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Toronto Police should listen to marginalized LGBTQ+ folks and attend Pride — without the badge
Last month, Olivia Nuamah, executive director of Pride Toronto, announced that the Toronto Police Service (TPS) will march in the 2019 parade in uniform, following their absence in the last two parades.
In the 2016 parade, a Black Lives Matter protest successfully demanded that police floats be removed and officers not show up in uniform for future parades. Some view the upcoming re-entry of police as a step forward for the community’s relationship with the TPS.
But it has also drawn ire, particularly among marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community, whose negative experiences with the TPS had made it difficult for them to attend the event in the past. They had been strongly supportive of the absence of the TPS.
One can understand the desire to portray a united front when trying to achieve reconciliation. The presence of the TPS at the Pride Parade might one day become a symbol of the triumph of community and love over injustice and persecution.
However, it is inappropriate to access this symbol until that triumph has actually been attained in an effective and permanent capacity. Many of the most vulnerable among us still feel as though their relationship with the police has a long way to go toward respect and repair.
A demonstration in opposition to police in uniform at Pride was held in front of Pride Toronto’s headquarters on November 3. Organized by Ashley Cooper, the Facebook event for the demonstration drew support from over 1,000 individuals.
The event was attended by leaders in the LGBTQ+ community, including Nick Mulé, an associate professor at York University and the Chair of Queer Ontario, sociologist and activist Gary Kinsman, one of Canada’s leading academics on LGBTQ+ issues, and Alphonso King Jr., also known as DJ Relentless and Jade Elektra.
Their speeches were impassioned, focused, and reflected a bitter frustration toward the executive directorship of Pride Toronto for what feels to many community members like a severe betrayal of Pride’s history of resistance.
It is important to recognize that the Pride festival exists to commemorate the progress made by activists against decades of violence abetted and often executed by governmental and law enforcement bodies.
Kinsman opened his address by introducing himself as one of the organizers of Toronto’s first Pride event held in June 1981.
“I want to remind people a little bit first of all about the history of that first Pride. 1981 was the year of the bath raids and the mass resistance on the part of our communities to the police invasions of our lives, the arrests, and all of the horror that occurred as a result of those raids.”
37 years ago, on February 5, 1981, the Metropolitan Toronto Police conducted a raid of four bathhouses, arresting 286 men and prompting outrage from Toronto’s gay and lesbian community and its public allies.
Toronto Pride Week grew out of the mass protests that ensued, which were organized against not only the raids, but also against the systemic discrimination of the queer community perpetrated by the city’s police force.
The insistence that the officers be allowed to march in uniform is accordingly troubling. The attempt to paint the social institution of policing as an ally in those achievements, as opposed to its historical role as aggressor and deterrer, is misleading.
“It’s right there at the top of their website: ‘To Serve and Protect.’ But to serve and protect who?” Cooper asked of those in attendance at the November 3 demonstration.
Recent interactions between the community and the police indicate that the relationship is far from healed.
In the fall of 2016, it was brought to the public’s attention that the police were engaging in an undercover operation titled Project Marie, in which police arrested 72 individuals after luring them into soliciting sex acts at Marie Curtis Park. The 89 charges laid were almost entirely bylaw infractions, a baffling choice considering that undercover operations are utilized primarily for cases of criminal activity.
This year, the arrest of Bruce McArthur for the first-degree murder of eight men between 2010 and 2017 dug a deeper schism between the community and the TPS. In December 2017, already months into an investigation, Chief Mark Saunders claimed that there was no evidence of a serial killer targeting the gay community.
Not only did the TPS publicly deny the connection of the disappearances to a serial murderer, but a statement released by Pride Toronto in April revealed that the community had earlier voiced their concern about the disappearances, only to be dismissed by the investigators.
At the demonstration, it was made clear that many feel that the decision to once again extend the invitation to police is primarily based on a threat to Pride of losing its government funding.
“‘It has come to threaten our very existence as a publicly funded non-profit community organization.’ That is a direct quote from their statement,” Cooper cited from Pride Toronto’s announcement.
