Black Lives Matter protest puts parade on pause until Pride agrees to demands
Pride agreed to the group’s demands, including the removal of police floats and more funding for black performers, after Sunday’s shutdown by activists.
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Black Lives Matter brought Sunday’s Pride parade to a standstill on Sunday to force the annual celebration of LGBT equality to answer for its “anti-blackness,” the protesters said.
The group, an honoured guest at this year’s parade, stopped its float and marchers at Yonge and College Sts. for more than 30 minutes, refusing to move until Pride officials met their demands.
“We are under attack,” Alexandria Williams, one of the group’s co-founders cried into the megaphone. “Pride Toronto, we are calling you out! For your anti-blackness, your anti-indigeneity,” she said.
After the rainbow-coloured cloud cleared from smoke bombs set off in the intersection, some paradegoers joined in the chants of “black lives, they matter here!” while others shouted for the protest to move on.
The group staged the shutdown to call attention to marginalized groups’ experiences at Pride, organizers said.
“Folks are forgetting that we haven’t all made it to the point of queer liberation. That not all communities who participate in Pride are actually able to be free in that celebration,” said Williams ahead of the parade.
Among their demands, the group asked Pride to increase funding and support for Black Queer Youth events and Blockorama, the Pride showcase for black performers; reinstate the South Asian stage; hire more black deaf and ASL interpreters; hire more black trans women, indigenous people, and others from vulnerable communities; and remove police floats from future parades.
The parade resumed after Pride executive director Mathieu Chantelois and board co-chair Alica Hall reviewed and signed the list of demands on the spot.
“Their requests were extremely reasonable,” Chantelois said. “Everything was making a lot of sense.” (Craig Brister, spokesperson for Toronto Police, said Sunday that “we will not be commenting” at all on the BLM demands.)
Given the group’s history of radical activism, Chantelois wasn’t surprised by Sunday’s protest. “We did this because we want to do things better with our black community. We wanted to be educated,” he said of the group’s inclusion.
Williams says any surprise at the group’s inclusion is rooted in a lack of knowledge about the contributions of black trans and queer people in early Pride movements. “It has always been something where the folks at the front causing the change have been black, have been from the LGBT trans community, and have been forgotten,” Williams said.
Black Lives Matter’s actions throughout the weekend were an attempt to “return Pride to its political roots,” Janaya Khan, one of the group’s co-founders, told the Star ahead of Sunday’s march. They come in the shadow of last month’s Orlando shooting in which a gunman killed 49 people in a gay nightclub.
The tragedy prompted moments of silence at Pride events across the world. But it also led to ramped-up security, which led the BLM chapter and other groups to pull out of San Francisco’s Pride and the New York City chapter to issue a statement on the unease.
The theme for this year’s Toronto Pride was “You Can Sit With Us,” and the weekend of celebration was preceded by a month of film screenings, panel discussions, and community fairs addressing issues regarding the trans community, blackness and queer politics.
Longtime gay rights activist Tim McCaskell credits Pride Toronto for showing an increased commitment to social justice. “They need to be commended on attempting in injecting some real present-day politics in the parade,” he told the Star on Saturday.
The need to return Pride to its community roots hit a flashpoint in 2010 as debate raged over the inclusion of the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid group, programming for Dyke Day was moved away from the locus of activity, the Trans March was organized without consultation, and Blockorama was moved to a smaller location.
“At that point I think a whole lot of people in the community realized that this was no longer an event that had notions of community as its central focus. It was becoming more of a tourist event that had making-money for people as its focus,” McCaskell said.
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