This news event was little covered in the U.S. media and was completely eclipsed by events a week later, the police killings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling, quickly followed by the sniper murders at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas.
But this incident in Toronto brings up some questions about groups that could be, should be, and often are not, allies, and what is the optimum behavior for allies when protesting.
The incident happened on July 3rd, in Toronto. That’s when Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists shut down the Toronto LGBT Pride parade with smoke flares and a sit-in.
BLM had nine demands for Pride organizers, including demonstrating a commitment to black queer youth; committing to more Black deaf and hearing ASL interpreters at the festival; and, committing to representing more Black trans women and indigenous people on the Pride staff.
Toronto BLM members refused to let the parade proceed until their demands were met. The Pride executive director surrendered quickly and signed a document agreeing to the demands, although the organization has challenged BLM’s proclaimed “victory” in getting police removed.
Most of BLM’s Toronto demands appear reasonable, but one key demand – the removal of all police floats and booths in the Pride parade and festival – was surprising to many.
A few things should be noted. Pride parades since the very first one in New York City in 1970 have been sacred in the LGBT community, the ultimate safe space.
In recent years, there has been discussion about whether Pride – sponsored by big banks and other corporations in every city – has become too institutional, too sanitized, and not about the original mission of gay liberation. Perhaps, but still, many see them as a sanctuary, a safe space.
It’s also important to point out that Pride parades have long featured contingents of LGBT cops and firefighters, and booths set up by the local LGBT officers’ group at the accompanying street festivals.
Another piece to this puzzle is, Black Lives Matter is not an LGBT group, although the Toronto chapter is led by several queer trans women and has included LGBTQ issues other actions. Further, BLM was previously invited to help lead the Pride Parade in Toronto and had an honorary contingent in the parade. That contingent then shut down the entire event.
Intersectionality can be complicated. But it doesn’t have to be antagonistic.
The most logical question brought up by the Toronto BLM protest at Pride is, can’t groups who should be civil rights allies recognize that fact rather than target each other to make a point?
Black Lives Matter has done an important job in bringing issues of police profiling and abuse of Black Americans (and Canadians) to the greater public consciousness. And the ugly backlash they’ve faced in the wake of the Dallas shootings – where the police where there to protect them during a peaceful protest, after all – has been unfortunate.
It’s not just Toronto. BLM also pulled out of San Francisco Pride to protest increased security following Orlando. At a time when the LGBT community is looking at law enforcement to keep them safe, it might not be the best time, at least from the LGBT community’s POV, to demand fewer cops.
BLM claimed that the police presence at Pride made some people of color “uncomfortable.” I would say the lack of a police presence, especially post-Orlando, would make most people at Pride events uncomfortable. If there had been incidents of police targeting and profiling black celebrants at Pride that would be one thing. But there hasn’t been.
Many cops are LGBT.
Many cops are Black.
I’m not sure that the BLM protesters in Toronto fully got the irony of tossing out cops, who were there to protect Pride revelers, when it was routine police raids and systemic abuse against gays that led directly to the Stonewall riot and the birth of a movement.
I should underscore the fact that BLM has been an important force in speeding up changes in policing procedures that even conservatives agree now have been, to say the least, unfair to Black people in the U.S.
Brandon Ellington Patterson penned an essay in Mother Jones about how the struggles of LGBT people and African Americans should, but too often don’t, make them natural allies.
The simple truth is this: It’s problematic for members of any one marginalized group to challenge the progress made by members of another, especially when both groups suffer as a result of the same system—a system that favors being white, male, straight and “cisgender,” a term used by academics and advocates to describe the opposite of trans.
But it is especially problematic for black people to reject the LGBT rights struggle, especially when, over the past year, black people have been particularly vocal about their own racial oppression, via sustained, high-profile protests that have swept the nation.
Most glaringly, it’s problematic because blackness and LGBT identities are not mutually exclusive. There are lesbian black women, gay black men, bisexual black people, transgender black men and women, “genderqueer” black people—identifying as neither gender or both—and black people who are any combination of any of the above.
Surely there are white and African American LGBTs who have participated in BLM protests and activities outside of Pride parades. There is significant overlap of groups who, rightly, want more rights as members of American society. LGBT Pride parades would welcome more straight allies, of color or not, and BLM could use more non-Black allies to do more than give tacit acknowledgement that there really is a problem with police profiling and that yes, something should be done – by others.
Disparate groups who may not have a lot in common on the surface can, together, be greater than the sum of their parts. In theory. Too often protesting involves, first, a strong identification with the group being ostensibly oppressed. But protest of rights for one group – and celebration of the rights gained, as in LGBT Pride marches – doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.