Black Lives Matter Toronto recaptures Pride's activist roots
Pride has its origins in activism and protesting injustice, write two of its original organizers
In the wake of the controversy surrounding Black Lives Matter Toronto's protest at this year's Pride parade, CBC News invited some of the original organizers of Pride to share their reactions to this weekend's events. Two of those organizers, Gary Kinsman and Amy Gottlieb, each sent us their thoughts.
Black Lives Matter Toronto recaptures Pride's activist roots
Gary Kinsman was an organizer with the Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee in 1981. He is the author of The Regulation of Desire: Homo and Hetero Sexualities and co-author of The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation.
During Pride this year I saw black queers I have known for more than a quarter-century, and many new queer faces, marching in the Black Lives Matter contingent. Black queer people — like all black people — are fighting for their lives. Just as many of us were during the AIDS crisis. Just as many of us were when we gathered for our earliest Pride marches.
In 1981, I was one of the organizers of Toronto's first Pride. In 1981, Pride took place in the context of mass resistance to that year's bathhouse raids, during which hundreds of queer men were arrested by the police, and to mark the Stonewall rebellion. In 1981, Pride was both a celebration of our lives but also a necessary form of activism, and during our march we stopped outside of 52 Division to protest police violence.
The Black Lives Matter contingent carried with it the spirit of Stonewall and the activist roots of Pride — not Pride as it is now, defined by corporations, by mainstream political parties, by the police. - Gary Kinsman, original Pride march co-organizer
It took until 2016 for Toronto's police chief to even express "regret" for that police violence. In 2016, the police force's treatment of many communities — including black communities, other communities of colour, and indigenous communities — remains a major problem.
That's why, in 2016, I was marching in Pride with Black Lives Matter, as an ally.
The Black Lives Matter contingent carried with it the spirit of Stonewall and the activist roots of Pride — not Pride as it is now, defined by corporations, by mainstream political parties, by the police. Pride is our biggest gathering, our greatest opportunity to stand against aggression.
Pride is based on a history of activism, including widespread support for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, support for AIDS activism, feminism, and other movements for social justice. We need to reject a narrow notion of LGBT rights that only speak to the interests of white, middle class, gay men, and forgets about the rest of us.
This is where Pride comes from. It makes me both sad and angry that many people — including some in the queer community — have forgotten this history.
- How the bathhouse raids galvanized Toronto's gay community
- Toronto police chief apologizes for bathhouse raids
We need to return to our activist roots and transform Pride so it is defined by the needs and concerns of vulnerable communities. This is what liberation means.
My Pride is political, and it includes Black Lives Matter.
A movement we all need
Amy Gottlieb is a white, queer ally. She was a member of Lesbians Against the Right and an organizer of Lesbian and Gay Pride Day and the Dykes in the Street March in 1981. She is a high school teacher, activist and artist.
It took 35 years for Black Lives Matter Toronto's beautiful, bold intervention in Pride to put the issue of anti-black racism and exclusion of other marginalized communities front and centre.
Pride has been confronted with the issues of racism and police violence before, but not like this.
Any real move towards progress comes with unsettling challenges to the way things are 'normally' done.- Amy Gottlieb, original Pride march co-organizer
The creation of this political moment was so needed — the intense backlash is proof of that — and I am deeply troubled by the expression of white entitlement that has spewed across social and mainstream media in response.
Especially when I hear white queer people speak about how they were held hostage, or bullied, or inconvenienced by the civil disobedience action of Black Lives Matter Toronto, I am ready to declare that some white gay people are woefully unconscious of their privilege.
- Black Lives Matter got attention, but did its tactics hurt?
- 'Exclusion does not promote inclusion': Gay cop responds to Black Lives Matter protest
Sadly, this is not new. The explosion of racism comes every time the comfort of white, middle class folks is challenged. And it is a reminder that any real move towards progress comes with unsettling challenges to the way things are "normally" done.
This is how such change happens.
When Black Lives Matter Toronto sat down at the corner of College and Yonge I heard them say "no" to the official story of Pride as inclusive. I heard them say, "We are here and we need to be included at every step, in every space." I heard them say, "We have had to fight every year for our spaces at Pride." I heard them say, "We will not be your token Black group at the front of the march; we will continue to speak from the street."
I stand with Black Lives Matter Toronto in saying I'm finished with false rainbows and near-empty declarations of inclusivity, from police regret for the 1981 bath raids to the multi-hued corporate world. Our movement can't be put in a box, with a fancy rainbow ribbon.
As a movement we haven't yet figured out the path towards restitution and reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of this land, much less justice for black, brown and trans peoples. Black Lives Matter Toronto is not just something you add on to the already existing agenda for LGBTQI2S rights, like another holiday added to the winter assembly at your kid's school.
Black Lives Matter Toronto's actions are a challenge to systemic injustices. They are demanding that we sit down with them and listen — listen to how our movements and spaces are organized through a white, middle class lens. Black Lives Matter Toronto brings us back to the historic roots of our movement and to the true definition of resistance to all injustices.