Toronto’s Pride parade is set to take over the city’s downtown core this weekend — a rainbow-hued culmination of tensions that have simmered for months between some in the LGBTQ community and the organizers of the annual event.
At the crux of the conflict is a difference of opinion on whether the event is meant to be a broad celebration, complete with corporate sponsors and government support, or stick closer to its protest roots.
The divide led to uniformed officers being banned indefinitely from marching in the parade following a narrow vote in January. That came after Pride Toronto, which runs the parade, invited police to participate this summer following a ban in the last two years.
One activist said the invite angered a significant portion of the LGBTQ community.
“We need to think of an alternative way of coming together that is also politicized, and it’s also ethical,” said Beverly Bain, a member of the No Pride in Policing Coalition and a University of Toronto historical studies professor.
Uniformed officers were first banned from the parade in 2017 over concerns of racial profiling, and again in 2018 over criticism the force had not taken the disappearances of several men missing from the city’s gay village seriously.
Serial killer Bruce McArthur pleaded guilty earlier this year to murdering eight men with ties to the gay village. His crimes are part of a review of the Toronto police’s missing-persons investigations being carried out by a former judge.
McArthur’s crimes and the police’s handling of them still have many in the LGBTQ community concerned about the force, Bain said. There are also worries that police haven’t been taking the deaths and disappearances of several transgender individuals seriously, she said.
But Olivia Nuamah, Pride Toronto’s executive director, said a group doesn’t have to be perfect when it comes to LGBTQ rights in order to participate in the parade. Rather, marching in the event demonstrates a commitment to the community and a pledge to do better in the future, she said.
Nuamah said that’s why she felt it was the right move to allow police to apply to participate in the march.
“It was as much an opportunity to say we want to invite you to … start a conversation with us about what change looks like as much as it was, ‘you are invited to apply to march in the parade,'” she said.
Further complicating things, said Nuamah, are the many LGBTQ police officers over the past 50 years who’ve shown tremendous bravery by being open about their identities.
“When you ask them not to participate, even though it has nothing to do with them as individuals, it’s a very bitter pill to swallow,” she said.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has said he hopes to continue discussions with Pride and the community. He also noted in January that he wanted officers to be able to participate in the event in their uniforms. Officers who aren’t in uniform can still march.
Nuamah noted, however, that she could understand where some of her critics were coming from.
“A lot of people feel that marching in the parade is a symbol too far given how the parade started, and I agree with that too,” she said. “It’s definitely for me not an either/or.”
That history is the Stonewall Riots, which 50 years ago catalyzed LGBTQ communities to come out of the shadows.
In June of 1969, police raided the queer-friendly Stonewall Inn in New York to ensure everyone was wearing clothes that “matched” the gender they were assigned at birth. Bar-goers refused to produce their IDs. When officers tried to arrest them, the crowd ballooned and the situation turned violent.
Bain said she’d like to see the LGBTQ community return to those roots on a larger scale. Such a celebration would look different from the Pride parades of today, she said.
“It would include always honouring the political roots of our movement,” Bain said. “One that isn’t defined by corporate dollars, but is more of a community coming together.”
Toronto’s Pride parade takes place Sunday.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press