Where to begin a blog post about the events at Toronto Pride yesterday,
events that got me worked up enough to post to this
blog after more than a two-year hiatus?
There are a lot of entangled issues for me here, personal, professional,
and political, and it’s not always clear where one begins and the other
ends. But let me start by saying that I
was very upset yesterday by the demand from Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLM) that police booths and floats
be excluded from Toronto Pride, and by the apparent
capitulation by Pride’s director to those demands when faced with the sit-in
(although it remains to be seen whether that stance will be maintained). [UPDATED: Apparently the ED of Toronto Pride announced today that he only agreed to discuss the demands, not to grant them outright, which is encouraging.]
I’ll get into why I feel this way in a
moment, but a bit of personal and professional context might be in order first.
I am a white, gay, upper middle-class,
cis-gendered, professional man in my late-30s, who has been legally married to
another man for the past 12 years. My
husband is one-quarter Japanese, but “passes” as white. I would never claim that we don’t lead highly
privileged lives. But nor do I think that this should exclude me from voicing
my opinions on Pride, or having those “count” somehow. My own history with Pride goes back to 1997,
when I watched my first Toronto Pride parade, still a deeply closeted undergrad
student and unwilling to admit that I might be gay. Attending the following year, in 1998, and
feeling the support and encouragement from that many people in attendance gave
me the courage to come out that summer.
As a graduate student in Ottawa, I marched in the Pride parade a number
of times as part of the queer film festival contingent. Later years brought me as a spectator to the
DiversCité pride when we lived in Montreal, and to Halifax Pride when we lived
in Sackville, New Brunswick (where we used to joke that we could declare it the
Pride parade if we walked down the street holding hands). Since moving back to Ontario, I haven’t
tended to make the drive into Toronto that often for Pride (although I did a
number of years ago to see my sister’s and my aunt’s respective dance
performances at the community stage), but I do sometimes make it to the Guelph
Professionally, although my own research
isn’t squarely on queer history, I do actively promote and engage with queer
Canadian history. I developed the module
on gay and lesbian activism for Nelson’s Canadian History Visions textbook
project. I have reviewed several works of Canadian gay history for scholarly
journals and websites. I proposed the “We Demand” issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies when I was
on its editorial board, and then worked actively with the guest editor of that
issue when I was associate editor of the journal. Queer content is central to a number of my
undergraduate courses, particularly a course on Canadian history since 1945,
and an upper-year seminar on social movement history in Canada. So I’m certainly not unfamiliar with Canadian
queer history, the struggles that have been waged, and those that are still ongoing. And it is with that historical background,
coupled with a bit of a personal stake in the events (and those held in other
communities) that informs my thinking on this issue.
I think it is wrong to exclude the police
from participating fully in Pride. I
write this being fully aware of the histories of oppression attached to various
police forces in Canada: the RCMP’s security state weeding out homosexuals from
the civil service; the Toronto Police raids on The Body Politic; the Toronto and Montreal police bathhouse raids,
and much more. I am aware that there are
current problems with how various levels of the police deal with marginalized
communities, including (but not limited to) Black and Indigenous
communities. And I recognize that for
some members of some communities, a police presence is not perceived as a
welcoming one. But I do not think that this is adequate justification for a ban
on police participation.
For me, a really important piece of the
history of Pride and of GLBTQ rights in Canada is about victories won in
changing the police forces. This
includes the decision of the RCMP to drop its ban on homosexuals in 1988. It includes sensitivity training for police
officers to make them aware of gay and lesbian issues (such as pairing them off
to walk through streets holding hands, wearing civilian clothes). It includes the apology, this year, for the
Toronto bathhouse raids of the early 1980s.
It also includes the many men and women who
work for the police who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited,
queer (and the rest of the Pride alphabet) who have fought to be able to serve
their communities, and who work from within to continue to change the ways that
police forces interact with marginalized communities. That includes a friend of mine who recently
joined the Ontario Provincial Police. It
includes the gay Toronto Police officer who was excited to participate in Pride
this year and penned an open letter
on the CBC website.
includes allies on the police forces, like my straight best friend, who works
in communications for the RCMP, who has defended the right of gay Mounties to
wear the red serge when they march in their communities’ Pride parades.
A number of years ago, one of my PhD students
decided that he wanted to leave academia, and become a police officer in Toronto.
I gave him an enthusiastic recommendation,
because he was the sort of progressive-minded person that I wanted to see as
part of policing in my country.
that the participation of police forces in Pride advances the cause of further
progress in reforming policing, and that inclusivity is important.
There is a much longer post that could be written
about the specific tactics of the sit-in, the strategies behind the demands,
and the content of the rest of Black Lives Matter demands of the Pride
executive. But for me, it is this
particular demand that was the major problem, and I worry that in the rush to
celebrate “keeping Pride political”, this specific demand is being overlooked
by many sympathizers of BLM, or justified as part of a larger, polarizing,
ideological worldview that I find troublesome.
While every social movement needs its “radical flank” (to use the
academic jargon) of activists to push the envelope, make headlines and generate
attention, it also needs its moderates who will work with sympathetic allies in
the corridors of power to generate concrete policy changes. And by slamming the door shut on the police,
who have been making progress (albeit perhaps too slowly for some), it will make
it much harder for the moderates on both sides to accomplish the changes that