Invitation to Toronto officers to march in New York Pride parade 'a fantastic thing,' Saunders says
Gay Officers Action League, based in New York, sent invitation to Toronto force late last week
An invitation by the Gay Officers Action League welcoming Toronto police to attend the New York Pride March next month "is a fantastic thing," Chief Mark Saunders said Tuesday, adding that he will support any member of his force who wants to accept.
The league sent a letter to Toronto police on Friday, inviting officers to the New York march on June 25, which is also the same day as Toronto's Pride Parade.
"The invitation was extended because we felt they were being excluded from the Pride festivities in Toronto, and we fought very hard over a very long period of time here in New York City to have the right to march in uniform," said Brian Downey, president of the Gay Officers Action League.
Following Tuesday's Police Services Board meeting, Saunders was asked whether he would allow his officers to march in uniform in New York. Saunders replied by noting that policing is "a brotherhood and sisterhood of law enforcement.
"For the NYPD to invite us is a fantastic thing and I certainly would, if any of the officers wanted to do that, I would definitely allow them to do that."
Asked how he felt about his officers marching in Toronto's Pride parade in TPS-branded T-shirts and hats, Saunders said that his officers won't be in uniform, but can attend "if they want to, and I hope they would."
On Monday, Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack said a conversation about police participating in Toronto Pride a "total waste of time.
"It's taking away from what we believe Pride and inclusivity is."
But the union is "delighted" by the invitation from New York, he said.
"We think it's a mature and inclusive position to take," he said.
McCormack added that the union will help coordinate logistics and support for officers who want to make the trip.
Pride Toronto voted to remove uniformed officers and police floats from future parades during its annual general meeting in January following a request made by Black Lives Matter Toronto, which brought the 2016 Pride parade to a brief halt until top Pride executives agreed to a list of demands.
Pride Toronto later apologized for "a history of anti-blackness" and for "deepening the divisions" in the LGBT community.
'You can't be police proud'
In an email to CBC Toronto on Monday, a Pride Toronto spokesperson said the organization will not comment on the invitation.
But in a statement released earlier this month, the organization stressed that "LGBTQ+ police officers and their allies are not banned from the parade" and can march with community groups, the City of Toronto, or create their own group.
"We are simply requesting that their participation not include the following elements: uniform, weapons, and vehicles," the statement continued.
That's not enough, according to Downey.
"When you take away the uniforms, when you take away the equipment, you're kind of saying that you can come, and you can be proud — but you can't be police proud," he said.