To insist that the LGBTQ+ community be the first to extend their hands in friendship to the police, especially in invitation to an event that is such an emblem of rebellion against oppression, is neither fair nor reasonable when reciprocal efforts toward reconciliation have not yet been appropriately rendered.
“The people who wear the badge are welcome,” Cooper said. “It is the badge we have asked to stay at home.”
Anna Osterberg is a first-year Master of Teaching student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Pinkwashing at Toronto’s Pride Parade
H aving some sort of Pride celebration during the summer months is now par for the course for many major city centres, and more and more, the festivities are spreading into even smaller urban areas. Owen Sound, Ontario, had its very first pride parade this year.
As queer events garner broader attendance, they have also become sought after opportunities for corporate sponsorship and advertisement. However, these advertisements often provoke widespread criticism — can Pride demonstrations stay true to their founding spirit of queer liberation when they’re bankrolled by major corporations?
To spectators at this year’s Pride Parade in Toronto, a corporate presence was extremely visible. Most of the large scale floats sported rainbow coloured logos of large companies like Canada Trust or Bud Light. Yet, while these corporate floats loomed large over the pedestrian element of the parade, many groups on foot carried signage protesting that same corporate involvement, with slogans such as “You Can’t Buy My Pride” or “The ‘T’ in LGBTQ Doesn’t Stand for ‘TD’.”
For some, corporate sponsorship is a benign and necessary aspect of contemporary Pride movements and celebrations. For others, it’s pinkwashing — big business trying to appear queer-friendly in order to seem progressive and gain new marketing opportunities, without necessarily caring about or contributing to the community.
While complaints against corporate involvement in queer events are becoming more frequent, the political environment has changed dramatically. With government funding for queer non-profits already scarce and potentially becoming more so (if the recently scrapped LGBTQ+-friendly sexual education curriculum is any indication), there’s also the question of whether these groups can continue to do work for the queer community without relying on private and corporate funding.
The origin of these mid-year celebrations and most contemporary queer organizing is usually acknowledged as the Stonewall Riots of 1969.
In 1969 New York, it was illegal to ‘solicit homosexual relations.’ On June 28 of that year, police conducted a series of raids on bars in Greenwich Village that were thought to be gathering places for the queer community. This culminated in a raid on the Stonewall Inn, which broke into a queer struggle against the police, who ended up barricaded inside the inn.
While members of the community deserve to be highlighted in the events of that night — most notably, trans woman Marsha P. Johnson, who is credited with throwing the first stone of the riots — much of the lasting significance of that night was the lesson of how the queer community could band together to fight their diverse oppressions.
After that night, queer liberation movements gained visibility and momentum. More locally, Toronto Pride celebrations grew out of the Bathhouse Raids of 1981. The Toronto police forces coordinated raids on four major bathhouses that they suspected of prostitution and ‘indecent acts’ — read: queer sexuality.
After a whopping 286 arrests, the raids marked a turning point in Toronto’s queer liberation movement. The queer community grew increasingly politicized and refused to be swept under the rug by police, media, or the public.
Both these events occured, of course, long before large companies would have had any interest in sponsoring queer movements. So how do the events of 1969 and 1981 compare to our modern Pride celebrations, where corporate sponsorships feature prominently in queer organizing?
While both the Stonewall and Bathhouse riots were protests, modern Pride has incorporated more and more celebratory aspects, as milestones of LGBTQ+ liberation become more frequent.
Now that larger corporations and even governments wish to share in Pride celebrations, there is often more competition for visibility.
This was clear in the summer of 2016, when Black Lives Matter (BLM) Toronto staged a protest in the Pride Parade over the growing marginalization of the Black queer community within Pride celebrations.
Pride Toronto ultimately agreed to Black Lives Matter Toronto’s demands. That same year, Justin Trudeau marked the first time that a Canadian Prime Minister ever walked in a Pride celebration, but Trudeau did so without ever publicly acknowledging the BLM protest to which he was in such close proximity.
These events raise questions of who should be privileged and visible at events of queer celebration. As the signage shows, many protestors at this year’s Pride parades and marches argued that corporate sponsorship didn’t belong. However, at the same time, Pride is a non-profit organization. Since it charges no admission to its events, sponsorships are vital to its ability to create queer spaces.
I wrote to Undergraduate Director and Lecturer Dai Kojima from the University of Toronto’s Sexual Diversity Studies Program about the dilemma that queer non-profits find themselves in.
When asked about the potential benefits and risks of major corporate sponsorship, Kojima responded that he viewed the situation as “more complicated than good/bad.” In Kojima’s opinion, “it is too easy to blame non-profits as being complicit in capitalism — as if they can ‘refuse’ to take the money.” He continued, “Many organizations are barely getting by and fighting over small pools of money to fund their programs, pay minimum salaries to their dedicated staff, and rent a basic work space to gather and organize activities.”
Kojima said that not all queer non-profits would even have the option of relying solely on non-corporate funding, especially non-profits that serve the most marginalized elements of the LGBTQ+ community, such as “racial and ethno-specific communities, homeless youths, sex workers, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, to name a few.”
He explained that “in the context of Toronto/Ontario, governmental support for these intersectional, queer non-profit organizations is shrinking rapidly — a dire situation made worse by the current Premier’s attack on social supports and public education on gender and sexual diversity.” This means that many more organizations are forced to turn to corporate support to stay viable.
Further, Kojima wrote, “We really have to understand the ambivalent and conflicted ways in which queer organizations — both big and small — work with corporations and governments to fund their work.”
Noulmook Sutdhibhasilp, Executive Director of the non-profit Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS), echoed Kojima’s call for nuance in these discussions. He noted that issues of corporate sponsorship are directly linked to “a bigger social justice issue” — that is, the “neo-liberalism agenda that shrinks government’s welfare state and continues to direct the responsibilities of social, health, education and other services to be dictated by the market.”
For Sutdhibhasilp, this makes corporate sponsorships essential in providing services to marginalized communities in Toronto and elsewhere.
Sutdhibhasilp also expressed that while “many people are turned off by corporate logos and conditions they impose,” the “PRIDE spirit is in celebrating who we are” and taking up space in the mainstream.
Sponsors vary widely in industry and how actively they support the queer community, outside of the weekend of Toronto Pride. One of Pride Toronto’s most noted sponsors is TD Banking, which sponsors 83 Pride festivities around North America while also supporting over 160 LGBTQ+ organizations and initiatives.
On the flip side, Bud Light is a major sponsor of Pride Toronto, yet was also a major sponsor of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. This move was widely criticized due to reports of Russia’s recent and well-documented persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly its anti-gay purges in Chechnya.
There are also sponsors like Remington’s Men of Steel strip bar, which supports Pride while arguably promoting cisnormative views of beauty and pleasure.
Nevertheless, all of these businesses are willing to put their profits into funding initiatives like Pride Toronto. Is this contribution enough, in return for all the benefits that they get through exposure at Toronto Pride? Or do corporations that can appear accepting and progressive through sponsoring events like Pride have more of a responsibility to engage with the queer community, as TD Bank and other sponsors try to do?
Kojima argued that the debate should not focus on whether corporate money is “always already bad” so much as on questions such as “which agendas are deemed safe and worthy in the eyes of corporate philanthropic programs and which voices remain on the margins?” and, “what systems of value and valuation are at work when corporate and government money is unevenly distributed?”
In that framework, organizations like Pride seem safer and less controversial than organizations serving more marginalized elements of the community, and therefore receive more corporate funding. This leaves organizations serving ethno-culturally specific or poverty stricken aspects of the queer community struggling for funds to keep their services going.
For anyone wanting to support some of those organizations who receive less governmental and corporate funding and remain on the margins, here are a few places you could start:
On a broader scale, questions regarding the effects of the widespread use of queer symbols by large corporations remain. While it can be positive for queer symbols to be more widely accepted and mainstream, Kojima noted that “we must be skeptical of the belief that circulation of symbols and mass consumption of them will somehow lead to some kind of liberation.”
