TotoThis past Sunday, myself and a group of some of my favorite people in the world headed from my apartment to Toronto’s Pride Parade, armed with water guns to keep cool and an adorable puppy that resembled Toto from the Wizard of Oz.  We were there to celebrate.  We were there to have a fun time.  And we were there to catch a glimpse of our dreamy PM making history.

The thought that we were going to a political event – something that was meant to be controversial, start new conversations and ruffle more feathers than those on a fabulous drag queen’s dress – never crossed my mind.  After all, I had been noticing for days that nearly the whole city seemed to embrace Pride.  There were rainbow flags in every window, major companies with headquarters along Bay and King had changed their signs and created huge displays, and there were thousands of people lining the streets waiting for the floats to arrive.

OrlandoThe first float of the day – a beautiful tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting – was a sobering reminder of how lucky we are to live in Canada and how there are still many people throughout the world who are persecuted for simply being who they are.  It made me stop and think that I don’t worry about myself or my friends when we decide to head to Church St (where we were on the evening of the shooting) for a drink.  It made me wish that others throughout the world could live with the same freedoms throughout the world.

As I was thinking, we noticed that there was a large pause in the parade line.  Later, through the news, we would learn that this was because of the sit-in of the members of the Black Lives Matter – Toronto participants in the parade.

BLM – Toronto were marching close to the head of the parade as the 2016 Honored Group.  Buzzfeed reported that Black Lives Matter began discussing how they could use this position as an opportunity to raise awareness and increase the standing and funding of minority LGBTQ+ groups during Pride events and elsewhere shortly after being named this year’s honorees back in February.  On the day of the event, at about 3pm at the corner of Yonge and College, they set off rainbow smoke and halted the parade.  Then they approached the chairs of Pride Toronto with a list of the following conditions that needed to be met before the parade would be able to continue:

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This was an attempt to return Pride to its roots.  After all, Pride is a way of commemorating the Stonewall Riots of 1969 – an event that was meant to start a fight that would eventually bring about significant change for LGBTQ+ people throughout North America and the rest of the world.  And perhaps, over the years, many had forgotten that while this was a day to celebrate the progress that has been made, it is also an opportunity to give a voice to and raise awareness for those battles that still need to be fought and won.

After 30 minutes, Pride Executive Director Mathieu Chantelois met with the group and signed a copy of the demands.  This restarted the parade and ignited conversations throughout Toronto and elsewhere on what had just occurred.

The demand that has raised the most controversy is the request that police floats and booths be removed from future Pride events.  This sparked responses like the open letter by Toronto Police Const. Chuck Krangle, who himself is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, where he showed his disappointment after attending the parade for the first time.  He ended his letter by writing, “Exclusion does not promote inclusion.”

Many believe that Black Lives Matter have hurt their own cause and increased the divide between police and the black community by asking for police to be excluded from Pride events.  But, others believe that this was the perfect display of civil disobedience.  Nora Loreto, in an article for Rabble.ca wrote, “These are the realities that Black Lives Matter is fighting to change. Police need to earn access to community events. Until then, the community gets a say on their presence.”

Since the parade, Chantelois has stated that his signature represented a commitment to starting the conversation about these issues, rather than a promise to fulfill all of the requests.  And while he said that he would speak to police about their involvement in future events, he also stated in an interview with Toronto’s CP24, “Frankly, Black Lives Matter is not going to tell us that there is no more floats anymore in the parade. I will not tell you that there is no more floats in the parade because Pride is bigger than Black Lives Matter. It is definitely bigger than me and my committee. That is the kind of decision that needs to be made by the community.”

Canada PRideWhatever the ending of this story might be, I can say that BLM – Toronto did succeed in one of their missions of the day – they did get people who were not talking about black LGBTQ+ rights or the treatment of black people in Toronto and elsewhere talking.  As I sat at dinner last night with friends, this topic did come up and was discussed at length, as it likely did across tables throughout the city and the rest of the country.

As a member of the team at Stand Up, Speak Up, I can only commend the bravery and resolve of these people who made their voices heard while among thousands.  This is a topic that needs to be discussed, argued about and needs careful thought and consideration in order for us to reach significant positive change.  No matter what side of the issue you might be on or how much you feel that you know this issue, I encourage you to have those discussions, read the positions of both sides, and challenge your own thoughts and beliefs.  This is how change is made.


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