LIKE IT OR NOT, PRIDE IS PO­LIT­I­CAL

Kristyn Wong-Tam, Olivia Nuamah and Florence Ash­ley weigh in on the LGBTQ move­ment's fu­ture

NOW Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By ROB SALERNO

Two years af­ter Black Lives Mat­ter-Toronto stopped the Pride pa­rade to protest po­lice par­tic­i­pa­tion, the cops are back. As Pride pre­pares to hold its an­nual gen­eral meet­ing De­cem­ber 4, Black, trans and queer peo­ple of colour are ask­ing: Has Pride lost touch with the The com­mu­ni­ties East­ern Gap, which was cre­ated it was by a storm built in the to serve? 1850s, was hit hard again dur­ing the flood of 2017.

From Los An­ge­les to Wash­ing­ton, DC, to Ed­mon­ton and Toronto, Pride fes­ti­vals are fac­ing boy­cotts and protests that have threat­ened to halt the an­nual pa­rades al­to­gether. But the most vo­cal chal­lenges to Pride or­ga­ni­za­tions aren’t com­ing from re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives and ho­mo­pho­bic politi­cians. They’re com­ing from seg­ments of the queer com­mu­nity that say they’re be­ing marginal­ized by in­creas­ingly cor­po­rate fes­ti­vals that are too cozy with po­lit­i­cal, po­lice and mil­i­tary in­sti­tu­tions.

In Toronto, it’s not clear where Pride will draw the line on par­tic­i­pa­tion now that po­lice have been in­vited back to the pa­rade. And it seems we won’t find out: the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s an­nual gen­eral meet­ing, sched­uled for De­cem­ber 4, will be closed to the me­dia and gen­eral pub­lic.

Has the Pride fes­ti­val move­ment lost touch with the com­mu­ni­ties it was built to serve?

RE­SPECT FOR THE “NA­TIONAL DE­BATE”

Pride Toronto is no stranger to in­tra-com­mu­nity con­tro­versy.

From 2010-12 the fes­ti­val was torn over whether to al­low Queers Against Is­raeli Apartheid to march. Since a 2016 protest by Black Lives Mat­ter– Toronto briefly stopped the pa­rade, the or­ga­niza-

tion has barred uni­formed po­lice of­fi­cers from par­tic­i­pat­ing.

In the wake of BLM-TO’s 2016 protest, full and par­tial bans on po­lice and mil­i­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion were also in­sti­tuted by Pride fes­ti­vals in Kam­loops, Ed­mon­ton, Cal­gary, Lon­don and Van­cou­ver. The Hal­i­fax Re­gional Po­lice vol­un­teered to stay away from that city’s fes­ti­val this year out of re­spect for the “na­tional de­bate.”

Amid that on­go­ing dis­cus­sion across the coun­try, Pride Toronto is back­track­ing.

Af­ter vot­ing to un­in­vite uni­formed po­lice in 2017, the group an­nounced in Oc­to­ber that the cops would be wel­come to ap­ply to march in next year’s pa­rade.

That de­ci­sion doesn’t sit well with mem­bers of BLM-TO.

“Our com­mu­nity was very clear mul­ti­ple times as to what an in­clu­sive Pride is, and time and time again Pride has shown that they are not com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that the most mar­ginal of us feel wel­come and safe,” says BLM-TO co-founder Pas­cale Diver­lus.

Diver­lus says she can’t rule out fur­ther protests from BLM-TO at Pride 2019.

“We’re fed up. We’re tired of ask­ing Pride to pri­or­i­tize us,” she says.

But Pride ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Olivia Nuamah says bring­ing the po­lice back will help build bridges be­tween po­lice and queer com­mu­ni­ties of colour (see story page 10). On that count, the or­ga­ni­za­tion is set to an­nounce fund­ing from the feds to the tune of $1.2 mil­lion.

“I don’t see a way that re­la­tion­ship [with po­lice] is go­ing to get bet­ter un­less I’m in­volved in mak­ing it bet­ter,” Nuamah says.

NO JUS­TICE, NO PRIDE

Mean­while, a par­al­lel de­bate is tak­ing place around the heavy cor­po­rate pres­ence at Pride.

Anti-cor­po­rate sen­ti­ment is strong in Toronto’s queer ac­tivist com­mu­nity, and com­plaints about the pre­dom­i­nance of spon­sors like TD, Pfizer, Tro­jan and OLG, among oth­ers, are a peren­nial sub­ject of con­tention.

But or­ga­nized op­po­si­tion to cor­po­rate in­volve­ment hasn’t yet taken hold here the way it has in queer com­mu­ni­ties south of the bor­der.

No Jus­tice No Pride, a loose or­ga­ni­za­tion of queer ac­tivists, has blocked pa­rades in Wash­ing­ton, DC, New York, Seat­tle, Colum­bus, Min­neapo­lis, Bos­ton and Phoenix, call­ing out the LGBTQ move­ment’s “com­plic­ity with sys­tems of op­pres­sion that fur­ther marginal­ize queer and trans in­di­vid­u­als,” and ties to the U.S. bank Wells Fargo specif­i­cally for its in­volve­ment in the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line pro­ject.