The recent controversy surrounding the new Philadelphia Pride Flag, which incorporates black and brown stripes into the traditional rainbow flag to represent inclusion of queer people of color, highlights this. As Toronto recently experienced with the 2016 BLM protest, this is a much talked about issue in current queer organizing — the drive to ensure that people of color are not ignored when we talk about the queer community, and that this intersectionality is acknowledged.
It’s important to note that as of yet, no corporations have used the Philadelphia flag instead of the traditional rainbow colours. Perhaps the more frequently used “Love is Love” and “PRIDE” are safer, more consumer-friendly options, rather than embracing the contemporary face of the queer community and accepting potential controversy.
Kojima presented an ideal scenario, one that he stressed is only theoretical and not currently the way that corporate sponsorships work: “Ideally corporations should work with queer communities in order to first find out what the pressing needs of that particular community are and ask how their sponsorship will help that cause. Not the other way around.”
“Corporate donors need to let go of the expectation that their sponsorship and donation for queer events and programs will produce direct beneficial return (e.g. corporate visibility, increased positive public perception, monetary gains etc.), and instead should offer financial and other material supports because supporting these initiatives is the right thing to do.”
A reminder that regardless of how far we have come, there is still more that needs to be done
There are few places where one can strip themselves of any veil and express the unadulterated version of themself. Throughout the years, Pride has become one of these safe havens.
Pride highlights the LGBTQ+ community in all of its glory. The carnivalesque themes and harlequin atmosphere project and celebrate the years spent hiding from oppression and fighting for basic rights — the right to love, to express, and to simply be.
LGBTQ+ individuals fight, whether in public or private, to be a part of the fabric that creates and connects societies worldwide. Pride allows members of the LGBTQ+ community to defend their feelings, protect their right to resist social stigma, and promote the rich diversity that defines the community.
There is a fearlessness to Pride, backed by a history infused with tenacity and courage, that leaves me in awe. June 16, 2017 was the first time I attended the Pride parade. People of every age, shape, and ethnicity filled the streets. The crowd was as polychromatic as the flags that they carried, and the atmosphere was filled with glitter and charged with ecstasy.
Amidst the bombastic music and vivid rainbows, all I saw was the unreserved emotion — the wide smiles that make eyes gleam, and the tears running down faces, filled with nostalgia and joy. Coming from a country like Pakistan, where many aspects of society are censored, I had never had the privilege of experiencing something like this before.
I have always been a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, possibly even before I understood how sexuality and gender are constructed in our world, but in those moments at Pride, a newfound appreciation for the movement grew in me.
The spectacle of ‘come as you are’ is terrifying for most people, myself included. We fall into a façade that we feel will be accepted, rather than letting the world adjust to accommodate, or simply accept, us.
Although I have experienced discrimination as a Muslim woman of colour, I also identify as cisgender. I cannot claim to completely understand the struggle of being constantly mislabeled by heteronormative culture, as I have never had to justify who I’m attracted to or the identity that I adopt.
But as I marched alongside all the supporters who had come out to celebrate Pride, I realized that this community has every right to be heard. A flicker of hope sparked in my heart that one day people in my country could do the same.
Freedom of expression is a relative term in Pakistan, but so are all the other freedoms that we take for granted in the West. Pakistan is a country submerged in years of turmoil and deluded by biased religiosity. There is a lack of free will, despite citizens being charming and humble. Even social activists are often afraid to advocate for the inclusivity of various sexualities, genders, and identities.
The monochromatic city walls retain the stories of people who are desperate, but afraid, to be themselves without discrimination. I have seen my friends struggle because we come from a society laced with conservatism, which leaves them unable to live their truths.
