On July 3, 2016, while participating in the Toronto Pride Parade, the organization Black Lives Matter (BLM) held an unexpected sit-in, effectively preventing and blocking the internationally-recognized celebration from continuing, which happened to also be the first time Canada’s Prime Minister joined the parade. The city’s first black police chief, Mark Saunders wore a rainbow as well. But it was the politics of fear and anger, not mourning or celebration, that carried the day. The 2016 Pride Parade had already become even more political in the wake of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting, which claimed 49 lives, most of them LGBTQ2S – a targeted attack on the community.
“Shut it down,” some cried. “We will not be moved.” About two dozen activists, holding bullhorns and fake coffins, sat cross-legged in the intersection. They said they would stay put until Pride agreed to a list of demands: more funding for organizations representing people of colour, more diversity in hiring and, most controversially, a ban on police floats and information booths in future parades.
Some spectators cheered the protesters, but many more booed or quietly complained. The backlash was instant. As part of the unapproved and unanticipated demonstration by BLM, 9 demands were made to allow the resumption of the celebrations, giving Pride Toronto Executive Director, Mathieu Chantelois little time to address the demands as millions of people participated and waited for celebrations to continue.
The demands, which Chantelois had to make a decision both quickly and as careful as possible on, included:
- Commit to BQY’s (Black Queer Youth) continued space (including Stage/Tents), funding and logistics support
- Self-determination for all community spaces, allowing community full control over hiring, content, and structure of their stages
- Full and adequate funding for community stages, including logistical, technical, and personnel support
- Double funding for Blockorama (to $13,000 + ASL interpretation &headliner funding)
- Reinstate and make a commitment to increase community stages/spaces (including the reinstatement of the of the South Asian stage)
- A commitment to increase representation amongst Pride Toronto staffing/hiring, prioritizing Black trans women, Indigenous folk, and others from vulnerable communities
- A commitment to more Black deaf & hearing ASL interpreters for the Festival
- Removal of police floats in the Pride Marches/parades
- A public townhall, organized in conjunction with groups from marginalized communities, including but not limited to, Black Lives Matter – Toronto, Blackness Yes, and BQY to be held to be held six months from today. Pride Toronto will present an update and action plan on the aforementioned demands.
Subsequently, Black Lives Matter has posted to their website their current “Demands” of Pride Toronto, which now include different language, tone and in some cases, overall changes to their original demands. Notably, of the original 9 demands, only numbers 2, 3 and 8 (“Removal of police floats in the Pride Marches/parades”) remain the same, while the other 6 demands have since changed from those Chantelois was forced to sign to ensure the Parade continued in 2016. Shortly after in August, Pride hosted a heated town hall to discuss Black Lives Matter’s demands. On August 10, Chantelois announced his resignation saying it was time to “move on.”
Although the demands were signed, this was in response to the BLM hijacking that required quick diffusion to continue the celebrations and highlighted that outside organizations should not control the purpose of Pride.
To quote Black Lives Matter’s website, their vision is “To be a platform upon which black communities across Toronto can actively dismantle all forms of anti-black racism, liberate blackness, support black healing, affirm black existence, and create freedom to love and self-determine.” and their mission “To forge critical connections and to work in solidarity with black communities, black-centric networks, solidarity movements, and allies in order to dismantle all forms of state-sanctioned oppression, violence, and brutality committed against African, Caribbean, and Black cis, queer, trans, and disabled populations in Toronto.”
- Many agree with the BLM Vision and Mission, we certainly support any efforts of anti-oppression and anti-racism, however NEVER at the expense of other minorities. This is the broader purpose of both equality and equity, which should be recognized fully.
For Pride Toronto, their mission, vision and values are made clear.
- “We welcome everyone and want everyone to be welcomed. We are accessible to everyone as we create a sense of belonging and shared purpose,” says their website. “We celebrate the uniqueness of all voices while bringing people together as one community.”
“Pride Toronto brings people together to celebrate the history, courage and diversity of our community,” adding that their vision is “As a leader in the Pride movement, we aspire to unite and empower people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.”
The Globe and Mail’s recent quote of Pride’s website noted, “Pride Toronto, the non-profit organization that holds Toronto’s annual Pride Parade, lists “inclusivity” as one of its main values.”
We welcome everyone and want everyone to be welcomed. Pride TO should rewrite that. Pride Toronto has officially banned Toronto Police Services from putting a float in the parade, or having stands along the route. LGBTQ2S people who are police officers can march on their own, but not as an identifiable group. It’s a horribly misguided decision. Yes, we know, Toronto’s Pride Parade began in 1981 in part as a reaction to police harassment of the city’s gay community… but it’s also history.”
