By Gary Kinsman
At the Pride Day parade last June Black Lives Matter in Toronto (BLM-TO) brought the parade to a halt and issued nine demands (http://blacklivesmatter.ca/demands/) calling for more resources and space for Black queer and trans people and other people of colour and two-spirit people as well as an end to organized police participation within the Pride parade and festival. This brought these political demands into the centre of Pride reminding us of Stonewall and the resistance to the police repression in the bath raids which led to celebrating Toronto Pride at the end of June. In response BLM-TO received support (for my comments see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/black-lives-matter-toronto-pride-kinsman-1.3665829 and on Radical Noise) but also faced vociferous racism from some white queer people.
At the end of August the Pride Committee organized two town hall meetings to discuss Pride month this year. But by far the main topic was the demands pushed forward by BLM-TO and other community complaints about Pride. These meetings were attended by 700 people and a significant majority of people present both nights expressed their strong support for the community demands pushed forward by BLM-TO, including for the ending of institutional police participation within the parade and festival. At those meetings Pride reported that 400 officers from 11 police departments participated within the parade this year.
The Pride Board announced its decision to defer the question of police participation to the distant and legalistic Dispute Resolution Process (DRP). The DRP which has major problems to begin with (see Queer Ontario statement at http://queerontario.org/pride-dispute-resolution/ ) was set up in 2012 to resolve complaints by people within our queer and trans communities about the participation of other community groups in the parade. It was specifically set up to address complaints against the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), which I actively supported, in the parade. It was not designed at all to deal with community and political questions like the participation of the police within Pride which should be decided not by a panel of legal and other ‘experts’ but by people within our communities themselves. At the end of the Town Hall meetings the Pride board which refused to answer any questions either night stated it would respond to the concerns raised in two weeks time.
In mid September the Pride Board of Directors issued its response statement to the comments and criticisms it received at the Town Halls and throughout the summer ( http://www.pridetoronto.com/town-hall-meeting/). The response is filled with a number of “we apologize,” “regrets,” and a number of “we are sorry” statements but not very much concrete commitment around the community demands supported by BLM-TO and the new ones raised at the Town Hall meetings. The major concrete proposal is to refer the police question to the DRP.
How do we make sense of this statement?
First it is necessary to recognize that the composition of struggle mobilized by BLM-TO and allies is what won some important gains in the Pride Board of Directors statement. This includes the mobilization at the Town Hall meetings where a significant majority of people supported BLM-TO including around the police demand. The recognition by Pride of “a history of anti-Blackness and repeated marginalization of the marginalized within our community that our organization has continued” is an important one that was gained through this dynamic community mobilization.
But the statement is contradictory and it has major problems/limitations. Their stress on there being “a very divided community” undermines the very significant majority support for BLM-TO — including around the police demand — at both Town Halls. The Pride Board seems to be using the white minority opposition to BLM-TO and their demand around the police to construct both sides as being equivalent which is far from the case. Whose voices are being amplified and valued by Pride?
While they “regret” the way Pride handled BLM-TO they also say “we are sorry” to the people “who proudly serve our communities in law enforcement and other roles in public safety [who] have felt unfairly attacked and targeted…” Again they suggest that the police, as police, are part of our community just like BLM-TO constructing them as having been equally wronged. There is, however, no relation of social equality at all between Black and other racialized people under racist and police attack and the police as a state institution. There is no need for Pride to say they are sorry to the police when it is the police who engage in violence and harassment against many people in our communities and among our allies. And to be clear no one is suggesting that individual queer and trans police officers (or even groups of them) cannot participate in these events as queer and trans people outside the organized, institutional presence of police departments.
Regarding all the other demands aside from that regarding the police the commitment in the Pride statement is very vague and lacks any specific commitments. While stating they agree to these demands is important they still need to be pushed on all of these to make very concrete and specific commitments.
They also interpret the demands for more space and resources for Black queers and other people of colour, Indigenous people, and community groups as requiring more funding and more corporate sponsorships and involvement rather than as a shifting in where resources and space go and a transformation of the overall character of the event. Instead they are suggesting that these demands can be met with no major transformation of what Pride is about through pursuing more corporate support.
But the big problem is the referral of the police participation question to the DRP. Here we need to be clear that a political and community decision needs to be made by our communities. At the Town Halls overwhelming support for the BLM-TO demand against police participation was clear and the Pride Board is both delaying Pride making a decision and distancing itself from the process through which the decision will be made by referring the decision to the DRP. The Pride statement goes so far as to suggest that the DRP “is our existing decision-making mechanism” which is not the case. The DRP was not set up for questions like police participation and the police as an institution are not a part of our community. It simply defers this community question to a panel of ‘experts’ that has not been yet been set up further postponing this important decision. It is likely in my view that such a legalistic body will decide that the police as a state institution have a right to participate given the state funding and support for Pride. The statement seems to be setting up a situation in which they are envisioning such a body deciding that the police as an institution can participate but perhaps with a few restrictions. They state that the DRP will “consider the nature of police participation” and they note that they have already met “several of our stakeholders, including representatives of Toronto Police Services.” Our position needs to be the one that I learned through my participation in the resistance to the bath raids and in the Right to Privacy Committee that as long as the police engage in violence and harassment against people in our communities and among our allies – including against Black people and other people of colour, Indigenous people, sex workers, young street people, and homeless and poor people — among whom there are many queer and trans people — that they cannot as a state institution participate within our parades and festivals. Otherwise we legitimize and provide cover for the police as a state institution which is attacking members of our community and our allies. This breaks solidarity both within our communities and with our allies. In my view this rejection of organized police participation is the main issue we need to mobilize around.
The struggle continues! It is my hope that people mobilize to reject the deferral of the question of police participation to the DRP. This is a matter that must be decided by our community itself and not a panel of ‘experts.’ I hope that members of Pride at their AGM make it very clear that we support all of the community demands pushed forward by BLM-TO. Finally the Pride statement commits them to support the demand pushed by BLM-TO and others for a meeting in about six months where their progress on meeting these community demands is to be reported on. This provides another opportunity to mobilize in support of the just community demands pushed forward by BLM-TO and for the transformation of Pride.