Toronto

Retiring pastor and LGBT activist Brent Hawkes preparing for 'difficult conversations' at his final Pride

With the organization in the midst of its largest controversy in years, longtime LGBT activist and pastor Brent Hawkes will deliver his final Pride service later this month.

Hawkes would like to see uniformed police officers eventually return to the parade

Toronto pastor Brent Hawkes has delivered a "Faith and Pride" service for each of the last 25 years. (Philippe de Montigny/CBC)

Over the course of his 40-year career, Toronto pastor Brent Hawkes has endured police beatings at LGBT demonstrations, confronted religious-based homophobia and stood trial in a high profile sexual assault case.

And after a career so often filled with challenges, he's retiring in the midst of one last controversy.

Hawkes is set to deliver his final service for Toronto Pride on June 25. With the organization and Toronto's LGBT community mired in debates over racism, diversity and the exclusion of uniformed police officers at this year's parade, it figures to be a challenging final address.

But ignoring it all isn't an option, says the senior pastor at the Metropolitan Church of Toronto.

"We have to live in the discomfort for a while, we have to hear the pain, hear the stories," Hawkes told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

In particular, he describes racism as a long-term issue within the LGBT community that hasn't been adequately addressed until very recently.

Last year, Black Lives Matter Toronto staged a sit-in during the Pride parade, demanding a series of changes designed to address discrimination, particularly against black and transgender people.

A year later, Hawkes says the LGBT community is ready to face those criticisms.

"People are ready to have the conversation, people know we have to have the conversation," said Hawkes, who's delivered a Pride service for the last 25 years.

"I think it will be a difficult conversation."

Pride well-equipped to face challenges

While difficult, Hawkes said the conversation could be fruitful as well, thanks in part to the history of the event.

"Pride has almost never been without a controversy," Hawkes explained. "I think we now have some breathing room and some time after this festival is over to have those conversations and see if there's a middle ground we can find."

On the issue of uniformed officers, Hawkes acknowledged that while many people in the LGBT community feel unsafe around police, he'd like to see officers eventually rejoin the parade in full uniform.

Sandy Hudson, Alexandria Williams and Yusra Khogali, co-founders of Black Lives Matter Toronto, at Pride 2016. (Courtesy of Paige Galette)

"That would be the ideal solution," he said, though he's not sure exactly how that could happen without disrupting the people who do not feel safe around uniformed police officers.

A new calling

Hawkes said he'll likely not play a large role in determining the solutions to racism in the LGBT community or in the role of police at Pride.

After his retirement from the church, Hawkes has plans to create an international organization uniting religious LGBT people in the fight against religious-based homophobia, which he says remains the leading cause of homophobic discrimination around the world.

Hawkes believes secular LGBT organizations are ill-equipped to combat those sentiments, but LGBT people of faith will stand a much better chance.

"A religious attack requires a religious response," he said. "We have to have religious gay and lesbian people also involved in the discussion and that's what I want to be involved in."

Before that, he says he'll take some time to garden, golf and reflect on his career and accomplishments in Toronto and around the country.

"I think I've done what I'm supposed to do," he said.

About the Author

Nick Boisvert

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nick Boisvert is a reporter based in Toronto with an interest in politics, civic issues and the environment. Outside work, Nick enjoys cooking, following the NBA and listing things in threes. You can reach him at nick.boisvert@cbc.ca.