LGBTQ police officers' group calls it 'unacceptable' for city to fund Pride

The head of the city’s police union delivered a letter to the mayor’s office Wednesday that calls it “unacceptable” for Toronto to sponsor this year’s Pride Festivities when the Toronto Police Service has been excluded from participating.

Officers' group wants city to withhold $260,000 grant for Pride Toronto after police ban

A Toronto Police Service parking enforcement officer waves a Pride flag while marching along last year's parade route. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

The head of the city's police union delivered a letter to the mayor's office Wednesday that calls it "unacceptable" for Toronto to sponsor this year's Pride Festivities when the Toronto Police Service has been excluded from participating.

Mike McCormack read the letter for reporters Wednesday morning after walking into the mayor's office at city hall to deliver a copy.

Pride is slated to receive a $260,000 city grant this year.

The letter, from the force's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Internal Support Network Executive Committee and addressed to McCormack, says that "we, as city employees, would feel completely devalued and unsupported by our employer should they fund this event at this time.

"How can we possibly feel appreciated by our employer while they sponsor an event that its own employees have been disinvited from participating in as full, equal, and active participants in their role as city employees," the letter goes on.

"We can think of no examples in Canada where either a public or private employer has been a lead sponsor for an event their employees were asked not to participate in."

The letter says the group wishes Pride Toronto "all the best success" for this year's festivities, "and we look forward to a time when a relationship exists again that cultivates a more respectful police-community partnership with Pride.

"However, when any city employee, regardless of their job function, is disinvited from an event hosted in the City of Toronto, we feel it is simply a conflict of interest, and unacceptable, that the City of Toronto remain a sponsor."

Councillor also wants city to withhold grant

In January, Pride Toronto voted to ban uniformed officers and police floats from future parades.

Those demands originally came from Black Lives Matter Toronto, which briefly halted last year's Pride parade and presented a list to then-executive director Mathieu Chantelois.

Ray Rosenberg says police officers need to understand the reason they're being asked not to wear uniforms to the Pride parade is because of what he says is a historical pattern of oppression against primarily the black community. (Susan Goodspeed/CBC)

He signed the document, which also included a commitment to increase diversity in hiring and staffing at Pride Toronto and a commitment to increase and support community stages, including the reinstatement of the South Asian stage, which Pride Toronto also approved.   

In February, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders confirmed that the force will not participate in the parade. Officers will continue to provide security for the event, he said, and the force will still host its annual Pride reception.

The idea of withholding Pride's city grant has gained traction with some city councillors. Last month, Coun. John Campbell drafted a motion asking city staff to withhold the grant, "pending Pride's reaffirmation of its core value of inclusivity."

He was to present the motion at an upcoming council meeting, and indicated that he had verbal support from a handful of councillors.

Pride's new executive director, Olivia Nuamah, told CBC Toronto that if the grant is withheld, Pride would still go ahead.

Once fighting, now marching together

In Toronto's Church and Wellesley area, reaction to the proposal was mixed.

"If they're actually writing this letter, they're putting their sexuality second and their job first," Kayla Straker-Trotman, 24, told CBC Toronto.

Sima Kuday says asking police officers not to attend Pride in uniform goes against the very message of the parade. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

Ray Rosenberg, 30, echoed the point.

"This is not personal. This is about power here, and violence. This is about a system of very deep historical oppression that's rooted in the police ... If we're looking at carding and disproportionate policing of black, queer and trans folks — even just black folks in general — that's still happening," he said.

But others questioned how inclusive Pride is, if it asks LGBT members who happen to work as police not to show up in their uniforms. 

"Why do you have to only bring a part of yourself when this is a place of all-inclusiveness?" asked Sima Kuday, 36.

"It's absolutely tragic ... It hurts me a little bit. I feel the police presence is important personally," Kuday said.

"People may disagree with that; I am completely open to hearing everything. But at the same time, I feel that it's really powerful that we were once fighting and now we're marching together. How powerful is that?" she said.

"It breaks my heart that we're here right now."

With files from Makda Ghebreslassie