Narrow-mindedness bred through education paves a predetermined path for every generation, before its members even realize who they are or who they love. People have to think twice before touching, and the simple act of interlocking fingers turns into hushed shadows. They begin to live in the darkness — secretly existing, but never really seen. Where I am from, this is all too often the narrative of the LGBTQ+ community.
Standing at Pride, I wanted more for my country. I wanted ruffled feathers, ostentatious costumes, hopeful slogans, and liberation. It was all right in front of me — people reveling in the light as they walked through the streets of Toronto.
For me, that felt like the importance of Pride. It is not just a celebration, but a remembrance of the journey that led to these moments and the road moving forward. That is, a road for further inclusivity that dispels the latent bigotry and gives rise to equity.
While the West has made strides, there is still a vast amount of LGBTQ+ culture that needs to be taught and mainstreamed. It goes beyond a day or a month — paradigms need to be shifted worldwide.
The LGBTQ+ community has always faced adversity with love and resilience, from Stonewall to the fight for transgender rights. Members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community keep marching to retain the rights given to them, with the hope that we can spark change in a countries where these rights do not yet exist.
This year, Pride encompassed not only the vibrant festivities, but also highlighted the violence that has recently struck the community. Pride serves as a reminder that regardless of how far we have come, there is still so much that needs to be done.
Rather than touting what I have done for the LGBTQ+ community — which is little in comparison to what the community has taught me — this is my love letter to Pride.
How to join the parade with U of T student groups
In celebration of Pride Month and in preparation for the Pride Parade on June 24, several student groups at U of T are holding events on campus that students are encouraged to attend.
Ahead of the Pride Parade, student group Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) will be hosting a Pride Float Decorating Party. Students are encouraged to bring any kind of arts and crafts material to help design the float. The decorating party will take place on June 23, from 5:30–8:30 pm, in room 523 of Wilson Hall.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is holding a Pride Picnic on June 24 at 10:00 am in Hart House Circle. During the event, the Architecture and Visual Studies Students Union will be joining to host a pancake breakfast, followed by face painting, t-shirt decorating, and snacks.
Other Pride Toronto events that U of T groups are participating in include the Trans March on June 22, the Pride & Remembrance Run and the Dyke March on June 23, and, of course, the Pride Parade on the afternoon of June 24.
All students are encouraged to attend the parade and march with the U of T affiliated groups. The Sexual and Gender Diversity Office (SGDO) and LGBTOUT will be meeting students at 3:15 pm on Bloor Street and Ted Rogers Way in the “J 18” section. For students who missed out on the SGDO’s Pride T-shirt Painting Party, extra t-shirts will be available on the day of the parade. All students are encouraged to march with them, either on the float or beside it.
The Faculty of Engineering will also have a float in the parade and encourages all engineering students to join them. While the UTSU does not have a float this year, it will still be marching in the parade and invites students to meet them at 2:00 pm on the front lawn.
Students are asked to bring plenty of sunscreen and water, and wear comfortable footwear to the parade.
How large-scale national festivities like Pride Month and Canada 150 use and abuse Canadian nationalism
The celebrations of Pride Month and Canada 150 that took place over the summer may have appealed to the majority of Canadians who do not experience exclusion or erasure, but such celebrations promote a parochial form of Canadian exceptionalism that distorts history and marginalizes identities that should be central to the celebration of queerness and this land.
Pride Month in Toronto in its current form distorts its history of radical political resistance, and thereby it does a particular disservice to queer and trans people of colour. For Indigenous peoples, Canada 150 represents an erasure of thousands of years of human existence and the adverse impacts of colonization. Taken together, these celebrations uphold a Canadian brand of ‘progressiveness’ that enable institutions of power to appear legitimate, and a majority of Canadians to remain complacent toward a version of history that remains contested by the people that continue to be marginalized in Canadian society.
Until recently, Pride Month happily welcomed the Toronto Police Service’s participation in the Pride parade, disregarding both ongoing police violence toward racialized LGBTQ+ persons and the parade’s historical roots. The history of police violence toward queer and trans people of colour, captured in the Stonewall riots in America and Operation Soap in Canada, is what shaped Pride as a site for political resistance against institutions of power. As expressed by Black Lives Matter TO (BLMTO) co-founder Rodney Diverlus at Toronto Pride this year, “Pride is actually ours. Queer and trans people of colour actually started this.”
