June is Pride Month. Pride isn’t just about celebrating LGBTQ+ culture, survival, and resilience — it’s a time of protest, with roots in a history of false arrests and facing down bigotry. Even with this known we’re still hearing more about how the Toronto PD isn’t allowed to march this year, they have to leave their uniforms at home and aren’t able to set up info booths. A simple request — come as you are, but not as a cop — has turned into a battle cry.
This shift in concentration is missing the point.
In July 2016, Black Lives Matter protesters blocked the Pride parade’s route until several demands were met — demands that, considering queer history and Pride’s tendency to be very, very white, were reasonable. One of those demands was that police would not participate in Pride: no info booths, no floats, no uniforms.
A brief refresher on the Black Lives Matter Movement
For those that are somehow not familiar, Black Lives Matter is a movement that started in response to the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012, after his killer was acquitted of his crime and the teenager was dragged through the coals for his own death. It spread, bringing awareness to the plight of black men, women, children, and our black trans siblings, who are more likely to be killed by police on a simple traffic stop than anybody else. They’re also more likely to die in prison under mysterious circumstances — and being brought in on charges that are either bullshit or unclear, or both.
Yes, I included children. Tamir Rice was 12 years old.
Where does the connection between BLM and Pride come in? Between 2013 and 2015, 87% of the 53 trans people that were murdered in the United States — that were reported — were people of colour. The average age of those killed was 31.
Black Lives Matter has even stated in their various descriptions that they stand for the trans folk in their midst — people who the faces of the LGBTQ+ community, of Pride, don’t tend to talk about or acknowledge. That’s what inter-sectional activism looks like, by the way: representing all the people in your movement.
Back to the present: not BLM’s only request
Pride and BLM, but especially BLM, were immediately accused of bigotry and turning back the clock on “progress”. These accusations were made as if police are part of a minority group that needs protection and are not a paramilitary-style organization with guns and the power to kill.
This was also treated as if it was BLM’s only demand. It wasn’t. In fact, it was number 8 of a total of 9 very reasonable requests that rightfully did not cause anyone to bat an eyelash. The movement’s request was even posted on their Twitter account, which everyone can access, and is plain as day to anybody that looks.
Nah, let’s ignore all that. I mean, it’s just providing more support to the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community, the people that tend to get ignored when folks talk about queerness. No big deal, right?
Nothing has changed, we just assume
In 1981, Toronto police raided four bathhouses, arresting over 250 gay men for being in a “bawdy house”, among other charges that were later dropped. Pride sprung from the protests that occurred at the time over that event, a pretty obvious attack against the queer community. Another, similar raid occurred in 2000 at a women’s bathhouse, where attendees of a party were strip-searched by male police officers. Charges against the women were dropped because the police should not have been there.
More specific to Pride itself, police were still carding people of colour at previous events. But, no, they don’t target these communities at all (sarcasm).
We neglect the fact that when police violence occurs against people of colour, trans people of colour, trans people, the mentally ill, and women, that violence occurs against the LGBTQ+ community, too. There are people of colour, women, mentally ill people, and trans people, because they’re part of the acronym within our community.
And these incidents of violence haven’t stopped in 35 years. They were going on before the bathhouse raids, they’re going on after. Nothing has changed.
TOPD does not need representation
Those fighting on behalf of the TOPD are on the wrong side of the battle.
There is absolutely no need for the police service to be represented at Pride. The community should not be expected to walk with the uniforms that continue to oppress them, and telling queer police officers to leave the uniform at home is not asking too much. If anything, this is the perfect opportunity for those officers to address the homophobia, transphobia, and racism of the police service and work toward fixing that through community outreach.
Instead of whining about how it’s not fair and that Pride shouldn’t listen to BLM, it’s time those protesting the move actually take a step back and look at what’s gone on over the years — and what continues to happen. The LGBTQ+ community still faces incredible discrimination from police, whether they want to admit it or not, with people of colour, trans people, and trans people of colour getting the brunt of it. There’s little concern for people of colour within the LGBTQ+ community, either — something that needs to be corrected. Listening to what BLM is saying is a step in the right direction.
BLM was founded by queer black women: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors. BLM’s fight includes us, so why doesn’t our fight include them? It needs to.
Protestation of Pride’s police ban is concentrating on the wrong issue. It ignores the rest of BLM’s demands, which I’ll show you again as a reminder:
— BlackLivesMatter TO (@BLM_TO) July 4, 2016
It’s not about you, it’s not even about the police. It’s about making sure the most vulnerable members of our community get the representation, funding, and care they need. Removing the police presence is just one of the things that has to be done.