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No Pride in policing: systemic oppression has no place in our parade

No Pride in policing: systemic oppression has no place in our parade

Pride Toronto

As surely as springtime brings birdsong, Pride season brings controversy, and this year is no exception.

2019 marks 50 years since Stonewall, generally regarded as the birth of the western LGBTI rights movement.

As most people know, Stonewall was an actual street riot of queer and trans people rising up and fighting against the police brutality that was a fact of gay life.

The decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada

In Canada, we too have a golden gay anniversary. It has been 50 years since our federal government purported to decriminalize homosexuality.

In 1969, our justice minister declared: ‘There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,’ and ‘What’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code’.

The words that followed were far more revealing. They foreshadowed 50 years of state repression: ‘When it becomes public, this is a different matter.’

In the years after the so-called decriminalization of homosexuality, it was still routine for the police to harass queer and trans people who dared leave their bedrooms.

The fanfare of 1969 was not accompanied by any rights or protections against harassment, discrimination, or violence. The police still regularly picked up, beat up, and dropped off queers in isolated parts of town.

The bathhouse riots

Things came to a head during the Toronto bathhouse riots of 1981.

Gay men flooded into the midnight streets to protest Operation Soap, an orchestrated, violent police raid on the city’s bathhouses.

The first gay pride event in Toronto took place that year – a picnic on an island park – to bear witness to this burgeoning queer liberation movement.

In the decades since, and especially in Canada, we have made some significant legal and social gains as LGBTI people. However, the police have continued to harass the most marginalized members of our community.

Toronto is a ‘majority-minority’ city

Black Lives Matter at Pride Toronto last month
Black Lives Matter at Pride Toronto in 2016.

Toronto is a ‘majority-minority’ city. More than half of all Torontonians are people of color.

Toronto is also a city where a black resident is 20 times more likely to be fatally shot by a Toronto police officer than is a white resident, according to a 2018 report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. There is a very clear problem with respect to racism in policing in Toronto.

Gay village serial killer

Toronto is also still reeling from the 2018 news of a serial killer who preyed particularly on semi-closeted brown men in the gay village.

More horrifying still was information suggesting that the police did not take these concerns seriously for several years because most of the men who had gone missing were brown and queer and marginalized.

The serial killer was only sentenced this year, in 2019.

Systemic harassment

In 2016, Toronto police engaged in an undercover sting operation and caught over 70 suburban, closeted, mostly immigrant men who were cruising for like-minded company under cover of darkness in a forested section of a large park.

Every man who challenged his charges had them dropped, a strong indicator that this was simply police harassment.

Of course, not every person is able to challenge bogus police harassment, nor should they have to.

The fact remains that it is not safe to pretend that times have changed and the police are our friends, especially as they continue to ticket, target, ignore, arrest, shoot, and kill. And it is unacceptable to pretend that this is a set of coincidences rather than systemic racism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia.

We need to understand that these issues are linked, and that they affect all of us in our communities.

No police in Pride parades

Police at Toronto Pride | Photo: David Hudson
Police at Toronto Pride in 2016 | Photo: David Hudson

I, therefore, strongly oppose police contingents in Pride parades. It is outlandish to think there should be a police float in an environment where there is such heavy and unexamined state oppression.

And yet, rather than doing the difficult work of admitting they have a problem and setting to work on it, Toronto police seem obsessed with getting back into the parade. It is nothing more than the attempted pink-washing of racist, homophobic, transphobic state violence, and we see through it.

This is why, in 2019, the membership of Pride Toronto again voted to ban organized, uniformed police contingents from the parade – not only because it runs counter to the spirit of queer liberation against state oppression, but because in practice queer and trans people remain oppressed by the state.

Banning the military

State oppression takes many forms, which is why I recently introduced two related motions for consideration by the Pride Toronto membership.

These motions call for a ban on organized contingents of the military, and the prison-industrial complex. As with the police ban, individuals who happen to be military or correctional officers can still participate. We need to hold the institutions to account.

In Toronto today, there are many trans women in men’s prisons and jails. They are there because that is the public policy of the correctional system. It is institutional violence, and it is a queer liberation issue. So too is the violence of the military-industrial complex, here and abroad: there is no pride in war.

I am proud of the queer liberation movement. I am proud of what it represents, what it has done, and what it is doing. And I am proud of Pride Toronto for arcing towards liberation for us all.

Stonewall 50 Voices

Gay Star News is commemorating 2019 as the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots. Our Stonewall 50 Voices series will bring you 50 guest writers from all around the world, with a focus on the diversity of our global LGBTI community.

They will be discussing the past, present and future of our struggle for love and liberation.

See also

Pride Toronto bans uniformed police from 2019 festival

Canadian city cancels pride due to ‘current political and social environment’

Yet another Pride in Poland has been banned and this has to stop