This past weekend, July 3rd, was the Toronto Pride Parade, one of the biggest if not the biggest pride events in Canada. This year’s parade was a historic one for a variety of reasons. The weekend included the largest trans march in the world and the first time that a sitting Prime Minister joined the parade. Another major historic event was the protest staged by Black Lives Matter.
For those who haven’t heard, during the pride parade, after a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando Shooting at Pulse Club, Black Lives Matter Toronto staged a sit in halting the parade. Their protest had the following list of demands:
Black Lives Matter – Toronto, along with various community groups, including BQY and Blackness Yes have the following demands:
Commit to BQY’s (Black Queer Youth) continued space (including stage/tents), funding, and logistical support.
Self-determinations 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 + ASL interpretations and headliner funding.
Reinstate and make a commitment to increase community stages/spaces (including the reinstatement of the South Asian stage.)
A commitment to increase representation amongst Pride Toronto staffing/hiring, prioritizing Black trans women, Black queer people, Indigenous folk, and others from vulnerable communities.
A commitment to more Black deaf & hearing ASL interpreters for the Festival.
Removal of police floast/booths in all Pride marches/parades/community spaces.
A public townhall, organized in conjunction with groups from marginalised communities, including, but not limited to, Black Lives Matter – Toronto, Blackness Yes, and BQY to be held six months from today. Pride Toronto will present an update and action plan on the aforementioned demands.
– Copied from Black Lives Matter Toronto Facebook Page
The demands were in response to a series of moves by the PRIDE organization in Toronto that has been gradually eliminating Queer focused PoC spaces in Toronto. It was in response to the fact that there has been a lot of white washing happening in queer communities and many vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, trans woman and specifically trans women of colour, and native people, have felt themselves being pushed out in various was from queer communities.
It is a struggle many people who belong to multiple vulnerable groups find themselves facing in spaces meant to cater to one or more of those identities. Black women faced with feminist spaces that prioritize white women’s concerns, trans women who are actively discriminated against or are forced to deal with TERFs in nominally “safe” spaces, disabled people who face meetings related to feminism, race issues, trans issues, etc. being held in inaccessible spaces or without the benefit of accessibility measures like interpreters.
The response to the protest has been mixed. While some, myself included, have been praising it not just for bringing awareness to the plight of PoC and black people in particular in both Canada and the US, but at the same time taking a moment to carve out a space as well for other vulnerable communities, many other people have condemned the protest.
One of the biggest complaints that I’ve seen so far has to do with the request that Police no longer be allowed to have a float or booth at the festival or parade and future events. Many people seem to feel that this is unfair to officers who are themselves QUILTBAG.
In order to understand the request however, there needs to be a bit more of a consideration of history on multiple levels.
To begin with the PRIDE parade, for all that it has turned into a tourist attracting festival and celebration has its origins in the Stonewall riots. A series of protests and marches that started with the raid of the Stonewall Inn: a hangout in Manhattan that was frequented by the most vulnerable communities including trans women and gay men. During a police raid, police demanded that the women remove their clothes. Any “man” caught wearing “women’s” clothing would be arrested. The women, who were all WoC as well, refused. This eventually led to violence which in turn sparked the riots which in turn gave birth to the modern day gay rights movements. The PRIDE Parade is an annual celebration of these riots: an annual celebration and remembrance of when marginalized people responded to police violence with resistance and protests.
It is also important to consider the influence that being trans women of COLOUR in particular had on the events of that night. No matter how much recent movies and pop culture might want to white wash history, the protests that began that night where heavily influenced by Marsha P Johnson – a black woman who is credited with the initial resistance that led to the protests – and Sylvia Rivera – a Puerto Rican woman who is said to have thrown the first bottle and made it clear that despite the uneven power dynamic that night, resistance was possible.
Considering that the 1960s were also the era of Civil Rights marches organized by big names like Dr. King, it is worth considering that as women of colour they would have been aware if not actively involved with those movements. With the Stonewall riots happening after some of the more famous civil rights marches, it is possible that it was their influence that gave these women the example to resist. To fight back. It is not unreasonable to say that the Civil Rights Movement inspired the Gay Rights Movement and that without it, the fight for gay rights would have been delayed or looked very different.
Inviting a police presence to march in the parade, is to fly in the face of what the event represents.
But isn’t having police floats at pride, and having police WANT to have floats at Pride parade a sign of how far things have come?
“How far things have come” really depends on who you ask. If you are a white cis abled gay male, then yes, things have come a long way. If you are a gay cop on the force then again, it can be argued that we have come a long way. However, ask people in more marginalized communities: like Black people, like Native people, like disabled people, like trans women, and you will find that for them little has changed. Police are not a source of protection but often a source of harassment, violence, if not outright murder.
