A little over two months ago, I wrote a story about Pride Toronto’s decision to ban all police floats and uniformed police participation in the 2017 Gay Pride Parade, as per the demands of Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) activists. I was not impressed with the decision.
It seems I was not the only one.
News officially broke today that a motion has been put forward with the support of several Toronto city councilors to have Pride Toronto denied city funding as a result of their decision to exclude Toronto Police from this year’s festivities. That means a potential loss of $260,000 of its $800,000 in grant money.
The motion was drafted by Councilor John Campbell, who says that he wants to withhold funds “pending Pride’s reaffirmation of its core value of inclusivity.”
"Why is the city funding it, when they're using these tactics of exclusion against the police?" Campbell said Monday. Pride Toronto "got bullied into it by Black Lives Matter, and it was wrong." (via CBC)
Campbell isn’t the only councilor speaking out though. There are at least five other councilors in support of his motion- including Councilor Jon Burnside, who served as a police officer for 10 years.
"If Pride wants to exclude the police, it's absolutely their business," he [Burnside] said Monday. "But part of my job is to decide on funding, and I think that [the ban on police] not only sends the wrong message, it's counter-productive." (via CBC)
This doesn’t sound to me like retribution or petty politics. It sounds like justifiable pushback against an organization that did a 180 on its values, and that now has to answer for the fact that a festival with a “…mission to bring people together to celebrate the history, courage and diversity or our community,” is celebrating some intersectionality within their community and excluding others.
When Pride TO excluded police from participating in their parade, they were not only distancing themselves from their allies in the police force, they were essentially saying to anyone who happens to be both LGBTQ and a police officer- choose: both of your identities can’t co-exist in this space. That strikes me as hypocritical.
I think the reason this has bothered me so much is because there is an entirely different way this all could have played out- and it starts with the way that BLMTO chose to air their initial grievances with Pride TO. As honored guests at last year’s pride parade, they could have used their status within the festival to open up a dialogue between themselves and Pride TO, and talk about why they felt underrepresented in the community, as well as their issues with police representation at pride. Perhaps this wouldn’t have gotten them the outright ban on police that they wanted, but it would have allowed for the possibility of rational discussion that was lost in the protest and the vitriol since last summer.
More importantly, I think that it would have been an eye-opening exercise in what can be learned through honest conversation- on all sides of this equation. Obviously, the Toronto Police do not have a flawless historical track record, but it doesn’t mean that they are the only party guilty of ignorance or wrongdoing here.
I wonder, for instance, if BLMTO is aware of the $500,000 worth of security that the Toronto Police Service donates to the pride parade each year, or how much their police ban has upset police officers within the LGBTQ community. I also think it’s worth pointing out that BLMTO is often guilty of spreading the same sort of hate they claim to be standing in opposition of.
I understand the unenviable position this clash puts Pride TO in, and I empathize with the no-win situation they were put in last summer when BLMTO shut down the parade to make their demands. But ratifying those demands without consideration for the consequences was a mistake, and I don’t know that they have a place to stand if the city decides that they can’t fund them on that basis.
I genuinely hope that Pride TO can pivot back to a place of inclusion and diversity, but given the divisive hold that identity politics seems to have in all corners of our culture, I’m not holding my breath.