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Toronto Pride Defiant Despite Risk of Anti-Gay and Far-Right Protest

Following recent incidents in Detroit and Hamilton, organizers and police are stepping up security.

by Hilary Beaumont and Mack Lamoureux
Jun 21 2019, 4:03pm

Revelers at the Toronto Pride Parade in 2017. Photo via Mark Blinch/Canadian Press

Toronto Pride organizers are reassuring the LGBTQ community ahead of this weekend’s parade after far-right anti-gay protesters sparked violence at a Hamilton Pride event last weekend.

Members of Toronto’s LGBTQ community are concerned that the same counter-protesters could show up at this weekend’s Pride parade. Last week, an anti-gay religious group disrupted Hamilton Pride, leading to shouting and brawls. Hamilton Pride organizers criticized police for taking too long to respond, prompting Hamilton’s Police Chief to say officers didn’t step in because they were uninvited from Pride. The violence comes after Neo-Nazis showed up at Detroit’s Pride festival on June 8 with Nazi flags, weapons, and a police escort.

A member of Toronto’s LGBTQ community, who didn’t want to be named, posted on Facebook that the same protesters who were at Hamilton Pride could show up at Toronto Pride.

“There’s been a rise in events where anti-gay groups stand outside queer establishments and spew hate,” they told VICE. “Now some of these groups have formed to actualize that hate into physical assault and that can be very dangerous for us if we’re not prepared.”

Toronto Pride organizer Olivia Nuamah said anti-gay groups protest Pride every year, and the festival is working closely with Toronto Police to ensure they won’t disrupt this weekend’s events, including the Dyke March on Saturday and Pride parade on Sunday. An anti-gay group appeared in the Village earlier this month, making hateful comments through a megaphone before police arrested the perpetrator for disturbing the peace.

“We generally tend to deal with this kind of threat every year,” Nuamah said. “What has happened not only in Hamilton but in Detroit has made clear that we have needed to increase security and coordinate more with the police, which is what we have done. So everyone can expect an increased protection presence this year.”

Protesters affliated with the anti-gay religious group that showed up at Hamilton Pride will be in Toronto this weekend for one of the world’s largest Pride festivals, according to a video Yellow Vest supporters posted on Facebook.

It’s not clear if they plan to disrupt the Pride parade, but Yellow Vester Derek Storie says in the June 16 video, “We need all hands on deck because the same crew that was in Hamilton is gonna be in Toronto, and it’s probably gonna be more because Pride is on. They’re going to have more people.”

Yellow Vester Rick Boswick responds to Storie in the video by saying he wants to know the route of the Dyke March on Saturday, because it’s the same day as a rally by PEGIDA. PEGIDA is an international anti-Islam group first formed in Germany under an acyronm that translates to Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West. The group has been active in Canada for several years and their anti-Islam rallies are typically a flashpoint for conflict between protestors and anti-protestors.

“So the Dyke March, I really want to know where they’re going to march, because they’re probably going to show up and support the Antifa communists, the terrorists,” Boswick says.

Nuamah said the festival is aware of the rally planned for the Dyke March. Dyke March organizers declined to comment, referring us to Toronto Pride Festival communications.

On June 16, members of an anti-gay Christian group posted a video showing themselves wearing t-shirts saying “Fear God” and “Repent” and holding signs with messages like “Don’t die in your sin and shame.”

Anti-fascists wearing pink head-coverings attempted to block the anti-gay protesters with a large black screen. People on both sides can be seen antagonizing each other, shouting and and filming it. Both the anti-gay group and anti-fascist protesters pushed, grabbed and punched their opponents.

The violence in Hamilton has become a talking point among the far-right online. The focus has been specifically on a man in red who uses his helmet to hit two people in the face. Far-right stars like Faith Goldy and Owen Shoyer of Infowars have positively commented on his actions and shared video of this man online. On YouTube and 4Chan the man, now dubbed the Canadian Pan Man, is treated as a hero and memes are made in his honour. The star treatment of one of their own is likely something the far-right groups in Ontario will be able to rally around.

Asked whether they would step up their presence at Toronto Pride this weekend, Toronto Police said they continually monitor security issues in the city. “In response, we make the appropriate adjustments to our plans in order to mitigate the potential risks to public safety. We have done this to ensure the city is as safe and secure as possible.”

Hamilton Police did not immediately respond as the violence broke out. Hamilton Pride organizers said police could have prevented the violence, but took “far too long” to respond.

They said they warned police before the event that they expected an escalation in protests this year. “Despite this, only a small number of officers were on hand,” organizers said in a statement.

“There have been long-standing issues between the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and Hamilton Police Services that remain unresolved,” organizers said. “We feel that this was an opportunity for police to demonstrate that they were there to protect and act in solidarity with the community.”

Responding to criticism, Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt said police would have responded differently if they hadn’t been uninvited to Pride.

“We would have had people in the crowd pretty much the whole time,” he said on a local radio show. He said there were enough officers on the scene.

“Keeping [in] mind the context here,” Girt said. “We were not invited to the event. We were asked not to be at the event and we remained on the perimeter.”

“It’s kind of a no-win situation when you’re asked not to be there, and then when you’re not there, how come you weren’t there?” he said.

Nuamah said people shouldn’t be afraid to come to the Pride parade and Dyke March this weekend. “We want to encourage people to come and have a good time.”

Follow Hilary and Mack on Twitter.