In the days since Pride at least 3 black people have been shot and killed by Police in the United States. At the time of writing this it is 1 am on Thursday. Three have died in the last 4 days. That’s consistent with the statistic that Police will shoot 1 black man every 28 hours. That’s only the ones we know about. The ones that made the news. We don’t know how many black women have been killed in that time – especially since the deaths of black women make the news even less than that of black men. We don’t know how many sex workers have been forced to perform sexual services on an officer in order to avoid arrest. How many trans women were arrested for having a condom, using a restroom, or just existing. How many murderers or assaulters of trans women were allowed to walk or not even arrested once her trans identity was revealed. How many black men and women were stopped for no reason? Were arrested for no reason? Were threatened by police. How many autistics were shot, or arrested for being weird? How many mentally ill people have been killed by the state, or sentenced to death? The list goes on.
When I had the police called on me some time ago because of my medical marijuana, the prospect filled me with dread and fear for some time. It still stresses me out and makes me worry. This despite the fact that the encounter was relatively mild. Why was I scared?
The situation could have gone much differently. If the police officer decided to arrest me first and ask questions later. After all, I must have smelled of marijuana when I opened the door. What if my wife had been home? The officer could have claimed that I was illegally sharing my prescription even though she doesn’t partake and I could lose my prescription and the only access to pain meds that work for me outside the hospital. What if she had opened the door and he responded to her being a trans woman of colour by harassing her, or arresting her, resulting in her being kicked out of the country? What if the interaction with police led to her being evicted? Some places in Ottawa include a provision in the rental agreement that allows them to evict you if you’ve been arrested on drug charges. What if I was evicted because I was arrested before I could explain that my use was legal? What if the police officer took advantage of the fact that I was a woman alone? A situation not unheard of in Canada or the US. What if Alyssa was home and the cop was homophobic? All of this despite my relative white privilege and the fact that Alyssa can sometimes pass as white. Our other identities: Queer, Trans, Latina, Disabled, Poor, Immigrant, all of them make us vulnerable to police interference. All of those identities makes being around police officers, even if they are nice friendly people, a source of anxiety even if we have done nothing wrong legally.
Police presence at these events discourages attendance from people who belong to those vulnerable communities. Going to a Pride event can already be a source of anxiety. Coming out is still difficult and dangerous for many people, and this can especially be the case for those same vulnerable communities. Disabled people risk being taken less seriously by doctors if they are visibly queer, certain ethnic/religious communities have more overt examples of homophobia and so people coming out risk being ostracized, a loss of their community, a loss of financial support, all sorts of consequences. Having access to the queer community by belonging to organizations, attending events like PRIDE can be a lifeline for these same people. And can mean the only time that they are allowed to openly and safely express their queer identity. It can mean finding likeminded people with whom to connect and build a new family to replace the one they lost. It can mean finding shelter, finding the courage to be themselves, finding the will to keep on living. A police presence, especially one being praised as heroes and included in a way in which at the same time people from these communities is excluded in other ways, creates a clear message however that they are not welcome. It increases the risk to their comfort, but more importantly it increases their risk of violence.
Oh come on! The police officers willing to attend Pride and ride in the float are not the ones who pose a risk to those people.
Just because a person belongs to one marginalized community, does not automatically disqualify them from being bigoted and violent towards other communities. A gay cop can still be: racist, sexist, transantagonistic, transmisogynistic, ableist, classist, and so on. Just because he is standing on a float or dancing in the streets doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of the same harassment and intimidation that others on the force are capable of.
Moreover for people belonging to more privileged communities – like say a gay cop who is out enough to ride in a float at pride without having to worry about facing problems at work and who even has a specific unions and organizations set up to protect those identities – pride is less an event about finding a lifeline and more about having fun at a spectacle. It’s a PR event. Moreover, being gay is no longer even a clear requirement for marching in the parade. Justin Trudeau’s own participation in the event shows that. A cop riding in a float might not be gay but be there to support a friend, or as a representative of a specific precinct.
In a situation where a cop riding on a parade float being adulated as a hero were to start trouble, by harassing a black kid, or a trans woman, or a disabled person, how likely are the crowds to come to the aid of the person they are harassing versus the person they were just cheering for? (if you are not sure, take a look at the reaction to the protest and see how much support people in these communities actually have).
In a situation where someone is forced to go up against a cop, their words against his, how likely is the other person to be believed that the cop was the source of the trouble. Or will they start to make excuses about how the cop was actually justified: because the kid ran away, because the toy looked real, because he was afraid of violence despite the fact that his hands were up and his back was turned, despite the fact that she was perfectly healthy when she went into the jail cell, despite the fact that… and that… and that…
Police have gotten away with outright murder when it was caught on camera! Why wouldn’t they get away with everything else before that?
Ok, but that stuff doesn’t happen in Canada. I could see the protest making sense in the US but not here in good old safe almost socialist Canada!
It is true that the rates of police shootings in Canada are somewhat lower than those in the US, but it is worth noting that the rates of ALL shootings are lower in Canada. That’s because our gun culture is different than what exists in the US. We have no specific second amendment, and while many people still own and feel entitled to own guns, it’s not treated in the same bordering-on-religious-obsession with firearms that is over that. THAT SAID:
Just because we have less shootings doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Moreover, less shootings doesn’t mean that police orchestrated murders don’t happen.
