Pride Toronto Should Stop Taking Money from the City
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Pride Toronto Should Stop Taking Money from the City

The Toronto police union is calling on Mayor John Tory and councillors to pull the $260,000 grant given to Pride.

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Black Lives Matter marching at the front of the Pride parade in 2016 as the honoured group. Photo via Twitter.

The Toronto Police Association, and a group of gay and lesbian officers, want the City to pull funding from the Pride parade. Anyone familiar with the debates surrounding Pride, the police, and the City can’t be surprised by the demand coming from the police fraternity. The question now remains, how will city councillors respond to the demand? Given that a few city councillors themselves would also like to see the police march in full regalia in the parade, Pride is headed into a head-on collision with the City over some of its funding. The coming days should be a heady stew of meetings, protests, debates, and arguments on what Pride should do, what the City does not have the right to do, and how special or not the police really are. But in the heat of the moment maybe some other questions need asking and answering too.

Are the police in the employ of the City? Is the Toronto Police Association acting on behalf of the Toronto Police Services? Did the TPS and the TPA agree to the request? TPS has publicly stated that it was withdrawing from the parade to allow Pride time to solve what it called “internal issues.” Will TPS join with Pride to protect Pride’s city funding against the TPA request? These questions demand answers, but even more importantly, these questions point to a context that is deeply fraught with many things we do not know about TPA’s open letter. Who is that letter actually serving? Is it ammunition for city councillors and a mayor who has previously suggested withholding Pride funding? Some will recall the heady days of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the threat to withhold funding, plunging the Pride organization into turmoil resulting in the ousting of the then Executive Director. Are we headed there again? And are police in the parade worth such political excitement?

So, let’s be clear about the context. First BLM-TO’s demand that the police not march in full regalia in the parade is an important demand. Second, it is a demand that has been endorsed, voted on, and ratified by the Pride board and, more importantly, Pride membership. This attempt by the TPA to undo the community’s decision by appealing to City Hall strikes deeply at Pride’s autonomy as a self-governing body that regulates itself in its own interest. To call the TPA’s request anything less than a thuggish move would not do justice to the ways in which they have now played their hand. The TPA is hoping to push back against a rising tide across this nation of police either not participating in Pride parades or police having their participation significantly curtailed. Indeed, this new context is an exciting one for those of us who would like to see less militarized and corporatized Pride parades across the country.

The TPA is betting that its LGBT committee will garner more favour at City Hall than BLM-TO. And in some corners the TPA might be right. Indeed, it is stunning to see how the TPA has now used what some would call “identity politics” to push its thuggish request. But Pride Toronto has some decisions to make too and some questions to ask. And those decisions fundamentally have to be made thinking about the cost of City funding and the kind of parade and celebration of queer life that we want.

What should the City’s funding cost the queer community? Pride Toronto has to ask if the city’s funding should be used to impede its self-governing autonomy. Pride TO has to ask if the City’s funding is sufficient to endanger members of its community, especially those who are sex-workers, trans, and Black. Pride Toronto must ask itself if the City’s funding is enough to plunge itself into an internal battle for the community’s soul. Should Pride Toronto seriously answer those questions and answer those questions in a way that is concerned with the serious and deep issues BLM-TO has raised about the police in the parade, then the police will remain excluded from the parade. And if excluding the police from the parade impacts funding, so be it. Pride Toronto has to fundamentally answer the question, how much should the city’s funding influence the organization’s direction?

Indeed, if the City decides to withdraw its funding, Pride Toronto should simply move on. No debate. No begging. It’s about time that money’s influence in Pride is liquidated. The spectacle of the banks and other corporations sprinkling their crumbs at Pride should never be enough to compromise present and future queer community conviviality. I say let them keep their crumbs, and we will keep making our community radically inclusive. The demands of BLM-TO are not just about now, about today, or about last year. The demands of BLM-TO are about the future of queer life and our queer community. When we actively include those people who are presently excluded from the queer community, it brings us closer to what our future might look like, even if it is just for a few hours on the street. We should want that, collectively.

BLM-TO’s achievement and endorsement by the Pride community clearly irks the police, especially the TPA. The TPA has a long history of targeting Black people and people of colour who challenge their take on the world. From Susan Eng to Olivia Chow to even the accommodating Alok Mukherjee, the TPA has sought resignations to silence critics. But the TPA has saved its real venom for Black people. Its attacks on Roy Williams and especially Arnold Minors are legend in Black community. Make no doubt about it, because this Pride motion was proposed by a Black-identified group, it makes the TPA’s ire so much more heightened.

I can’t help but think that what galls them most is that the Pride community has supported and stood by a group of Black queers whose demands ask for the kind of accountability from police that Black communities have long asked for, but rarely ever achieved. For once, the police will be sidelined in favour of Black requests.

Rinaldo Walcott is the Director of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto.