Canada Culture & Religion

Pride Toronto’s Internal Conflicts are Symptoms of a Massive Rift

Since Black Lives Matter’s campaign to ban uniformed police officers from the Toronto Pride parade, the issue has remained a hot debate within the parade organization and the larger LGBTQ community. However, this year’s debates demonstrate a much larger rift than previously seen.

In January of this year, Pride Toronto’s membership voted 163-161 to maintain the organization’s ban on uniformed police marching for at least another two years. Since 2017, the parade has not seen cops as a registered marching contingent. This isn’t the first time the organization has attempted to change the ruling. Last year, Olivia Nuamah, the head of the group, invited the police back, sparking resistance from members who claim they were never consulted. Following this result, several Pride executives have been called to resign, with co-chair Erin Edghill stepping down at the end of the Annual General Meeting. Three other leaders were named in the motion, which passed 42 to 28, but only Edghill commented at that time.

In addition to the vote of non-confidence marking a decline in the membership’s trust in their executive, Edghill’s resignation letter highlighted the reasons for resignation, and their beliefs about the direction of the festival.

The letter, shared on Twitter, mentions the festival’s origins: “I understand that Pride began as a sexual liberation movement against police and state violence, and I understand that somewhere along the way, the organisation either forgot or began to actively ignore this history.”

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The violence that sparked the festival was the police bathhouse raids of 1981, when four homosexual bathhouses were subject to mass arrests. Police taunted and insulted the men with homophobic comments, even allegedly indicating they wished they could kill them. Toronto’s Pride events grew out of the protests that followed.

Although police apologized for this incident in 2016, many members of the LGBTQ community in the city stress that their relationship with the police hasn’t been repaired, with many members of the community feeling unsafe and unprotected by police. At last year’s parade, Pride Toronto recognized these feelings with a campaign called Until We’re Safe, and a moment of silence for victims of serial killer Bruce McArthur, who targeted gay men in and around Toronto’s gay village.

Despite the number of community groups expressing their concerns about police involvement, Pride Toronto has made it clear that political issues are no longer their only priority. Though the original campaign to ban police from marching was centered around racial tensions surrounding the police, more recent decisions were fueled by financial motivations. Olivia Nuamah, the head of Pride Toronto, explained that the ban had hurt the organisation financially, and lifting of the ban would alleviate this strain. She isn’t the only one to mention placing fiscal responsibilities first. Edghill’s resignation commented on it as well, with the co-chair stating, “Once I became aware of [their role as director], along with Pride Toronto’s financial situation, I took part in decisions that I did not necessarily personally agree with…”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves a flag as he takes part in the annual Pride Parade in Toronto on Sunday, July 3, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Toronto Pride has expanded to include three parades, a street festival, live performances, and numerous workshops and events. As the festival gets larger, the financial requirements grow as well. Since the City of Toronto provides financial support, they can put pressure on the organization to align itself with certain goals. These comments by the directors show how much pressure these obligations can produce.

This year’s votes and disputes are not a comment on the complexity of the parade’s relationship with police – it’s about the future of the festival in general. As long as the festival continues to sprawl and become less political and more commercial, the direction is unlikely to solve the political rifts that divide its membership. Only time will tell if these divisions will become a major disruption to the city’s queer culture.

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