- A recent project, undertaken for the international 2014 WorldPride celebrations, was the Church Street mural project. On the Toronto Police website, they refer to the project by noting that in 1991, the first designated Community Response Unit was piloted in 52 Division in the Church/Wellesley neighbourhood. This neighbourhood was selected because of the increasing number of gay-bashings reported to The 519 and the desire within the community for a designated police presence, and the vision within the Service to develop a CRU-based policing model to go city-wide.
Officers patrolled the community on foot and Woody’s Gay Bar on Church Street hosted a fundraiser to purchase the Officers bicycles, so that they could respond faster to calls. Essentially, this is when the relationship with the Police and the Community started to build bridges
- Then on January 17, 2017, a larger-than-usual crowd filled a room at Ryerson, expecting the debate to continue at Pride’s annual general meeting. The previous day, Black Lives Matter tweeted, “For those attending the Pride Toronto AGM, remember the demands. And remember they were signed and agreed on. #blackpride.”
2 http://www.pridetoronto.com/about-us/ 3 https://tgam.ca/2iRL9dn 4 http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/churchstmural/
Gwen Bartleman, described by media as a white woman who is not a member of BLM and calls herself a butch dyke, noticed the topic wasn’t on the agenda, she made a motion to add it.
Board elections were also on the agenda and when one black candidate spoke about how police were friends of the community, he was shouted down, says attendee Shawn Ahmed, a gay Bangladeshi-Canadian man. “Anyone who spoke with even an ounce of kindness to the police or to acknowledge they had done anything positive to the community were heckled.”
When it came time to vote on Black Lives Matter’s demands, the police vote was the most contentious, the vote passed with overwhelming support, according to attendees. As news of the ban on police floats and booths spread on social media, voices of dissent took over the online discussion. Pride Toronto’s Facebook page was flooded by members who said the organization should overturn its decision.
- In speaking directly with the Mayor’s office, we were told “I’m sure the Mayor would agree with you.” when pressed on the matter that Pride receives funding from the City, yet is willing to exclude certain city services, therefore making it questionable whether the City should provide the remainder of its services. Bryan Frois, Senior Communications Assistant to the Mayor, recently noted that “the Mayor’s Office is following what’s going on with the LGBTQ community and the recent decision made by the Pride membership. We aren’t at a place right now to discuss the organizations decision or the next steps involved.” Frois offered to meet when he returns to the office in February, however we have made it clear that February would not be most suitable.
On January 18, 2017, Mayor John Tory issued a statement on police participation in the parade and in it, Tory emphasized the importance of making sure all citizens feel “respected and included,“ a task he described as an “ongoing challenge,” citing the importance of inclusion in the parade and the need to foster respect. “The Toronto Police have had a presence in the Pride parade for more than a decade and continue to make meaningful efforts to build bridges with the LGBTQ2S community,” he said. “With respect to police participation in the Pride parade, I am hopeful that people of goodwill can find a way to resolve this issue and to ensure that we can continue to build those vitally important bridges.”
Mayor John Tory and Premier Kathleen Wynne have encouraged police and Pride to work out a resolution, but have not yet commented on whether Pride’s decision will affect government funding, which amounted to $260,000 from the city and more than $300,000 from the province in 2016.7
Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay premier, expressed displeasure at Pride’s decision stating, “It’s January and my hope would be that between January and spring that Pride and Black Lives Matter and the police would actually be able to sit down and come to a different resolution,” after a speech to the Economic Club. She would not say whether the province will consider withholding funding from Pride.8 The Globe wrote, “As news of the ban on police floats and booths spread on social media, voices of dissent took over the online discussion. Pride Toronto’s Facebook page was flooded with one-star reviews from members who said the organization should overturn its decision. The downtown office was postered with signs that said ‘Shame! Not my Pride. The Toronto Police Can Stand with Me.’ Members of the LGBTQ community said they planned to boycott this year’s Pride Parade if the police cannot join the march and suggested starting an alternative event.”
Janaya Khan, co-founder of BLM Toronto, said the vote was an encouraging step in discussions with Pride. “What the implementation of the demands will look like, we’ll see. We called for internal structural changes within Pride Toronto, challenged their hiring practices, and essentially cover all grounds of what Pride Toronto is… and it seems like that’s what the public wants,” Khan said. “Our job as an organizing body is to amplify the voice of community members, and this is what the community has called for,” Khan added. “We don’t seek complete consensus. We seek to represent the marginalized. Change is uncomfortable, but it is necessary and we should be having these conversations.”
