Queers for Social Justice led a march on Monday—part of their effort to maintain Pride's political side.
More than 400 trans, queer, and allied activists and protesters took to the streets Monday evening for a night march held by the newly formed group Queers for Social Justice. The eclectic crowd paraded through the downtown core from Nathan Phillips Square to Cawthra Park, near Church and Wellesley streets, taking over Queen Street, Yonge Street, and Carlton Street along the way.
Queers for Social Justice, though not affiliated with Pride Toronto, is passionate about keeping politics in Pride and ensuring that issues that affect queer and trans communities aren’t upstaged by Pride’s more celebratory aspects. The night march’s lead marshal, Casey Oraa, pitched the idea for the event “because, aside from vigils and memorial walks, I couldn’t recall a march in the recent history of our communities that had taken place at night.” Oraa added: “Night as a setting made sense to me, as even in a city as ours that is cast as being progressive, many in our communities still go covert in many of our public spaces.”
The march began shortly after 9 p.m. with Oraa and his team of marshals stopping traffic on Queen Street just south of Nathan Phillips Square and quickly filling the eastbound lane with jubilant marchers, some festooned with glitter, others holding placards and glowsticks. Among the slogans shouted out by the crowd were “Whose streets? Queer streets!,” perennial favourite “No justice, no peace!,” and the gleefully provocative “We’re here! We’re queer! Don’t fuck with us! We’re fabulous!”
Taking over the Yonge/Queen intersection and bringing the march north up Yonge Street seemed like a daunting challenge, but Oraa and his marshals confidently stopped traffic and brought the crowd through without incident. While some cars pulled out and turned around, most waited out the inconvenience patiently. Many honked in support of the cheering, chanting participants. One young man gamely tried to lead the group in a number of French slogans taken from the Quebec student protests, but few seemed confident enough to show off their French-speaking skills in such a public arena.
As each intersection along Yonge Street was secured and overtaken, the crowd grew more exuberant. The turn from Yonge onto Carlton Street posed another challenge (and a bit of confusion as some marchers assumed they’d be continuing north to Wellesley Street), but once again skilful marshaling ensured that none were left behind. By the time the march reached Carlton and Church Streets, the activists’ shouts were ringing out among the high-rises and a feeling of celebration was in the air.
At Carlton and Church Streets, the marshals once again secured the intersection so that the march could turn north—but an unmarked grey van with uniformed Toronto police officers attempted to push into the intersection and, disconcertingly, into the crowd, leading some to believe that the police were attempting to disrupt the march. “I saw a grey/silver van push in toward our crowd,” said Oraa, “doing a stop-and-go sort of manuever a couple of times. I sent my runner to go check it out and he came back and told me it was two police officers…. Apparently, the officers had been pushing into the crowd to get closer to find out if we needed help with traffic control, et cetera, and if we were okay.” Moments later, several police officers on bicycles arrived alongside the march further up Church to more effectively accompany and facilitate the procession.
The march continued up through the Church/Wellesley intersection with shouts of “Off the sidewalks and into the streets!” and then made its way into Cawthra Park alongside the 519 Community Centre. Buoyant at the overall success of the march, Oraa led the crowd in one last round of “We’re here! We’re queer! Don’t fuck with us! We’re fabulous!”
Pride Toronto’s theme this year, “Celebrate and Demonstrate,” has provoked considerable discussion in queer/trans communities, particularly among those who feel that Pride should be one or the other, not both. Oraa noted, “I think it’s important to keep the politics and protest in Pride as our battles aren’t over yet. Achieving legal recognition and rights are important to legitimizing our communities and identities in the social sphere but not the be-all-end-all. There’s lots of work to be done in achieving equality for our communities and we aren’t at the point yet where we can just stop fighting.”
Photos by Paul Dymond.