Last summer, BLMTO staged a sit-in protest at the Pride Month parade to challenge its anti-Blackness and demanded that police floats be removed from the parade. BLMTO was then accused of being divisive and exclusive. Such a reaction reflects a general attitude toward Black activism, in which any call for racial justice spawns discomfort in Canadians. After all, to challenge the police force, an agent of the state, is to challenge the image of the Canadian state itself.
Because BLMTO’s demands have since been accepted and incorporated by Pride Toronto, the not-for-profit organizers of Pride Month have faced threats of funding withdrawal from some members of the Toronto City Council. Clearly, Pride Toronto’s resistance to the oppression of the LGBTQ+ community does not necessarily account for those who are racialized within that very community.
For those who condemn colonization, Canada 150 is an anniversary to resist, not to celebrate. The anniversary has been condemned by Indigenous voices because, alongside celebrating the consolidation of the Canadian settler state, it also represents the violation of Indigenous self-determination — a violation that has been ongoing for centuries.
In today’s era of ‘reconciliation,’ Indigenous peoples remain critical of the work yet to be done. The federal government spent nearly half a billion dollars on Canada 150 celebrations — the kind of investment that is needed for Indigenous education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Given injustices like the residential schools system, environmental poisoning of Indigenous lands, and missing and murdered Indigenous women, there is little reason to celebrate the nationalist narrative from the perspective of the colonized.
Meanwhile, the Liberals continue to betray Indigenous communities’ needs. The government’s commitment to anti-Indigenous pipeline projects and its failure to amend the Indian Act to eliminate all gender-based discrimination against Indigenous women are just two examples of how reconciliation efforts have failed.
The problems with Pride Month intersect ongoing colonialism against Indigenous peoples. For instance, two-spirit folks, having endured a history of colonization, face under-representation at Pride Month. The wide cultural variety of sexualities and genders independent of western political history are not confinable to the LGBT category that remains at the heart of Canadian national identity.
The ultimate purpose of these events is to promote the image of Canada as a progressive and welcoming country, thereby feeding nationalist sentiments. Nationalism in general is a problematic phenomenon because it necessarily excludes in order to determine who belongs. Insofar as celebrations like Pride Month and Canada 150 capitalize on marginalization and identity, they disingenuously obscure the truth.
This is hardly the first time the concept of identity in Canada has been twisted for political purposes. Despite the image of diversity and multiculturalism Canada projects to the world, it has a history of treating migrants inhumanely — alongside oppression of Indigenous sovereignty, the migrant history of this land includes dark events such as the Chinese head tax, internment camps for Japanese Canadians, and refusal to accept Jewish refugees during World War II.
While this history of Canadian racism is seldom acknowledged in conversations about national identity, LGBTQ+ identity is instrumentalized via nationalism to serve the interests of institutions of power. Aside from the Toronto Police’s attempt to co-opt Pride Month, corporate structures like Gap and TD Bank have commercialized Pride Month through ‘pinkwashing,’ a practice that promotes a pro-diversity image and appeals to modern consumer preference to generate profit while distracting the public from unethical practices.
Internationally, the Canadian government has used LGBTQ+ identity to advance its construction of Canadian modernity on the world stage. Whether it be through Canada’s condemnation of Russian homophobia during the 2014 Sochi Olympics or Justin Trudeau’s conspicuous participation in Pride Month, the Canadian state uses Pride Month as a global platform to construct itself as a uniquely ‘progressive’ leader amid a less civilized world.
Canada 150, too, is a site for corporations to reinforce a celebratory Canadian identity as a profitable brand. Tim Hortons’ Canada 150 edition of Roll up the Rim reduces Canadian identity to a consumer culture that presumes the existence of diversity and equality. Both LGBTQ+ and Canadian national identity require complicity to institutions and common cultural beliefs about Canada. To this end, the narratives of racialized people, who experience exclusion and demand radical change, are intentionally left on the margins.
