Pride Toronto makes the right call on police

Pride Toronto makes the right call on police

The timing was odd. The parameters were blurred. The internal dynamics are sketchy.

On the surface, it certainly appears that Pride Toronto and the Toronto Police Service have made peace.

Once all the i’s have been dotted and the t’s crossed — most specifically, once a formal request to participate next year has been submitted and approved — cops will again be welcome to fly the blue in the Pride Parade.

Whether officers will be permitted to carry their service weapons, whether a police float can be included, are details to be resolved later.

But, in uniform, they are no longer personae non gratae.

Asked if BLM had been a partner in the reconciliation process, if it would be involved in the continuing conversations with police, Pride executive director Olivia Nuamah was terse and blunt: “No. This is Pride Toronto. This is not Black Lives Matter.’’

For the past few years, of course, ever since BLM staged a stall of the parade in 2016 — refusing to let the splashy spectacle proceed until it had arm-twisted a signed document from then-executive director Mathieu Chantelois, agreeing to the group’s demands — the two organizations have been essentially conflated.

And that triggered an ongoing civil war between identity politics factions, between communities that have long intersected in their policing issues, even if they didn’t share all areas of urgent concern — the trendy “intersectionality” of grievance.

Sponsorship and donations have plunged since 2017, which many attribute to the police ban.

To be clear: Black Lives Matter has been a tremendous force in the United States, coalescing primarily around the blight of black males shot by police. The Toronto iteration also can chalk up successes, most notably in its tireless campaign to get racial carding dumped.

But it became obvious that BLM was the tail wagging the queer dog, which polarized the gay community after Pride last year formally agreed with and endorsed the entire BLM agenda: banning uniforms or full regalia and carrying guns at the parade.

Fifteen years ago, when Bill Blair became the first Toronto police chief to take part in the parade, it was celebrated as a watershed moment, shifting history between cops and gays. A community that had suffered well-documented abuse and muscular homophobia was thrilled to open a new chapter in its relationship with policing. Pride’s middle name has always been inclusion. Yet in a more recent era, the defining description had morphed, in the minds of many, to exclusion. Attitudes were rigid, on both sides, the count-them-in and the count-them out, but most adamantly, it must be said, by the BLM cohort.

The clash devolved to white male queers, older veterans of activism — assailed for allegedly enjoying “privileged identities” — versus a more recently clamouring contingent that includes Blacks, Indigenous, bisexual and transgender folks, with a further shout-out to poor queers, sex workers and people with disabilities, all of whom purportedly felt marginalized and threatened by the police presence.

Relations between the gay community and police were further damaged by what many in the Gay Village saw as a poor investigative response to homosexual men who disappeared amidst fears of a serial killer targeting victims in the area.

Rather than broadening inclusion, however, the panoply of distinct identities has threatened to fracture gay unity. Let’s not mince words: Pride Toronto was fingered for racism.

Some, who’ve fought for ages in the trenches of gay rights, were outraged to be accused of manifesting white privilege, being part of a “white capitalist heteropatriarchal society,” as one commentator put it in an academic journal.

This is the stuff of radical schism and hostility. It is the antithesis of alliance and accord.

Earlier this year, Chief Mark Saunders acceded to a request from Pride Toronto and other community organization, withdrawing the police force’s application to march in the 2018 parade. While some were displeased that Saunders had backed down without even a whimper, avoiding another head-on wrangle did ease tensions, allowing for calmer conversations outside the media glare.

On Tuesday, Nuamah applauded the “openness” of Saunders and the police department in these discussions. “It’s been an open and collaborative process.”

Saunders: “The key part was the ability to be open, listening, to be receptive, listening to conversations. Not necessarily easy conversations, very candid conversations if we’re going to get it right.”

The chief stood shoulder to shoulder with Nuamah and Mayor John Tory. That was the odd timing part — an important announcement of rapprochement less than a week away from the municipal election, which will surely benefit the incumbent mayor.

Nuamah asserted there was no political kneading to that, merely an administrative wish to get on with it, proceeding with organizational plans for an event that takes a whole year to stage manage. And, to be fair, Tory has been looking for a solution to the impasse since it began.

“When you’re in the most diverse city in the world, the challenge of maintaining trust between the police and the communities, many of them within the LGBTQ2S communities, but also the much broader city, is one of the biggest challenges you face,” he said. “It’s complicated. It’s often emotional. It’s just something though that is one of our first and foremost responsibilities … It’s continuous, it’s never going to be finished.”

It cannot be overlooked that there are numerous gay and lesbian officers who serve in Toronto. But they had to hide their identity — go in the cop closet — if they wanted to participate in Pride Parade these past few years. And that was intolerable.

“We pulled a strategy together to work with community organizations, to really listen,” said Const. Danielle Bottineau, the Toronto police LGBTQ2S liaison officer. “Communities within the community, to talk about things like systemic issues.”

There were consultations with a dozen such groups. Those consultations didn’t include BLM, which was its decision. “We encouraged them, please come to us,” said Bottineau. “They have not come to the table.”

Black Lives Matter did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.

We will see next summer whether BLM, in the aftermath of this setback, crashes and disrupts Pride Parade again. Its members can certainly draw from that protest well once more. A poisoned well.

But Pride Toronto has served notice it won’t carry their water any longer.

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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