The Toronto Star Editorial Board is Not Your Ally

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The Toronto Star Editorial Board is Not Your Ally

They should take several seats.

Pride cops

Toronto Police march in 2016 Toronto Pride. Torontoist file photo

Once again, the Toronto Star has offered unsolicited, vaguely offensive, and extremely unhelpful advice to Pride Toronto.

In an editorial published online Friday, “Toronto police should not have been forced out of Pride Parade,” the Star weighed in for the second time in just over three weeks to tell the organization who should and shouldn’t be welcome at its main event.

To be clear, this is not an opinion piece or column with a byline—it’s the collective agreed-upon position of the editorial board, a mostly straight, largely white group of senior staffers.

Let’s break down the piece for them. Line by line.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders is taking the high road.

So brave of him! Why would he lower himself to the level of Black Lives Matter Toronto and actually participate in a discussion?

By bowing out, he may save Pride Toronto from more rancorous internal debate about whether it’s appropriate for police to take part in the parade.

Okay, wait. No. Stop. We, as a community, need to have that debate. Pride members, and the broader LGBTQ community, need to have a conversation about all the important issues raised by Black Lives Matter Toronto (not just the police-related demand, which gets all the attention. The whole list). The police also need to take a long look in the mirror and discuss these systemic issues internally (maybe even do more listening than talking).

The Toronto Star editorial board should ask itself why it is allowing Saunders to shut down this urgently needed debate. Don’t they see what police are doing here? Police are using Pride to divide the community, delegitimize the lived experiences of Black queer and trans people, and completely dismiss very valid concerns. It’s patronizing and insulting. These are concerns that are far from new. LGBTQ people have been protesting these issues for years. Gay officers know this, and if they don’t, they should.

But there’s no getting around the fact that Pride Toronto has taken a big backward step by effectively telling the police that they aren’t welcome any more as official participants in the LGBTQ community’s biggest annual celebration.

Look, Pride is for queer people. Black queer people are queer people. Black Lives Matter Toronto is mostly led by queer people. Police as an institution are not queer people. There are certainly queer people in the police ranks, and they are still welcome to come to Pride. All the gay cops should get together, buy matching T-shirts, take the day off work, and leave their damn guns at home.

Why? Because some queer and trans people consider it traumatizing. The relationship between gay people and police has improved for a certain class of the gay community. For many others nothing has changed.

Pride started an uprising against police violence and brutality following the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969 and the bathhouse raids in Toronto in 1981.

bathhouse_raid5

1981 Operation Soap. Courtesy of Pride Toronto and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA).

“Taking a step backwards”? Many of us see this as a big step forward to finally create a space that is safe for Black queer and trans people, sex workers, HIV-positive people, Indigenous queer people, and homeless queer youth—people who are still regularly harassed and criminalized by police. People we want to to feel welcome at Pride.

Pride is still a protest. Yes, we celebrate our wins, but the fight for justice is not done yet. Tackling police brutality and racism is still very much at the top of the gay agenda.

Police harassment of queer and trans people is not even historical. Sex workers frequently say that they march next to the same smiling, bead-covered cops at Pride who will turn around and arrest them and their clients in the Village the very next day.

Queer and trans people of colour complain that police harass them on a regular basis. Police still conduct sting operations on gay men cruising other gay men in parks, such as last summer’s bust in Marie Curtis Park. Trans women in this city still complain of harassment, mistreatment, and abuse at the hands of Toronto Police. Police continue to arrest gay HIV-positive people who fail to disclose. The justice system is still far from kind to LGBTQ people.

It has taken many years of hard work for the police to move from a position of confrontation and even persecution of LGBTQ people to a much more positive relationship. Seeing the chief and uniformed officers marching in the Pride Parade was a highly visible symbol of this welcome progress.

Are these the same uniformed officers who recently threatened a citizen peacefully filming an arrest to leave lest he get AIDS from saliva?

Maybe the sight of hundreds of uniformed police officers, guns at their hip, dripping in Mardi Gras beads, fills editorial board members with a sense of pride—it doesn’t for many queer and trans people.

And it shows a remarkably oblivious misunderstanding of history to say a police uniform symbolizes progress.

It was also a concrete sign that Pride is committed to inclusion of all people – even those who have not traditionally been its allies.

When your friend invites you to a party, do you demand to bring your weapons, and if they say no, accuse them of not being “inclusive”? Worse still, if your friend has invited other guests who have weapon-related PTSD. Maybe stop thinking about yourself for one second.

And he promised that the decision “will have no impact on our ongoing outreach to LGBTQ communities… We will continue to develop respectful relationships and build new ones.” In other words, the police force isn’t just going off to sulk.

Good. Toronto Police have lots of work to do. Fix the institutional problems, then come back to Pride.

But Mayor John Tory was also right to say that he was “frustrated and disappointed” by the outcome, “that an event that is meant to be, and in fact is all about inclusion, has now somehow become about exclusion…. We know that diversity strengthens us as a city and pushing people apart weakens us as a city.”

This is a mayor who doesn’t even believe that white privilege exists. And apparently neither does the Star editorial board.

Pride is not about inclusion. It is about defiance of oppression and resisting homophobic violence inflicted by the state. It only became about “inclusion” when corporations and state institutions realized they could make money off Pride.

Unfortunately, the soured relationship between police and Pride is not limited to Toronto.

Police are not a marginalized group. They’ll be fine.

It was BLM Toronto that started the controversy last summer when it staged a sit-in at the Pride Parade and raised a series of demands on behalf of black people and other groups, including that police be disinvited from taking part in an organized fashion.

Again, police as an institution were disinvited. Is the editorial board deliberately not understanding this critical point? It is irresponsible to repeatedly not clarify this for their readers. Frankly, it feeds into the vitriolic racism surrounding this issue.

That, in turn, led to a highly charged debate within Pride Toronto, leading to a decision in January to endorse BLM Toronto’s demands, including banning police floats from the parade.

Yes, a protest action at Pride led to a public debate in the community, which culminated in a democratic vote by members at Pride’s annual general meeting. That’s how the system is supposed to work.

It would have been far better, though, for this necessary work to go on while allowing police to continue their participation in the Pride Parade. It’s easier to build on a positive relationship, rather than start from a position of suspicion.

“Building positive relationships” isn’t really the goal. The goal is to get police to stop oppressing people of colour and produce clear, tangible policy to fix our deeply broken system.

What the Toronto Star is essentially telling Pride is that police feelings are more important than the safety of queer and trans people. And that’s not a good ally.

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