#NotOurPride boy­cotted Los An­ge­les Pride in 2016, ac­cus­ing or­ga­niz­ers of ex­clud­ing poor and trans com­mu­nity mem­bers by turn­ing sev­eral events into tick­eted live mu­sic con­certs. The group suc­ceeded in con­vinc­ing or­ga­niz­ers to turn the pa­rade into a re­sis­tance march free of floats and cor­po­rate spon­sors in 2017, but the floats and lo­gos were all back this year.

In New York City, mean­while, Re­claim Pride col­lec­tive is or­ga­niz­ing a counter-march to con­trast the heav­ily cor­po­rate 2019 Pride pa­rade, which is also that year’s World Pride Pa­rade cel­e­brat­ing 50 years since the Stonewall ri­ots.

“T-Mo­bile did not throw the first brick, and this an­nual Pride march or pa­rade should not be turned over to cor­po­rate floats,” says Re­claim Pride mem­ber Ann Northrop. “We cer­tainly hope that peo­ple around the world, in­clud­ing in Toronto, will fol­low our lead.”

But Nuamah calls such anti-cor­po­rate stances “sim­plis­tic,” ar­gu­ing that they fur­ther marginal­ize mem­bers of vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties who feel val­i­dated by see­ing their em­ploy­ers par­tic­i­pate in the pa­rade.

“Many queer peo­ple work in these or­ga­ni­za­tions,” says Nuamah, who adds that queer com­mu­ni­ties are “some­times too quick to make judg­ments, the same judg­ments that marginal­ize queer peo­ple of colour. If you’re a queer woman of colour who’s a worker in that or­ga­ni­za­tion, who am I to judge what they do to sur­vive?”

There’s also the ques­tion of Pride’s han­dling of the at­ten­dance of politi­cians at Pride.

All through Rob Ford’s may­oralty, for ex­am­ple, Pride Toronto begged the mayor to march in the pa­rade – as if the tra­di­tion of a mayor’s par­tic­i­pa­tion was more im­por­tant than Ford’s well-doc­u­mented ho­mo­pho­bia.

Pride Toronto now seems will­ing to go down that road again with Rob’s brother, newly minted On­tario pre­mier Doug Ford, de­spite his gov­ern­ment’s re­newed at­tacks on a queer-in­clu­sive sexed cur­ricu­lum. Ford said dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign this spring that he would not be at­tend­ing Pride as long as the po­lice were un­in­vited.

Nuamah has al­ready said Ford is in­vited to come next year. She of­fers sim­ply, “He’s an elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive. One of the main rea­sons I find this hard is many mem­bers of my own com­mu­nity see them­selves re­flected in what he says.”

The on­line satir­i­cal pub­li­ca­tion The Beaver­ton, among oth­ers, has mocked that stance, but Nuamah calls the crit­i­cism hyp­o­crit­i­cal.

“You could ar­gue that Justin Trudeau has done much to un­der­mine Indige­nous rights. If we re­ally wanted to sup­port Indige­nous rights, couldn’t we ar­gue that?”

“CEN­TRING” THE VOICE OF PRIDE

Other Pride events have taken a firmer line on po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion.

In 2015, Van­cou­ver Pride ef­fec­tively barred the gov­ern­ing BC Lib­er­als by mak­ing par­tic­i­pants sign a pledge to sup­port trans peo­ple in the prov­ince’s hu­man rights code, a stance the BC Lib­er­als had long op­posed. The party re­versed its po­si­tion and passed a trans rights bill in 2016.

Both the Ed­mon­ton and Cal­gary Pride fes­ti­vals have banned Ja­son Ken­ney’s United Con­ser­va­tive Party from march­ing the last two years, say­ing the party has been un­able to demon­strate a com­mit­ment to all seg­ments of the queer com­mu­nity af­ter the UCP op­posed a bill to sup­port gay-straight al­liances in Al­berta schools.

While Nuamah sup­ports the de­ci­sion to bar the UCP, Pride’s an­nual gen­eral meet­ing at Har­bourfront Tues­day (De­cem­ber 4), will be closed to the me­dia and gen­eral pub­lic.

Nuamah says “the me­dia pres­ence re­duces this to a facile drama for the con­sump­tion of straight com­mu­ni­ties. What we’re try­ing to do is cen­tre the voice of our ac­tual mem­ber­ship.” Rob Salerno is a jour­nal­ist and film­maker based in Toronto and Los An­ge­les. [email protected] | @nowtoronto

“WE’RE FED UP. WE’RE TIRED OF ASK­ING PRIDE TO PRI­OR­I­TIZE US.”