The Starlight Tours immediately come to mind. It’s been rumoured long enough that I remember hearing about this as a child, and there are witness statements attesting to a tendency for Police officers to take Native people: those who are elderly, those who are drunk or otherwise intoxicated, those who are in distress, any who are vulnerable. They will offer them rides, or coerce them into the car on some pretext, drive them to the outskirts of town, or to some rural location where there are not a lot of people who might come upon them and leave them there.
In extreme but not rare cases – they beat them first. This often takes place in winter, in places where the nighttime temperatures can dip to – 40 or lower (I don’t even have to specify which degrees because – 40 is the same in C and F). In other extreme cases they take the Native person’s shoes, leaving them to walk through the slush and snow without adequate footwear.
The stories of Native people found frozen to death in places that make no sense, or found with extreme frostbite and lose limbs, are far too common.
When cases of missing and murdered indigenous women are never investigated, police give a clear signal that it is open season. It actively puts more indigenous women’s lies in danger since their attacker knows that the police are unlikely to look for him. The Pickton Pig Farmer – the notorious Canadian serial killer was able to kill as many women as he did for as long as he did in part because such a large portion of his victims were Native women and women from other vulnerable communities.
It’s not just Native people who face violence at the hands of police in Canada.
I’ve heard stories directly from victims of police violence: who were new immigrants and threatened with deportation when they hadn’t done anything wrong, who were beaten by cops even though they hadn’t done anything wrong or resisted in any way, who were stopped or questioned for no discernable reason other than that they looked too black, too Arab, too foreign.
I have spoken to people living on the streets in Ottawa who have told me that they hide when they see certain cops coming. Those that get a laugh out of kicking or punching them as they pass by, knowing that homeless people are unlikely to report them or complain. Who look the other way when others do violence against homeless people. Who steal what money they managed to scrape together. Who will take their things and throw them away, or arrest them on some trumped up charge. The stories are endless, and they follow the same patterns of those we hear about in the US.
But isn’t telling telling LGBT Cops they can’t come to pride excluding gay people from PRIDE. Shouldn’t this be a space for ALL Queer people!
There are two things that need addressing in this post: Cops are not being prevented from attending pride events, and sometimes exclusion of power is necessary to include the vulnerable. I want to start with the latter first.
Let us pretend for a moment that cops actually are banned from the parade. Cops have a lot of power in our societies. Cops receive social adulation for being who they are. TV shows, movies, pop culture references, children’s stories, elementary schools, they all teach us as a society that cops are good guys fighting bad guys. Our society hero worships cops, and more and more police officers have been given unprecedented power and access to military grade technology and weaponry.
They have a group of people with similar access to power who protects them, in some cases no matter what, by virtue of the fact that they are cops. The have many people prepared to forgive them even taking the life of CHILDREN because they are cops. A Cop will always find Support.
This is not to say that they never face harassment for any of their identities. A black cop will face racism, a gay cop homophobia, etc. even from their own co-workers BUT they will still be able to find support. We know this now more than ever, as we witness murderer cops having sites dedicated to raising money for them, sending them messages of support, and so forth. There is no wrong a cop could do so bad that he will lose all support.
The same cannot be said of people in more vulnerable communities. As discussed above, their inclusion with a community that gives them support can be a veritable lifeline. It can mean the difference between life and death. Too often already, vulnerable members are pushed out from groups because of their other identities, but when a celebration that is specifically named and organized for the purpose of celebrating a once and still marginalized community to choose to cater to power rather than the marginalized is to betray EVERYTHING the event stands for. At that point pride might as well admit that it is not about Gay Rights, or political anymore. That it is just a giant party with rainbows, but that’s all the association it has with rights. They might as well rename it too since it’s not about Gay Pride anymore.
The Pride Parade was and is still a political entity. It cannot pretend otherwise.
Now on to the former point: Police officers are not excluded from pride events.
- Legally some officers have to be present for any city event.
- LGBT officers are welcome to come to the event as private citizens. Not in uniform. But they are not barred from personally displaying signs that they are cops. They can wear a bright pink thong that say I’m a Cop across the ass if they want. A uniform however is an official costume that carries with it more than just an indication of what their day job is. While they are in uniform they represent the force. They represent more than just themselves. In the same way that soldiers cannot wear their uniforms in most unofficial capacities (I don’t know all the specific rules like say at weddings) because when they wear the uniform, they are not Fred, or Bob, or Jane, they are “The United States Armed Forces” or the “Canadian Armed Forces”.
They are SPECIFICALLY not allowed to have a booth or a float: or in other words “An Official Recognition and Sanction” from the Pride festival. Having a float or a booth is recognition as an Ally or One of US. While certain specific cops might be, as long as violence from Police officers against queer people continues to be a thing, AND IT IS, then recognizing the force itself as an Ally is a lie and a dangerous one at that. As long as even gay cops continue to support and/or protect those officers who do violence against people for other marginalized identities then calling the force an ally is a dangerous lie. It is not the people who are being excluded IT IS THE SYMBOL. The symbol that to many still means fear, violence, and death.
Black people can be queer too. Trans people can be gay too. Disabled people can be gay too. When a black gay woman is killed, a gay person is killed. The system that killed them does not deserve to be cheered and hailed as a hero.
* Part 2 Coming Soon*