Opinion

Why banning uniformed police at Pride will actually make the event more inclusive

Many of us go out of our ways avoid areas where we know cops hang out, even if that means not attending Pride

Toronto Pride Parade Black Lives Matter

Many queer and trans people in major cities actively avoid Pride because of the police presence. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

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For many white, straight, or cisgender people, it's easy to forget what the uniformed police officers who dance on parade floats do on the other 364 days of the year.

For the rest of us, it's impossible. Many queer and trans people in major cities actively avoid Pride. A lot of us have vivid memories of inappropriate conduct — to put it nicely — on the part of police. 

For many, just the sight of a police uniform is enough to trigger a full-blown panic attack. Despite the continued presence of uniformed officers as security on the sidelines, many of us will still try to go far out of our way to avoid areas where we know cops hang out, and we are afraid to call police in emergencies, unsure of how they might treat us when we're vulnerable.

These experiences are far more pronounced among people of colour, which may explain why (despite an apparent increase in token multicultural events), Pride feels so damn white. 

Pride Cruiser

The relationship between the police and LGBTQ communities across the country has always been tense. (Ottawa Police Service)

That's why banning uniformed officers from Pride events will actually make it more inclusive: those who have been reticent to come to Pride before are more likely to attend when they aren't being made to celebrate the police. 

The union representing police officers in Toronto are expectedly unhappy, however, and its internal LGBTQ committee has just called for the city to pull Pride funding over the ban. 

The relationship between the police and LGBTQ communities across the country has always been tense. In Toronto — as in Stonewall, in New York — Pride began as a protest against discriminatory policing. The 1981 protests against the Bathhouse Raids were organized by a coalition of anti-racist and queer groups opposing homophobia and racism from the city. Similar events characterized the Canadian queer milieu. 

In Montreal, the police's attempts to clean up the city for the 1976 Olympics, the raids on Bar Truxx in 1977 and on Sex Garage in 1990, for example, illustrate how the police haven't exactly been friends to the LGBTQ community.

The history of police aggression against LGBTQ communities does not only exist in the past, however. Since Black Lives Matter's action at the 2016 Toronto Pride parade — in which the group halted the parade procession until Pride's executive director signed a document agreeing to a list of demands — the Toronto Police Service committed two actions targeting the LGBTQ community.

One was 'Project Marie' in November 2016, an undercover sting operation where police ticketed and arrested men for soliciting sex in an Etobicoke park (a police spokesperson claimed officers did not know the sexual orientation of the men caught up in the sting), and another was the apparent attack on an HIV-positive person of colour back in January, captured on cellphone video, where one officer told an onlooker that the suspect was "going to spit in your face, you're going to get AIDS."

Vancouver Pride Parade 20140803

An advisory report from community consultations back in 2011 called on Pride Toronto to emphasize anti-racism efforts. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

With both past and present evidence of police targeting and abuse of people of marginalized communities, it is any wonder why many don't want uniformed officers dancing around like nothing's wrong?

An advisory report from community consultations back in 2011 called on Pride Toronto to emphasize anti-racism efforts, to double-down on strategies to actively include people of colour and to consistently prioritize the safety of vulnerable groups. Six years later, the decision to remove the police float from the upcoming parade — after much-needed prodding by black LGBTQ activists — is a sign that Pride is finally taking action on those recommendations.

In August 2016, hundreds of people attended town halls for the purpose of discussing demands made by Black Lives Matter. By the end of the evenings, the vast majority of those present (save for Pride's board members) spoke in favour of banning uniformed police floats from the parade.

It's hard to imagine how anyone could have left the room with any confusion about the wishes of the community. The events of the annual general meeting in January confirmed what we already knew: uniformed police floats are not welcome at an inclusive Pride. If the presence of police has the effect of excluding LGBTQ people of colour, then what kind of "inclusivity" are straight, white, cisgender people really demanding?

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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