Above Photo: ROBERTO MACHADO NOA VIA GETTY IMAGES. Members of Black Lives Matter Toronto staged a sit-in at the 2016 Pride Parade.
The group halted Toronto’s Pride parade to protest the mistreatment of black LGBT organizations.
When the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter discovered they were the honored guests at the city’s 2016 pride parade, the group wasn’t very enthused.
And on Sunday, activists from the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter brought the city’s parade to a halt for about 30 minutes to urge for the inclusion of more black LGBT members in the festivities.
“We understood that Toronto Pride has had a history of anti-black racism,” Janaya Khan, a co-founder Black Lives Matter Toronto, told The Huffington Post. “And instead of just jumping at this opportunity, we sat down with black groups that had been part of Pride for 18 years.”
The group saw the honor as an opportunity to address anti-blackness within an already marginalized community. The chapter consulted with Black Queer Youth, an organization for LGBT people under the age of 29, which had its stage moved farther away from the main crowd; indigenous people who have also boycotted pride and its erasure; and Blackness Yes, the community organization that hosts Blockorama, Pride Toronto’s oldest exhibit, which has also faced some of the largest budget cuts.
Then the chapter decided to accept the position as the honored group and develop a plan on how best to present the needs of Toronto’s black LGBT community. It was a simple strategy: halt the parade, which is often the main attraction of Toronto Pride, issue a list of demands, and cease the festivities until the demands were met.
Shortly after the sit-in began, leaders of Pride Toronto signed off on BLM’s demands and hugged the demonstrators, and the parade resumed.
Though Sunday was the first time a chapter of Black Lives Matter halted a pride parade, it wasn’t the first time a chapter had voiced its ire with the celebration.
The Oakland chapter of Black Lives Matter declined SF Pride organizers’ invitation to be the organizational grand marshal for the city’s June parade, whose theme was “For Racial and Economic Justice,” after parade organizers beefed up police presence following the killing of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
“As queer people of color, we are disproportionately targeted by both vigilante and police violence. We know first hand that increasing the police presence at Pride does not increase safety for all people,” a BLM member said in a statement. “Militarizing these events increases the potential for harm to our communities and we hope in the future SF Pride will consider community-centered approaches to security at pride events.”
The New York chapter issued a statement saying that it also would not participate in the city’s pride parade for similar reasons.
But the Toronto chapter’s decision to participate in and shut down the parade was heavily influenced by the Orlando tragedy.
“We recognized that an intervention had to occur because what happened in Orlando is not separate from the systemic and structural issues that create homophobic and transphobic narratives that allow for that type of devastation to happen in the first place,” Khan said.
The group also viewed the shutdown as a moment to highlight how Toronto Pride and the Toronto police, according to Khan, were attempting to erase the department’s poor relationship with the black community by uplifting LGBT people.
“What triggered us, outside of the actual tragedy itself, was recognizing that this would be the justification of increased police presence,” Khan said. “Here in Toronto we also saw a type of political maneuvering by Toronto police services. They had used the tragedy to begin a pink-washing narrative because they’ve gotten so much negative publicity around their race relations with black community members.”
Black Lives Matter Toronto does have a fraught relationship with the city’s police force. Last month, protesters interrupted the Toronto police as they unveiled an LGBT mural, calling it a “publicity stunt” that ignores “the reality of police relations amongst the queer and trans community: black people, indigenous people, sex workers.” In April, the chapter slammed the department after it released a heavily redacted investigation report on the Toronto police officer who shot and killed Andrew Loku, a 45-year-old black man, on July 5, 2015.
BLM Toronto has also criticized the city’s police for the death of Jermaine Carby and other black victims of police brutality. Since 1990, Toronto police have killed at least 51 people, according to an estimate from last year.
The contempt between BLM and the police seems to be mutual. Mike McCormack, the president of the Toronto Police Association, told BuzzFeed Canada that shutting down the parade was “not an unexpected tactic from Black Lives Matter.” He also expressed frustration with Pride Toronto.
“We’re disappointed that the organizers of Pride accepted or signed a document that would have such inflammatory content, saying that police floats and participation in the future should not be allowed,” McCormack said. He added that LGBT officers felt “betrayed” that Pride “allowed BLM to hijack the parade” and that he expects the organization to apologize for any agreement they made with the activists.
Pride Toronto said in a statement emailed to HuffPost that they never agreed to ban police services from the parade, and thanked the police department for its efforts to keep spectators safe. This August, the statement says, Pride Toronto will host a public town hall to obtain feedback on the 2016 festival.
Mathieu Chantelois, the executive director of Pride Toronto, told the Canadian news outlet CP24 that he only agreed to “having a conversation,” and that it wasn’t his main focus when he signed.
“My priority [on Sunday] was to make the parade move. We had a million people waiting, including people from marginalized communities. The show and the parade had to go on,” he said. Chantelois added that Black Lives Matter “could have sent me an e-mail and I would have agreed to all these things.”
Khan didn’t take too kindly to Pride Toronto’s comments, and emphasized that BLM’s demands should not be taken lightly. “They should know by now that we are not the ones,” she said — meaning not the ones to be messed with. “We are not the ones.”