Together, Pride Month and Canada 150 produce a narrative about modern Canadian nationalism that is exploited by institutions of power. However, the radical history of queer identity and Indigenous experiences of settler colonialism offer alternative narratives that challenge those institutions of power. If we are truly committed to progressivism and diversity, we ought to postpone celebration and pay more attention to those who have yet to experience the emancipation promised by this country.
Ibnul Chowdhury is a third-year student at Trinity College studying Economics and Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies.
Amid disappointing portrayals of Black Lives Matter, the Canadian media must do more to advocate for racial justice
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once warned of an unsuspecting threat to Black liberation called “the white moderate.” He defined white moderates as people who prefer the “absence of tension” over the “presence of justice” and say, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” The white moderate “paternalistically believes that he can set the timeline for another man’s freedom.”
If Black Lives Matter (BLM) is today’s civil rights group, then Canadian media is the white moderate at best and an antagonist at worst. This has become strikingly evident, given the outpouring of disappointing coverage in response to BLM Toronto’s (BLMTO) recent sit-in at Toronto’s Pride Parade — coverage that makes a mockery of the BLM movement, while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that anti-Black racism continues to exist both in Canada and the United States.
In the Toronto Star, for instance, an editorial claimed that, while BLMTO is usually righteous, their actions at the Toronto Pride Parade went too far and stepped on the toes of allies. The activist group, an ’honoured guest’ at the parade, apparently should have opted for friendliness over confrontation, given the fact that the LGBTQ+ community are considered their allies.
Such a naive comment is symptomatic of the moderate, who supposedly understands and sympathizes with the cause of the marginalized but cannot tolerate the rage and urgency that naturally underlies it. It also ignores the fact that LGBTQ+ people can be racist as well. When reflecting on the public’s response to their sit-in, Rodney Diverlus of BLMTO tweeted that the first group of people to chant “all lives matter” — a phrase that trivializes racism and violence against the Black community by insisting everyone be treated equally despite unequal levels of disadvantage — were white queer people. There is clearly still more work to be done.
As John Ibbitson wrote in the The Globe and Mail, the face of the gay rights movement has always been that of a white, middle-class man. Sexuality aside, an otherwise privileged group like this faces much less resistance in having their rights acknowledged than Black people, much less the many Black women and trans people who populate BLMTO. This reality explains why Pride can be infuriating to people of colour; at the end of the day, it still appears to be a celebration of cisgendered white men, despite the fact that monumental moments in the fight for queer rights, such as the Stonewall riots, were both initiated by people of colour and trans people.
Ibbitson’s more conscientious analysis is in stark contrast to that of his colleague Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail’s star columnist and plagiarist-in-chief. In typical Wente fashion, her piece was condescending, bereft of depth, and overall dismissive of views that challenge her own. She called BLMTO “bullies” backpacking on the racial tensions of America, as if Canadians were innocent of racial resentment. For Wente, BLMTO simply ought to have been happy they were present at Pride; she believed the group’s protest was little more than whining. She crudely labelled most of BLMTO’s demands as asking for money for their personal projects, ignoring the fact that they have consistently urged Pride to strive for greater visibility, the inclusion of South Asian and Indigenous peoples, and increased accessibility for people with disabilities.
Wente took particular offense to BLMTO’s demand for the elimination of police floats in future parades. Her view that police floats symbolize “solidarity and inclusion” ignores the fact that both Black and queer people, and especially trans people, are justifiably fearful of police, who have a history of subjecting these groups and other marginalized groups to scrutiny, harassment, and violence. With this context in mind, seeing the police occupy space on a float in a parade dedicated to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people is a taunt — and a violent one at that — for many queer people of colour.
Perhaps the most insulting part of Wente’s column is that she claimed Toronto is so much better for Black and queer people than other places in the world, consequently insinuating that Black and queer people should be grateful to only have to experience the lesser of two evils.