A recent news release from “Serving with Pride” which the Toronto Police describes as, “dedicated to promoting diversity, integrity, awareness, and non-discrimination of LGBTQ personnel and equity of all persons within policing and criminal justice professions, as well as within the communities we serve, through, education, mentoring, leadership, support and effective professional networking”, called the vote by Pride Toronto “a dark day for LGBTQ Law Enforcement professionals in the province of Ontario, the provincial capital and Canada’s largest city, Toronto,”The organization added, “We are deeply disappointed and saddened by the Toronto Pride ruling to disallow uniformed police officers and floats in future Pride parades. Serving with Pride will continue to move forward with the resolve to do what is right and to lead by example. Constable Danielle Bottineau, Toronto’s LGBTQ Liaison Officer works tirelessly by meeting, calling and consulting with members of her LGBTQ community. Regardless of the time or day, one would be hard pressed to find her at a time when she doesn’t have her finger on the pulse of the community. Cst. Bottineau along with Trans community member and TPS LGBTQ Civilian Co-Chair Christine Newman, lecture at community
The organization added, “We are deeply disappointed and saddened by the Toronto Pride ruling to disallow uniformed police officers and floats in future Pride parades. Serving with Pride will continue to move forward with the resolve to do what is right and to lead by example. Constable Danielle Bottineau, Toronto’s LGBTQ Liaison Officer works tirelessly by meeting, calling and consulting with members of her LGBTQ community. Regardless of the time or day, one would be hard pressed to find her at a time when she doesn’t have her finger on the pulse of the community.
Cst. Bottineau along with Trans community member and TPS LGBTQ Civilian Co-Chair Christine Newman, lecture at community organizations, to ensure that the message of police and community inclusivity is loud and clear. Constable Brian Mitchell is the president of Serving with Pride. He was the first male officer to come out in the history of his service and worked with Hamilton towards their first Pride flag raising, installing safe spaces in each division, participation in Toronto Pride, and working with Hamilton’s LGBTQ youth community. Cst. Mitchell also lectures about LGBTQ terminology and rights at the Ontario Police College during Basic Constable Training. In four years, over 1,000 Police Constables have heard from Cst. Mitchell and his community guests.
RCMP’s Communication Specialist Jean Turner spends countless hours working with community organizations, serves as a Director at Serving with Pride. Jean bravely came out on Youtube about abuses she experienced by her family. She proudly wears the RCMP crest while sharing these experiences to inspire others to come forward as well. Turner was the driving force behind the move to have all Ontario RCMP Detachment lobbies fly the rainbow flag, started an LGBTQ internal support network and sits on various diversity committees. Cst. Dena Peden is an ally from Durham Regional Police who has spent countless hours working with her LGBTQ youth community, starting programs such as Colours – a program for LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13-20.
Cst. Peden has put her heart and soul into closing those gaps within their profession when such outreach is not mandated or required. Chief Laurie Hayman, who recently retired from her post as Chief of the Strathroy-Caradoc Police Service, was the first openly gay female Chief in Canada. Chief Hayman was a visionary who foresaw a workplace where every one of her colleagues can be open and inclusive regardless of what background they come from. Chief Hayman was active in many community organizations and boards and will forever be known opening the door for colleagues in law enforcement & criminal justice communities
“Our colleagues will not waiver in their support of our LGBTQ community. They will continue to provide the highest quality service regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, sex, etc. LGBTQ liaison and diversity officers across the province will continue to reach out and provide guidance to their communities. In a time where misinformation and discrimination is so easily thrown around, we ask for your continued and unwavering support of your LGBTQ law enforcement & criminal justice colleagues. We will stand by you and we ask you to stand by us too.“9
There are also some important points to recognize regarding the phobias against the LGBTQ2S community within the black community itself. A major question is, why won’t Black Lives Matter protest the Toronto Caribbean Carnival? One BLM Blog website asked:
– If “queer and trans” is indivisible from blackness,
– it’s indivisible in all directions
– A “queer and trans” black activist will remind you of the intersectionality and indivisibility of zir queer and trans black identity before you even shake zir hand.
But if those identities are unitary and indivisible, they’re indivisible in all directions. That means if you show up at a queer and trans event to protest anti-blackness, you must also show up at a black event to protest homophobia and transphobia. Queer and trans black activists react with vehemence if you suggest that blacks are homophobic, or that any black person has ever been homophobic even once. (White homophobia is always worse.) That’s their cover story for the indefensible hypocrisy of protesting Gay Pride, where they were honoured guests, but not protesting “their own” Caribbean march.
