This weekend, queers and trans people (LGBTQ) and their allies in Toronto will take to the streets in the city’s Gay Village to celebrate and participate in the Trans and Dyke marches as well as the annual Pride parade. Will an official contingent of the Toronto Police Service be part of those celebrations?
A large group of queers and trans who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), and their allies, have refused to allow institutional police presence in Pride. This has made them a target of the conservative news media and people who would prefer a more normative, state-controlled Pride.
Many in the LGBTQ community want a different Pride, one that lays claim to the movement’s history, celebrates revolution and liberation and acknowledges the violence that many LGBTQ face, including violence and neglect from police services.
Last fall, a coalition of LGBTQ people formed the No Police in Pride Coalition (NPPC) after Olivia Nuamah, executive director of Pride Toronto, held a news conference with Toronto police chief Mark Saunders and Toronto Mayor John Tory to invite police to officially participate in the Pride parade in uniform.
Many in the community saw Nuamah’s invitation as undermining the membership’s decision. Based on the recommendations made by Black Lives Matter Toronto in 2016, the Pride membership had already voted the previous two years not to have an official Toronto Police Services presence at Pride.
In January, during a closed meeting, the Toronto Pride membership voted 163 to 161 against having uniformed police march in the annual parade. This vote reversed Nuamah’s unilateral decision. Once again, the Pride membership kept the Toronto Police Service from marching as a contingent in the Pride parade.
The mayor of Toronto, the premier of Ontario and the police chief all expressed frustration and anger at the Toronto Pride membership decision. The mayor scolded the Pride membership and threatened to exert more pressure to ensure a desired outcome and Premier Doug Ford has declared that he will not attend the Pride parade.
Many believe that the determination to force our communities to accept uniformed police in Pride amounts to contempt for the many trans and queers who do not feel safe in the presence of police.
The reasons for not wanting police in uniform at a queer celebration are numerous. Black and Indigenous transgender women face violence at the hands of the police on a regular basis. Many queers and particularly those who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) face increased risk in the current heightened anti-Black, racist, Islamophobic, transphobic and homophobic climate and their safety is not assured by police presence.
Lack of faith in police
Nuamah’s invitation to the Toronto Police to participate in the Pride parade came during a challenging time. Many in the queer and trans communities were still reeling from the deaths of mostly brown men in Toronto’s Gay Village. Many had suspected a serial killer and reported men missing but felt their concerns were not taken seriously by Toronto police.
It was revealed that police made little attempt to investigate the disappearances of several men of colour from the Gay Village between 2010 and 2017. In 2017, Alloura Wells, a multiracial, trans sex worker, vanished. Her remains were discovered in a ravine in August but weren’t identified by police until December.
Black trans women have also gone missing and have been killed with very little effort made by police to look for them or solve their murders. Sumaya Dalmar, a Somalian transgender woman, died under what has been described as mysterious circumstances. Police refused to keep the investigation open and discounted that her death was a homicide.
Police banned from parades in several cities
The increasing anti-Black, racist and transphobic violence against queers and trans and BIPOC people has resulted in Pride committees across North America, in cities like Vancouver and Hamilton, barring official police participation in Pride. In New York, a counter-march was organized by the Reclaim Pride Coalition. Reclaim has organized an alternative Pride with no police and no corporate floats. They hope to bring back a spirit of rebellion to an event they say has become a money-driven spectacle.
The desire of some queers and trans to be recognized and included in normative nation and state institutions has fuelled the current tensions. The neo-liberal corporatized agenda that has shaped Pride festivities over the past decade has made it seem impossible to think or imagine an alternative to the corporatized Pride model.
This year, Pride celebrates the 50th year of the Stonewall uprising that has come to define the birth of queer organizing in North America. The Stonewall uprising was led by Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman, and Sylvia Reviera, a Latina transgender woman..
Given this history and given recent events, this year’s Pride could have been an opportunity for some political programming and a time of reflection on the origins of Pride and where we are in the struggle for queer and trans liberation. But the leadership of Pride Toronto are content with the current depoliticized nature of the month-long event.
Many of us in the queer, trans and BIPOC trans and queer communities desire a different Pride, one that lays claim to the political histories; a Pride celebration that values revolution and liberation.
Many would like to see a Pride that challenges and critiques white, neo-liberal, homo-nationalist agendas: a Pride celebration where the state and its machinations have no claim.