Black Lives Matter Protest Raises Uncomfortable Questions About Pride’s Identity

A former volunteer quit saying Pride's backpedaling on BLMTO's demands is a 'shame.'

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Jul 7 2016, 6:58pm

Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Alexandria Williams calls out Pride Toronto Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Black Lives Matter Toronto did not hold back when questioned at a press conference Thursday about the group's recent Pride parade protest.

"There's been a lot of ... folks asking how we could be the honoured group (for Pride) but act in such way. The reality is the way that Pride handles Black Lives Matter Toronto, the way Pride handles blackness, the way Pride handles black LGBT youth is abysmal," said co-founder Alexandria Williams.

Pride executive director Mathieu Chantelois has backtracked on his commitment to meeting BLMTO's demands, claiming that he only signed off on them to get the parade moving again following the 25-minute sit-in Sunday.

Williams called him out on that, saying it shows "Black Lives Matter and Black LGBT community does not have a place in Pride Toronto. He has actively made sure to push us out by flip-flopping on his stance of solidarity with us."

BLMTO's demands included increased funding for Blockorama (a party for LGBT people of colour), space and funding for Queer Black Youth, a commitment to increase representation of people of colour on staff, and a public town hall to discuss an action plan to meet these demands. The most contentious demand on the list called for the removal of police floats in the parade.

Sunday's sit-in at Pride. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

BLMTO has since been clear that it is not asking for LGBT cops to be barred—but simply that the police not have an institutional presence, complete with uniforms and floats.

In light of the outrage in the US over the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile—two black men who were gunned down by police this week—Williams asked, "How is it that we're still asking how the police are threatening our community?"

While some have claimed Pride was not the appropriate venue for BLMTO to stage a protest, others have pointed out that Pride itself began as an act of defiance in the face of Toronto's 1981 bathhouse raids which saw police humiliate and arrest hundreds of gay men.

"In the decades since Pride began, other communities have seen their spaces disappear while a white gay male dance party has proliferated and grown. If that is your tea then sip it, but this year Black Lives Matter Toronto took Pride back to its roots, with fabulous success," wrote a group of LGBT scholars in a CBC op-ed.

Pride Toronto has not yet responded to request for comment, though after the parade Chantelois told media BLMTO's demands will be up to his organization's members.

One of them, Jacqie Lucas, who acted as an escort for BLMTO during this year's parade, has resigned from her position as Pride Toronto volunteer.

In a highly critical Facebook post, Lucas said as she was leading BLMTO along the route, a police officer pointed at a BLMTO member and asked "Hey, is he with you?"

"The parade is barricaded so just think about that for a second. How many people got questioned about belonging in the parade this weekend?"

Lucas said she cried after the parade, inspired by the protest and Pride's show of solidarity with BLMTO. But afterward, "the high came crashing down when I read in the paper that we at Pride Toronto were liars."

She said the backlash has revealed a "deafening and shocking" division within the LGBT community.

"This is the honoured group doing honourable things and we can't even give them the dignity of a second thought because we are pissed off that we had to wait 20 mins? They are showing us where the holes are within our organization that would only make us stronger and more welcoming while they are under attack with boos and bottles and WE cite duress?"

In an interview with VICE, BLMTO member LeRoi Newbold said Pride was exploiting BLMTO by declaring it an honoured guest.

"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."

Read more: Black Lives Matter on the Pride Controversy and Whether Toronto Is a Racist Hell Hole

Last night, the Vancouver Dyke March announced Black Lives Matter Vancouver would be its parade grand marshal.

"In light of recent events in Orlando and Toronto, we believe it is more important than ever to ensure that queer spaces in Vancouver are open and welcoming to trans, queer, and allied Black, Indigenous folks and people of colour," the group wrote on Facebook.

BLMTO has said it will hold Pride Toronto accountable for the promises made Sunday. Hopefully the recent shows of solidarity mean they won't be the only ones paying attention.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.