Similar sentiments were penned in the National Post, when Robyn Urback — despite acknowledging race as a factor in the pushback against BLMTO — wrote that Pride was an example of the political left “eating itself,” because two groups concerned with progress clashed. Holding groups that claim to be progressive to account can only be a positive thing, and BLMTO was right to expect more of Pride.
One can argue that today’s Pride, embellished with corporate sponsors, pinkwashing, and shallow support, is now more a celebration of past achievements than an event seriously concerned with marching further towards equity. Certainly, considering the backlash to BLMTO, the parade is a far cry from its political roots, meant to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which were initiated in protest against police brutality and led by queer and trans people of colour.
The media’s less-than-savoury takes on BLMTO are particularly appalling considering the position from which BLMTO is speaking. Amid the frequent shooting of unarmed Black people in both the US and Canada, BLMTO’s demand to ban police floats from the parade is not surprising. It is unnerving, to say the least, to march alongside an institution that can destroy you with impunity. One need only to look at the dozens of instances of police brutality against Black people in the United States — Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile are just four of the Black lives that have been taken by police. Closer to home, the violence persists: consider the shooting of Andrew Loku by Toronto police, and the recent death of Abdirahman Abdi, a mentally ill man that was beaten to death by the Ottawa Police.
It is not that BLMTO’s demands or their strategies cannot be criticized. Yet, such criticism must be directed in a constructive manner, in a manner that, at the very least, acknowledges anti-Black racism and does not obscure the truth.
[pullquote-default]All marginalized groups find themselves underrepresented in journalism, and that’s a moral and a business problem.[/pullquote-default]
Fortunately, not all media perspectives on BLMTO have been so narrow-minded. While it isn’t necessary to share the identity of those one writes about, Desmond Cole, a Black writer, provided much needed context and clarity in his Toronto Star column amid a series of tone-deaf hot takes elsewhere in Canadian media. He notes how the media-manufactured Black vs. queer dichotomy erases the intersectional issues that queer Black people face — issues that arise as by-products of two overlapping marginalized identities, each with their unique lived experiences of oppression. Furthermore, Cole discusses how queer people of colour are alienated at Pride and in LGBTQ communities as a whole. Though it was not his responsibility to do so, Cole did well in explaining why BLMTO’s actions were justified, and this was a welcome contrast to many of the more dubious perspectives provided by his colleagues.
The reaction to BLMTO’s actions at Pride are symbolic of a bigger issue in Canadian media: an alarming lack of diversity. All marginalized groups find themselves underrepresented in journalism, and that’s a moral and a business problem. Identity cannot replace journalistic ability, but it can add valuable nuance and context when covering queer and racialized communities. Journalism where people are able to tell their own stories — if they choose, not because they are tokenized and pigeonholed to do so — can only be seen as a positive.
This is not to mention the fact that the media, by means of reaching a large audience, can set the stage and the standard for what kind of content constitutes legitimate, appropriate journalism. When BLM is caricaturized, but their notable achievements are not given air time, the seedy priorities of the media shine through — they paint racial justice activists as people not worth listening to, while obscuring discussions of their actual work.
Even beyond this, there are undoubtedly more overt and crass instances of racist content being published by the media. The Varsity is far from innocent of this — in 2007, for example, a blackface cartoon was published in our paper, something that we have yet to formally issue an apology for; we aim to officially amend this disgrace in the coming weeks.
Canadian media should commit to increasing diversity in newsrooms, which would increasesthe quality of journalism. Without Desmond Cole, there would only be one Black columnist in the mainstream media: Royson James of the Toronto Star. The Varsity now has a diverse masthead, but we do not entertain the notion that the mere presence of diversity will be enough to combat racism, both in terms of our workplace environment and the content that we publish going forward.
In order to work to combat racism in the media, a conversation needs to be had about the way race and racial issues are portrayed to the public, as well as the responsibility that media outlets have to tell a conscious story, not just one that makes headlines.