For those who are unaware, the Toronto Pride Parade was on 3 July this year. Usually the parade is pretty uneventful for the erudite. It can be a fun and colourful event (and has some significance when it’s your first), but it’s pretty repetitive (especially the one in Toronto). Same floats, same corporations pretending to care, same organisations, etc. This year, however, something pretty significant happened during pride. No, I’m not talking about Prime Minister Trudeau’s participation in the parade (I couldn’t care less about that in all honesty). Nor I am talking about the 34 years too late apology by the police for the Toronto bathhouse raids in the 80s (what about reparation?). I’m talking about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest during the parade. The group, composed largely of black queer people – supported by other people of colour and indigenous people (POCIP) – stopped the parade for 25 min to make demands to Pride Toronto. The demands were mostly more inclusion of POCIP in pride. One, however, shocked a great many people: the removal of the police as participants in pride events. The executive director of pride accepted the demands, only to backtrack in part the next day. We will see how things progress, but I doubt BLM will simply give up (thankfully).
I will admit forthright that I never thought the police had a place in pride (nor any other similarly oppressive institution like border guards or the army). I don’t have an issue with individuals working in those institutions attending pride as private citizen, but the representation of the violent arm of the state in pride has increasingly made me uneasy. These institutions have a history of oppression towards queer people, a history that hasn’t ended. Let’s not forget that pride, in Toronto, started as a protest against police raids on queer establishments. Let’s not forget that queer POCIP and sex workers are still being oppressed by the police and others daily. Until those institutions are completely reformed (or abolished), I do not see a place for them in what is a political manifestation of queerness, (in less jargon) a celebration of sexual and gender diversity, and the freedom to embody and express that diversity. The so called “good cops” many claim shouldn’t be punished for the institution they chose to work for should work towards reform and should understand why the institution can’t participate. They should understand the importance of solidarity before personal interest. To put the right privilege of police officers to march in pride before the security of vulnerable queer people is simply morally unacceptable. Claiming that exclusion is never the answer ignores the clear power imbalance between the police and queer POCIP. It also ignores the real exclusion of queer POCIP. How can people march with pride in who they are when the people who oppress them for who they are march alongside them? They can’t. There is no place for oppression in pride, period.
The amount of people who have put the police’s image/comfort before the lives of POCIP shows why pride is in need of reconnecting with its roots. Pride is a political movement, a liberation movement for queer people. One, as most people tend to forget, that was started by trans women of colour in the US (before being kicked out of the movement by gay cis people in order to appear more “normal”). One, in Toronto, that had black people as allies when support from others was meager. Pride is about stopping the oppression of society and the state towards us. It’s about showing ourselves to the world to force the acknowledgement of our existence and ultimately our rights. Those who think police participation is a sign of progress are blinded by their own privileges. As a white cis man from an upper-middle class background, I didn’t grow up fearing the police. When I go out, I don’t have to worry about the possibility of being carded by an officer for no reason. If an incident happens, I don’t have to worry about potentially being shot for no reason. I don’t have to wonder if I should call the police or not if I’m the victim of a hate crime. I don’t have to resort to sex work because society perceives me as a pariah and I can’t make a living otherwise (although I acknowledge that not all sex workers choose this profession out of desperation, but many do). I do not have to fear that a security guard is going to violently remove me from a washroom. However, I have listened to people who do fear those things, to whom those things have happened. I have witnessed many of these events myself. BLM, Idle no more, and other organisations/movements have made it plain and obvious that a segment of the population is being oppressed and discriminated while most people go on living their lives. BLM reminds us that intersectionality is a thing (aka multiple interconnected layers of oppression like being gay and black). One cannot claim ignorance anymore. The BLM sit-in was a reminder that queer liberation isn’t liberation until everyone is free. Pride and all of us should remember that.
Those who complain about the mean used by BLM during pride specifically need a lesson in history. First a general one to remind (or teach) them that political struggles rarely manifest themselves in a silent or polite manner. They are loud because no one wants to hear them. If we were hearing them, they wouldn’t need to protest. Second, a specific one regarding pride as a protest, which I already covered above (with some links to interesting articles). Queer rights weren’t given to us, we had to take them. In part through regular political channels, yes, but also through loud and disturbing protests (I’m sure some of you know the “we’re queer, we’re here, get used to it” chant). Additionally, they need to be reminded of a thing called freedom of expression. This freedom isn’t a freedom to express oneself except when it’s annoying to the privileged. Public protest is at its core. In part, I presume, because it is effective (e.g. Québec managed to keep tuitions low mostly because of student protests). In this case, it wasn’t even a particularly disturbing protest. It was 25 min of peaceful siting and explaining. A protest that happened long after “normal” discussion failed (and they had been failing for decades). A very reasonable exercise of freedom of expression in these circumstances, especially since BLM was the “honoured guest” of pride. The language used to criticise BLM use of this freedom is quite ridiculous: hijack, hostage, bullying. It has clear racist undertones (rarely do protests attract such criticism, but this one happens to be by black people …). It ignores the power imbalances between the people in position of authority and a popular movement made up of some the most marginalised. I’m sorry that BLM’s plea for freedom and equality disturbed your comfortable life. No, scratch that, I’m not. It was high time that you be disturbed. Learn from this. Be compassionate. Support those who need it. Stand in solidarity.
Pride is political. Pride is colourful and loud. Pride should be a safe space. Pride should be for all queer people. I stand in solidarity with BLM.