Toronto City Council's Repeated Threats to Defund Pride are Homophobic and Racist
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Toronto City Council’s Repeated Threats to Defund Pride are Homophobic and Racist

Some councillors previously tried to punish Pride for not censoring Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

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Toronto councillor John Campbell and Black Lives Matter Toronto marching at the front of the Toronto Pride Parade as the 2016 honoured group. Photos via Twitter and Facebook.

Last week, seven Toronto city councillors said they are prepared to pull Pride Toronto’s funding in retaliation for the exclusion of uniformed police floats and recruiter booths.

Councillor John Campbell (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre), who proposed the defunding threat, argued that Pride violates the principle of “inclusivity” by accepting the demands put forward by Black Lives Matter Toronto during the 2016 parade—the most significant demand being the removal uniformed police floats from the parade in recognition of a history of oppressive relations between the police and minorities in Toronto, particularly LGBTQ people of colour.

Pride Toronto members voted to accept all of BLM-TO’s demands at the annual general meeting in January 2017, following a round of community consultations that showed overwhelming support for banning uniformed police presence at the Pride parade.

Campbell told media he has drafted a motion that asks city staff to withhold Pride’s $260,000 grant “pending Pride’s reaffirmation of its core value of inclusivity,” the CBC reports.

Campbell says he’s already had verbal expressions of support from seven other councillors. Incidentally, all of them are straight, white, cisgender men: Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore), Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre), Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre), Jon Burnside (Ward 26, Don Valley West), Michael Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West), and Mark Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) (who later backtracked).

Mammoliti’s record on “inclusivity” features such highlights as claiming that the city needs to “weed out the communists” hiding in the NDP, accusing the entire neighbourhood of Parkdale of pedophilia, and proposing $40 million in budget cuts to cultural and community groups. Mammoliti also came under fire during his 2010 mayoral bid for his vocal opposition of same-sex marriage and negative statements about AIDS and the LGBTQ community while in office. Then there was the time he showed up at the Dyke March with a video camera.

Distasteful as these and other incidents may be, the comparative wackiness of any one councillor’s political career is somewhat secondary to the issue of defunding Pride.

However, one item stands out in Mammoliti’s policy record and casts a shadow over his and others’ recent finger-wagging at Pride Toronto over issues of “inclusivity.” Mammoliti was one of the conservative councillors who tried to deny funding to Pride over the inclusion of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

In 2010, after Pride’s board buckled to pressure by banning the phrase “Israeli apartheid,” the community spoke out; 23 grand marshals and honoured dykes returned their honours in protest, and many others took to the streets in solidarity with QuAIA. An alternative march to the official Pride marches—called “Take Back the Dyke March”—was organized in protest of the commercialization, censorship, and depoliticization of Pride. The marchers pointed to the hypocrisy in silencing activism at an event that was historically a political protest against police violence and brutality following the bathhouse raids in Toronto in 1981.

Year after year, before QuAIA finally called it quits in 2015, conservative councillors threatened to pull the funding from Pride Toronto if the group marched.

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Queers Against Israeli Apartheid marching one last time at WorldPride in 2014. Photo via QuAIA

It doesn’t look like City Council has learned much in the years since the QuAIA censorship fiasco.

QuAIA forced the organizers of Pride Toronto to confront the failings of their commercial, consumable, corporate leanings. As a community, we’ve forgotten our radical roots. Now, the same Canadian banks that sponsor Pride Toronto (and threatened to pull their sponsorship funding in 2010 during the first QuAIA debate) are investing in colonization projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Kinder Morgan Pipeline.

QuAIA and BLM-TO demand that we recognize Indigenous rights and racial justice and protect those who are directly threatened by the presence of uniformed police.

As Desmond Cole notes in his Toronto Star column, these issues are always going to be a challenge to white, straight, cisgender men who (at best) see Pride as a photo-op or sponsorship spectacle. But white guys can’t make money off of authentic calls for decolonization. Make no mistake—this has nothing to do with inclusivity and everything to do with retaliation.

Without the activism of groups like QuAIA and BLM-TO, Pride Toronto is nothing more than an opportunity for privileged people to make money off of marginalized communities. Queer and trans people of colour have been demanding a police-free Pride for years as part of a commitment to honouring the legacy and realities of queer and anti-racist activism in Toronto. Pride Toronto is finally starting to listen to these calls—six years after they threw QuAIA under the bus. Banning uniformed police floats is a meaningful step towards inclusivity for those who need it most. No wonder it’s making straight white men angry—it should.