In my time with Pride Toronto I’ve set out to do two things: to talk to peo­ple about their ex­pe­ri­ences, and to work with whomever wants to work with us on mak­ing bet­ter the is­sues raised by Black Lives Mat­ter–Toronto and oth­ers about the in­ter­sec­tion of Black­ness and queer­ness in Pride. This two-fold man­date has taken me on a jour­ney of em­pa­thy and learn­ing over the last two years that’s still un­fold­ing with Pride’s re­cent de­ci­sion to in­vite the po­lice back into the pa­rade next year.

But the legacy and com­plex­ity of the prob­lems of marginal­iza­tion we seek to solve started well be­fore Black Lives Mat­ter and their protest dur­ing the pa­rade in 2016. Be­cause to start there would negate the Black net­works and com­mu­ni­ties that have been en­gag­ing in this con­ver­sa­tion since Har­riet Tub­man led slaves to Canada via the Un­der­ground Rail­road.

Trav­el­ling fur­ther back in time, our con­ver­sa­tion is not un­like the ways in which Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties across Canada fought their col­o­niza­tion.

Col­lab­o­ra­tion and con­ver­sa­tion are not of­ten seen as in­stru­ments of re­sis­tance. But if you are a life­long stu­dent of the ways that in­sti­tu­tions use op­pres­sive poli­cies and prac­tices to ex­er­cise con­trol, then you would also know that, all over the world com­mu­ni­ties of colour have ne­go­ti­ated with these in­sti­tu­tions.

Black Lives Mat­ter made all of us re­al­ize (or per­haps re­mem­ber) that the place to in­spire vi­sion­ary strate­gies, to start break­through col­lab­o­ra­tions and to pave the way to pow­er­ful new move­ments is at the in­ter­sec­tion of di­verse iden­ti­ties and com­mu­ni­ties.

The fact that Black women cre­ated and con­tinue to lead this move­ment based on the things that make us who we are is a pro­found val­i­da­tion for all of us. Also, to see Black peo­ple all over the world make the move­ment their own is awe-in­spir­ing. It is ex­actly how Black lib­er­a­tion move­ments through time have moved us all for­ward.

In the LGBTQ2+ com­mu­nity, Black Lives Mat­ter has a dif­fer­ent start­ing place; it is a move­ment within a move­ment. For Black Cana­di­ans, our queer­ness only deep­ens our nar­ra­tives of sur­vival. This means that, to man­i­fest its ideals, we must en­gage with ev­ery el­e­ment of the Black com­mu­nity, both queer and not, con­ser­va­tive and not.

Our sto­ries have be­come in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked; the out­comes of our in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ences will be shared. That means that our lives de­pend on the abil­ity for all of us to be re­flected.

Next year marks the 50th year of the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in Canada. The shift from crim­i­nal­iza­tion to de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion is a one-di­men­sional nar­ra­tive, fixed in a sin­gle point in time and miss­ing many crim­i­nal jus­tice prob­lems that, as al­ways, fall heav­ily on com­mu­ni­ties of colour and queer com­mu­ni­ties in par­tic­u­lar.

The se­rial killings that oc­curred in the Vil­lage, for ex­am­ple, raised a lot of ques­tions about vic­tim­iza­tion, par­tic­u­larly at the in­ter­sec­tion of colour, cul­ture and LGBTQ2+ ex­pe­ri­ences.

How to move ahead: that is the chap­ter we’re all about to write to­gether.

Un­less there is a more nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of the on­go­ing shifts of who we all are, of the vul­ner­a­bil­ity that queer young peo­ple face and of the ways in which fam­ily, eco­nomics, neigh­bour­hood and school in­ter­act, we will not ad­dress the sub­stan­tive is­sues our com­mu­ni­ties face.

This can only be done through a process that

THE LEGACY OF THE PROB­LEMS WE SEEK TO SOLVE STARTED WELL BE­FORE BLACK LIVES MAT­TER.

val­ues part­ner­ship, in­vites or­ga­ni­za­tions that seek to re­form to the ta­ble and for­mally plans a road map for change.

The Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice, along with the many agen­cies that im­pact all com­mu­ni­ties of colour, must work to­gether to re­al­ize change.

This is why we in­vited them to ap­ply to take part in next year’s pa­rade – we are seek­ing to start a new re­la­tion­ship, with real and pos­i­tive out­comes, through do­ing the ac­tual work it will take to make the change we all seek.

Pride’s strat­egy has never, ever been iso­la­tion. It has been tire­less and con­tin­u­ous ne­go­ti­a­tion. The lives of our chil­dren have al­ways de­pended on the suc­cess­ful out­comes of those con­ver­sa­tions. Olivia Nuamah is ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Pride Toronto. [email protected] | @nowtoronto

The most vo­cal chal­lenges to Pride are com­ing from marginal­ized seg­ments of the queer com­mu­nity.

Pride’s Olivia Nuamah (cen­tre, shown here at this year’s pa­rade), says “col­lab­o­ra­tion and con­sul­ta­tion” are also in­stru­ments of re­sis­tance.

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