News

Black Lives Matter on the Pride Controversy and Whether Toronto Is A Racist Hell Hole

"We can't take something hostage that belongs to us, that we created."

by Manisha Krishnan
Jul 6 2016, 9:20pm

In the days since Black Lives Matter Toronto brought the city's Pride parade to a halt, demanding more inclusivity for black LGBT people and that police floats be banned from future events, the group has been accused of bullying and extortion.

Some people who claim to agree with the movement in principle say Pride was not the right venue for a protest, and that by staging one, BLMTO alienated its allies. On the flip side, others have shown solidarity with the group, and pointed out that Pride is supposed to be political, not simply the corporate-sponsored, feel-good party to which we've all grown accustom.

During the 25-minute sit-in, Pride executive director Mathieu Chantelois signed a document agreeing to BLMTO's demands; he later told reporters he only did that to get the parade moving, and that any decisions about what floats would be included in the event would be left up to the community.

VICE reached out to BLMTO spokesperson LeRoi Newbold, who identifies as black, queer and trans, about the response to the protest and whether the group feels like it's making progress.

VICE: One of the things that's being said is that BLMTO took the parade "hostage" and that it was supposed to be about gay rights and not black rights.
LeRoi Newbold: I think a major piece that's missing here is intersectionality. Gay lives and black lives aren't necessarily distinct and separate from each other. And the Black Lives Matter movement has always been and continues to be led by black queer and trans LGBT people. So we are in fact doing this work and this activism as people who lead intersectional lives. In terms of holding the parade hostage, I think there's a lot of implied sentiment within that that says the Pride parade itself does not belong to us. We are part of the community and Pride is political, Pride is an opportunity to make political advancements for the LGBT community since its conception in 1969. So it is an absolutely appropriate environment for people within the community, which we are, to try to gain those political advances. We can't take something hostage that belongs to us, that we created.

What about the argument this Pride was supposed to be about the victims of the Orlando shooting and this protest took the spotlight away from that.
This is about the victims of Orlando. What happened showed us black and brown LGBT people are not safe, we're not free. We don't have enough protection, safety and community built up around us and we are absolutely devastated about what happened in Orlando. Our hearts are broken. But that doesn't mean we're gonna respond by militarizing our spaces, creating police states within our communities.

Mathieu Chantelois said had BLMTO emailed him, he would have agreed to most of your demands, so why choose to make them at the Parade?
As black LGBT people, these aren't our first interactions with Pride. Blockorama, which is one of the booths we're supporting with our list of demands, and Black Queer Youth have been in ongoing conversations with Pride Toronto for years. Blockorama is a stage that's 20 years old within Pride and there has been many, many community meetings, many town halls, where Mathieu and Pride have heard the complaints and concerns of communities surrounding the push out of black spaces in Pride. So we didn't take this action as a first step. We took it out of desperation after trying many, many other routes to communicate with Mathieu.

The demand related to excluding police floats from future parades has gotten a lot of attention. Some people are asking whether it should be up to BLMTO to determine who should and shouldn't have floats in the parade. And are you excluding LGBT police officers with that demand?
No. That's why Chuck Krangle's open letter from a gay cop was so unnecessary and inappropriate, because we never voiced that we wanted to exclude individual LGBT police officers, what we had called for was an exclusion of police floats and police in uniform. You need to remember that this year a black trans woman was murdered in our city, Sumaya Dalmar and police are doing nothing. [Editor's note: Police initially ruled Dalmar's death was not a homicide.] This action since Pride we've been hearing all these questions about our tactics but we haven't heard anything from anybody in the media or inside policing about her case. So when we talk about excluding police floats from Pride, we're talking about prioritizing the voice and presence and visibility of an institution that kills black people every eight hours, and we're prioritizing that over the physical and mental health of our black and Indigenous and LGBTQ and two-spirited brothers and sisters and siblings. That priority doesn't make sense to me. There will literally be people who are triggered during Pride, cannot attend Pride, are harassed by police during Pride. To me that is a much bigger priority.

BLMTO was an honoured guest at Pride, how do you feel about that? Obviously it's not enough.
Well, in terms of being honoured we have to look at what it means to honour somebody. Our work over the past two years has been confronting police brutality, police violence and police murders in our community around what happened to Jermaine Carby, what happened to Andrew Loku. I don't feel like we are being honoured, I feel we're being tokenized and paraded around and they wanted to have black bodies at the front of the parade but they didn't want to honour our politics and actually what we're pushing for in terms of the advancement of LGBT black communities. What would be an honour would be solidarity in terms of demanding the police look into what happened to Sumaya Dalmar.

Can you talk about racism in the gay community? I read BLMTO co-founder Janaya Khan's piece in which she said she's been receiving death threats since the parade primarily from gay men.
Not a lot of people know the Stonewall riots were actually started and led by black trans women. And because we've been erased from that history of resistance, we have this narrative where Pride is a white, gay creation and we are experiencing all this violence simply for inserting ourselves back into the narrative.

Some people have described you as an anti-white group.
It kinda comes back to how some people say All Lives Matter and are uncomfortable saying Black Lives Matter. We're not anti-white, we're not anti-anybody. What we are simply saying is we want justice for the most vulnerable people within our community, we want justice for the most vulnerable people in the LGBT community, who are black trans women. We're calling for justice for families who have lost LGBT members of their families; to police, justice for LGBT racialized people who have been refused refugee status. None of those things are anti-white, they're anti-racist.

Pride is now publicly backpedaling on what they said, in terms of excluding police floats. When Kathleen Wynne said to BLMTO that systemic racism exists, she later told police it wasn't a reference to them. Mayor John Tory has also reached out to police to say their presence at Pride is welcome. What do you make of all this? Does it feel like you're making progress?
I feel that is a real question of public concern, unlike a lot of other questions we've been receiving. Our politicians' really clear allegiance and commitment to the police force even in the face of them doing extremely atrocious, illegal acts, over their commitment to people is extremely alarming. Everybody should be concerned about that.

Some people have said that Toronto is not a "racist hell hole" like places in the US. Is Toronto a racist hell hole?
In the United States black people are gunned down every eight hours, so I don't think the United States is a good moral compass. We may not have the problem to the same extent simply because we don't have the same population here, we have a very small black population in Canada. But even with that very small population we still see statistical trends that show you that black people are carded at alarming rates, we are imprisoned at alarming rates, and increasing rates, we are suspended from our schools at alarming rates, we are killed by police at alarming rates.

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