fractured? Absolutely. But it doesn’t mean we’re going to change as a service doing the ongoing community outreach,” she says.
Community member Bryn Hendricks says he was disgusted by the way Tuesday’s meeting was “hijacked,” and believes there should be a change in Pride Toronto’s board of directors. He says he wholeheartedly supports Black Lives Matter, especially as a Métis man, but he thinks the decision to exclude uniformed officers would be wrong.
“The police have been there supporting our community for quite some time now and building those bridges has not been easy,” he says.
Hendricks designed a poster decrying Pride Toronto and stating, “The Toronto Police can stand with me. I won’t be at Pride without them.” He brought the poster to the Toronto Pride office and shared it on social media.
“It’s a publicity stunt most certainly, and it’s done for the Toronto police because they should be in the parade,” he says. “I think just that Black Lives Matter are denying our community the policies we’ve been working towards for years. We’ve been fighting for the same kinds of rights that they as an organization are fighting for.”
Christine Drummond echoes these sentiments. She started a Change.org petition imploring Pride Toronto to allow police services to march and be present in uniform at this year’s festivities. At the time of publication, the online petition had over 7,400 signatures.
“Things needed to be discussed, things needed to be agreed upon. It shouldn’t have been a one-sided vote,” Drummond says. “I found it very, very hurtful considering I have a lot of friends that are LGBTQ officers and who are allied officers as well.”
Drummond sits on the Ottawa Police Service’s GLBT Liaison Committee but emphasizes that she made the petition as a private citizen, not on behalf of this or any other group she’s affiliated with. She plans to deliver the petition to Toronto Pride in person along with some of the comments people have made when signing.
She says the Black Lives Matter demands run counter to spirit of Pride.
“Pride is based on inclusion,” she says. “At the end of the day, officers can’t take off their uniform. They can’t. They’re a police officer 24-7, 365 days a year. It’s part of who they are.”
But this sentiment that all officers are being categorically excluded is one of the biggest misconceptions about Black Lives Matter’s demands, says Williams.
“What we’re doing is trying to make sure that everyone in the community feels safe and feels welcomed. As long as [officers] come not in uniform, they’re welcome to be there. How else would we know that they’re cops?” she says.
Williams says Black Lives Matter is not trying to tell officers — especially LGBT officers — they can’t come to Pride, but the group is telling them they can’t represent their occupation. She says officers in uniform are a threatening symbol for members of black and other minority communities.
“Imagine what that would be like when you’re trying to celebrate and that symbolic representation of physical, mental, emotional violence is not only holding the flag but is taking up space in that celebration,” Williams says.
Williams says in the wake of Tuesday’s meeting she’s been receiving a huge amount of love and support. She says Pride Toronto’s membership showed overwhelming support, and for the board to go against the wishes of its members would be detrimental.
“If Pride decides to not follow through with the demands, as always we’ll see what the community wants to do and move from there,” she says. “There’s always a plan.”