Anyone can join Pride Toronto. The easiest way is to pay ten bucks. And once you do that, you can run for the board. Pride uses single transferable voting in board elections, not a first-past-the-post system, which means its elections are unassailable. Nothing, at all, ever prevented Black Lives Matter activists, or any nonwhite person, or any bloc of nonwhite persons, from running for the board.
In fact, Black Lives Matter’s refusal to do so, and its complaints about “conversations” with Pride having gone nowhere, indicates it insists on doing things it knows won’t work, later positioning itself as having had “no choice” (an actual term shouted through a megaphone on Pride Day) but to set off smoke bombs and hijack the Pride parade. Choosing known-ineffective actions, BLM manufactured a pretext for its extreme actions.10
If Pride is riven with “anti-blackness,” note that the same cadre of doctrinaire ultra-leftists has been running the place for 30 years. You could basically swap out board members at will from any era between then and now and not notice a difference. Pride Toronto has systemic failings and should consider where they originated.
But then there are those who are not black, such as those who write this letter, whose arguments are vehemently shut down as soon as one looks at a photo and decides that skin colour determines the recognition of opinion. Reverse racism what? It becomes a difficult argument to make that racism exists within the TPS when the police chief himself is a person of colour and Pride Toronto has never held a mandate to discriminate against race, holding and attempting to maintain a principle of inclusion.
If minority communities are experiencing issues with the Toronto Police Service, those issues should most certainly be addressed, but independently to ensure they are not at the expense of other minorities which brings damaging results for all involved. LGBTQ2S minorities and their communities have fought hard to get to this point, and are not served well by the hijacking of Pride Toronto and the creating of divisive relationships with the Toronto Police Service, which leaves a regressive animosity at best.
With such a tenuous situation, exacerbated by a community which itself is rampant with discrimination against LGBTQ2S individuals, it is worth noting that the LGBTQ2S community has yet to attempt to use the rainbow to halt festivals like the Toronto Caribbean Carnival or to try to discourage the police from any positive support for the black community, so why is it acceptable the other way around?
On Thursday, January 26, 2017, the Toronto Police Service will be hosting “Coffee with Cops” at the Second Cup coffee shop at 544 Church Street between 4-6pm. Sergeant Henry Dyck has invited community members from across the board to join in a conversation with the TPS. Several comments have been made on social media and to the authors of this letter regarding racism and oppression, for which our response has consistently attempted to open dialogue, and encourage people to join at this event.
To date, several attempts have been made to invite BLM and Pride Toronto who voted on the issues, to join at Coffee with Cops. With no response from either organization thus far, we again invite Pride Toronto as well as Black Lives Matter to attend Coffee with Cops on Thursday, January 26 at the Second Cup on Church Street to further discuss these contentious issues, which are clearly creating extensive division within the community.
In addition to the Coffee with Cops meeting, it is important to recognize that if there is going to be a selective process of who is invited to support Pride Toronto and who isn’t, those who primarily provide financial donations should not be included while those who provide safety and protection year-round are not. Neither the sponsorship organizations nor the Toronto Police are perfect in their interactions with LGBTQ2S or any minorities, but building bridges takes time. As such, many feel there is little alternative but to boycott services of sponsors which include TD, OLG, Manulife, Fido, Palm Bay, BudLight, Smart C, Stoli, Pfizer, Air Canada, Eska, Loblaws, Netflix, Trojan, Winners, etc. until the Toronto Police can fully participate in uniform once again.
Pride has always been about inclusion, it’s what makes our community as unique as it is, and like all family squabbles, we don’t always get along and will occasionally snipe at one another. However, there has never been a time when lesbians or transgendered communities ordered TNT Men or PFLAG to be barred from the Pride events. Which is what makes this vote so heartbreaking. The LGBTQ2S community has been working with Toronto Police Services for decades, building and fostering trust and understanding so that events like the raids and harassment never happen again.
We do not want all that hard work to be destroyed by this vote, which was done as the organization cowed to Black Lives Matters. Ours is a community that knows bullying very well, and when we see it we act. If Black Lives Matters wants inclusion to Pride Toronto events, then it’s on them to abide by our demands that everyone is welcome, not the other way around. If BLM doesn’t feel comfortable by the inclusion and participation of some segments of our diverse family, then they should form their own group, drum up their own funding, and approach the city to pick a weekend to celebrate their goals and achievements. It’s not too late to change course on this, and there is time to make it right. If this vote is not reversed, and the Toronto Police Service is not welcomed back then we, like many others, will not be attending or donating to Pride going forward.
There is no Pride in exclusion, nor can you make lasting change by making enemies of those whose support you need the most. This is not our Pride.
Yours in LGBTQ2S solidarity,
— Bryn Hendricks