I have watched with dismay over the past year as LGBT activists in various cities around the world have successfully pressured Pride organizers to ban uniformed police from their parades. It started in Toronto in 2016 when a protest by Black Lives Matter disrupted the parade and coerced a promise from Pride Toronto to exclude uniformed cops from future Pride events. Since then, Pride organizers in Halifax, Calgary and Ottawa, as well as several US cities, have followed suit. This policy is misguided and rejects the progress that the LGBT community has made in relations with law enforcement agencies. It is a betrayal of the many LGBT individuals who proudly serve in uniform. It is a step backward for the LGBT community. I say this with conviction because I lived through this struggle.
The exclusion of cops from Pride is an insult to the men and women who fought and bled for the cause of LGBT equality. It is a sad day in the history of the Gay Liberation Movement, a term we used when we took to the streets of Toronto and the law courts of Ontario in the 1970s. In the decades before sexual orientation was added to the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1981, we feared the Metropolitan Toronto Police Department. That fear did not just disappear overnight after that momentous inclusion. Looking back at where we were in terms of police relations in those early days, it is important to consider the progress we have made as a community in order to understand what a serious blunder Pride organizers in Toronto and elsewhere have made.
From the 1960s to the 1980s I witnessed serious brutality and human rights abuses directed by police at the LGBT community of Toronto. You would have to talk to historians to analyze the era prior to my experience, but I did know those men personally who dealt with police brutality in the 1940s and 50s.
I am not an academic quoting statistics and research; I was there in the 1970s. Pioneer gay activist George Hislop showed me which light switches I had to flick furiously to warn people when the cops walked into our dances in the old Chinese Community Centre, up a rusted fire escape in a laneway behind Old City Hall. When the lights flickered, there was a mad scramble to grab a dance partner of the opposite sex to avoid being arrested. Back then we were considered deviants engaged in immoral illegal activity.
We were often taken to the beach at Cherry Street for a beating; my boyfriend suffered this fate twice. Entrapment in the bathrooms of the Parkside and St Charles Taverns was common. In many ways we were forced to live our lives underground.
I encourage anyone under the age of 50 to sit down and talk with us folk over 60 who lived through this. Talk to the LGBT men and women who lived, worked and socialized in Toronto in those days. We fought for the rights that so many people enjoy today. Yes, we spent a lot of time enjoying ourselves dancing to James Brown, the Stones, and Donna Summer at the Quest and Jo-Jo’s, but we lived in fear of the police in our own neighbourhoods. We were among the first victims of police profiling. We did not hold hands in the street. We pretended to be straight in public. We did not engage the police. We were illegal.
Talk to the gay men who put companion ads in the newspapers just to have the police morality squad show up and charge them with running a bawdy house in their own homes – a legal tool the Metropolitan Toronto Police frequently used to harass us.
Talk to the two men who were arrested at the corner of Yonge and Bloor for giving each other a kiss and then charged for public lewd behavior, and talk to the twelve of us who showed up the next day to engage in a kiss-in at the same corner. Judge Charles Drukarsh later reduced the charges from lewd and obscene behaviour to blocking the sidewalk; thanks a lot.
Talk to the gay men who were driven down to Cherry Beach and beaten by the police just for sport. Talk to men driving by Grosvenor and Breadalbane Streets in so called “Boys Town” saying hi to friends and being arrested for solicitation. Have a chat with men walking home from the bars at night who were pulled over for alleged prostitution.
Talk to those of us who took police billyclubs to the head and ribs when we turned out in the streets and peacefully marched after the bathhouse raids in 1981. Talk to those who witnessed the police on the west side of Church Street encouraging a gang of young creeps to throw bricks at us from a building site on the east side of the street. Talk to me; I was there.
Talk to the gay men of the 1960s who were ordered to leave the city (and they did) when they were caught cruising in Queen’s Park. Talk to the teachers and civil servants and others who were fired from their jobs because of an anonymous phone call from the police informing their employers about their “immoral behavior”. Talk to the LGBT people who were mugged, robbed, and domestically abused in that era – men and women who were afraid to report these crimes.
And also talk to the brave men and women, like Judy Nosworthy and others, who became cops and came out while on the force. They were LGBT pioneers in the police force and had to suffer homophobic harassment from their peers.
Talk to those whose lives were ruined and think about the suicides of gay men and women.
The police were influenced by gay haters in the media who used their positions to stir up public outrage that egged on this abuse. Think of the gay men and women who were victims of crime. Contemplate the indifference of the police to the murders of gay men; murders that were poorly investigated if at all. The defence of “gay panic” was a standard excuse used effectively by police & defence lawyers while ignoring the victim and giving a free pass to the murderers.
When we marched in those early Pride years and bottles were tossed at us while smirking cops stood by, we raised our fists in defiance of the police that were on duty. We raised our fists each and every time we marched by a cop.
But that was then and this is now,
When I saw police men and women actually marching in Pride a quarter century later, I was touched very deeply. I was touched emotionally and spiritually in a manner beyond words. I was thankful and proud to see that the social and political climate had evolved and the good of humankind had moved in the right direction in my lifetime and that I had the opportunity to live to see it.
It was astonishing to me to see cops in uniform marching with me in the Toronto Pride 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 in 2016 the Chief of Police was marching in a Pride Parade. The presence of police 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.
I am ashamed and nauseated by the delusional and regressive left’s take-over of Pride. I am deeply saddened that the progress that we fought and suffered for has been sacrificed on the altar of political correctness to appease a small but loud minority that demands acquiescence by the LGBT community.
This is not progress.
Doc von Lichtenberg