Pride Toronto says its mission is to “bring people together to celebrate the history, courage, and diversity of our community”. We think the decision to exclude police does the exact opposite; it ignores the history of progress that the Toronto Police Service and other law enforcement agencies have made in their relations with the LGBT community; it trivializes the courage of the many out LGBT police officers who struggle with prejudice and hostility while doing their jobs; and it makes a mockery of the supposed goals of diversity and inclusion by deliberately excluding an important group in “our community”.
BLMTO organizer Hashim Yussuf said after the vote,
Obviously there’s mandatory police for security and things like that…but we just didn’t want police inside the parade itself. We believe the police as an organization, as an institution, have been very homophobic and racist to the community members within Pride Toronto. Banning the police is not being exclusive at all. The police are exclusive towards many different minority communities.
We strongly object to this characterization of the police representation at Toronto Pride. Although the LGBT community of Toronto has indeed had a troubled history with Toronto Police, we believe in reconciliation and feel that it is important to recognize the progress that police have made in outreach to the LGBT community. Police participation in Pride is an important tool of reconciliation.
Some members of our organization have had first-hand experience with police harassment and brutality at the hands of Toronto Police. In the 1970s, at a time when gay men were arrested for kissing on public sidewalks, some of us were involved in acts of civil disobedience while protesting the persecution of the LGBT community. After the infamous bathhouse raids in 1981, some of our members were beaten and arrested by Toronto police during the wave of protests that followed. They marched the following year in Toronto’s first Pride Parade to demand better treatment from the police.
If anyone has cause to harbour resentment towards police participation in Pride, it is these LGBT rights pioneers. And yet, when we spoke to some of these veteran activists, they welcomed the presence of police officers in uniform marching in the Toronto Pride parade. As one of them recently stated to LGBTory,
It’s astonishing to me to see cops in uniform marching with me in the parade. When I was a young gay man in the 1980s, I never thought it would be possible. I took a police baton to the head in 1981 protesting the bathhouse raids, and now the Chief of Police is marching in a Pride Parade. Their presence tells me, and tells young closeted gay kids in the crowd, that it’s OK to be gay; the laws and the police are there to protect you. Society accepts you, your government accepts you; you’re going to be safe.
We believe that the recent decision to exclude uniformed police from participating in Pride is a huge setback for the LGBT community of Toronto. It could undo years of effort to make Pride open to everyone, and threatens to destroy the bridges between law enforcement and LGBT people that took decades to build.
Toronto Pride bills itself as an event that “unites and empowers people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions”, and “showcases Toronto on the world stage with diversity and inclusion”. This move by Toronto Pride is far from an expression of unity, diversity, and inclusion; it says to one identifiable group in our community, “you are not welcome here.” This cannot be allowed to stand.
We support our allies in law enforcement, and we welcome them in all Pride festivals. While recognizing past mistreatment at the hands of police, we acknowledge the progress that police have made in outreach to the LGBT community and believe those efforts should be met with the extended hand of friendship, not bitterness and rancour. Pride Toronto’s decision to exclude police is a capitulation to a vocal activist group that, in our view, does not represent the wishes of the majority of the LGBT community in Toronto or in Canada. Pride Toronto’s Board of Directors must repudiate this regressive and exclusionary policy.