You’ve probably seen a storm of outrage on social media lately about Pride Toronto’s decision to remove all police floats and booths from future parades in response to Black Lives Matter Toronto’s (BLM) peaceful protest at the parade in July. Essentially, BLM presented a list of eight demands of Pride Toronto, one of which requested the removal of police floats and booths from all marches, parades, and community spaces. Pride Toronto just accepted all of these demands.
I’ll admit: seeing the police floats is one of the most important parts of Pride for me, especially considering the long history of violence and oppression that the queer community has faced from police. To be able to move forward from this history—including the Toronto bathhouse raids of the ‘80s to the Pussy Palace bath house raid in 2000—and to see police celebrating the community is an important part of feeling safe in my own queer identity. However, I’m also white; I no longer actively feel the violence and oppression of the police, and ignoring the real struggles that POC experience by leaving things how they are is not an option.
“I am not a queer black individual, and I am not a member of Black Lives Matter, therefore I can never fully understand their experiences in the LGBTQ+ community. It is not in my place, or anyone else's, to tell them they are wrong because that invalidates their voices,” Marisa Cho, a third year FIMS student explains. “When someone is telling you that they feel unsafe, that they feel ignored, that they feel targeted and oppressed: you should listen.”
While many have argued on Twitter and Facebook that exclusion for the sake of inclusion is problematic, it is important to consider that argument from the perspective of people of colour. Excluding those with intersectional identities from the entirety of Pride for the sake of police participation in the parade is also problematic and exclusionary, especially when POC—chiefly black trans folk—have been instrumental in the queer fight for equality.
“What we are fighting against are the institutions, so police floats that are representatives of the institution. Police booths that promote the institution. Police uniforms, police being armed,” Janaya Khan, co-founder of BLM Toronto, said in an interview with Maclean's. “I don’t want to be criminalized in the one place that I can bring my intersectional identity. Why is it that police officers who are, you know, LGBTQ-identified feel that they can’t participate just because they can’t participate as police?”
Furthermore, BLM has been criticized for being disrespectful to Pride Toronto for using its position as honoured group to protest. Cho, however, disagrees.
“Pride is a spectacle that hides its flaws and misrepresentation with extravagant celebrations and commercialization,” Cho explained. “Pride is supposed to be a celebration of the fight for equal rights for ALL members of the LGBTQ+ community. What is there to celebrate if we only cater to the rights of those at the top of the hierarchy?”
Khan also said that because BLM was the honoured group, it was the right time to demand change.
“We were the honoured group for reasons that were in alignment with our politics. We were the honoured group because we had critiqued the status quo, because we’d challenged police brutality, because we’d named anti-black racism.”
The responses circulating this decision largely focus solely on the demand for police removal, and ignores the other seven demands which, with proper implementation, will make Pride Toronto far more accessible to POC and many other marginalized groups. While the decision to ban police floats and booths from Pride Toronto is highly controversial—and not necessarily something I agree with as a permanent solution, but as a temporary one—there are many things to celebrate in Pride Toronto’s decision to accept ALL of BLM’s demands. With a greater presence of POC, black trans folk, and indigenous people, Pride Toronto might actually become inclusive, diverse, and intersectional enough to be something truly worthy of our celebration.