Toronto·Point of View

Pride 'firmly rooted in a tradition of protest': Black LGBT community leaders on parade controversy

Claims that Black Lives Matter held the Pride parade hostage are empty, writes a group of black LGBT community leaders. The group was carrying on in the spirit and tradition of Pride, the elders say, by standing up for vulnerable communities.

'Black Lives Matter is continuing a practice of intervention and resistance,' write scholars and activists

Black Lives Matter Toronto holds a sit-in during Toronto's annual Pride parade. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Black Lives Matter Toronto's protest at this year's Pride parade, CBC News invited black LGBT scholars and activists to share their thoughts on this weekend's events. As those requests filtered out, several community leaders began to speak with one another, and to reach out to colleagues. They decided to write collectively; the full list of signatories is below.

Each generation articulates and acts on its political demands in the way it needs.

Several of us were honoured with an invitation to march with Black Lives Matter Toronto in Sunday's Pride parade. We accepted immediately — knowing that they would likely do something dramatic, something special, something that would challenge the too-easy, corporate display the parade has become.

It wasn't always this way.

Toronto's Pride march grew out of our community's resistance to massive police raids of bathhouses in 1981. Two of Pride's original organizers — Gays and Lesbians Against the Right Everywhere (GLARE) and Lesbians Against the Right (LAR) — were liberation groups dedicated to fighting the anti-gay, anti-feminist and racist right-wing politics of the day.

ALSO READ: 'My Pride includes Black Lives Matter,' says one of the parade's original organizers

Thousands of queer men, lesbians and supporters took to the streets on a number of occasions that year — including taking over Yonge Street when it was against the law to march on Yonge Street. Many people of colour facing racist police repression came out in support, and many in the gay and lesbian community returned that solidarity. 

Black Lives Matter Toronto is continuing a practice of intervention and resistance, firmly rooted in a tradition of protest.

'The demands of Black Lives Matter Toronto have a long history within Pride,' write a group of black LGBT thinkers and activists. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)
Black Lives Matter Toronto activists organize a sit-in at Yonge and College streets during the Trans Pride March on July 1, 2016. (Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press)

The demands of Black Lives Matter Toronto have a long history within Pride. The agreements that Black Lives Matter Toronto secured on Sunday should not be diminished.

Claims of extortion, of holding the parade hostage, are just that: empty claims. The list of demands Pride Toronto has publicly agreed to — providing space and funding for groups like Black Queer Youth, increasing equity and autonomy for groups within the community, and addressing policing issues — have been discussed as part of Pride's engagement process as far back as 2012.

In the decades since Pride began, other communities have seen their spaces disappear while a white gay male dance party has proliferated and grown. If that is your tea then sip it, but this year Black Lives Matter Toronto took Pride back to its roots, with fabulous success.

In the tradition of black radical politics, they did not just make their demands about black people, but instead modelled what queer inclusion really means, by also requesting employment and community spaces for South Asian, indigenous, trans and people living with disabilities. We are thankful they reminded us of our past while making important demands of the present.

We were, for the first time in many years, proud to be queer at the gay parade.

Rinaldo Walcott, director of Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto

Angela Robertson, executive director of Queen West Central Toronto Community Health Centre, founding member of Blackness Yes!, which produces the Blockorama stage at Pride

Beverly Bain, teacher in the Woman and Gender Studies Program at the University of Toronto

OmiSoore H. Dryden, co-host of Blockorama at this year's Pride, assistant professor in the Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies department at Thorneloe University

Douglas Stewart, founding member of Blackness Yes!, the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention, Simon Nkoli Anti-Apartheid Committee (SNAAC) and several black LGBT organizations

Courtnay McFarlane, artist, poet, community worker, founding member of AYA men and Blackness Yes!

Akua Benjamin, activist, professor at Ryerson University School of Social Work, co-founder of the Anti-Black Racism Network

Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), founding member of several local LGBT groups

Dionne A. Falconer, founding member of Blackness Yes!, HIV/AIDS activist

Beth Jordan, activist, co-founder of the Cross Sectoral Violence Against Women Strategy Group, former co-chair of the Community One Foundation