Hundreds of LGBTQ2S+ community members have taken to social media to weigh in on Pride Toronto’s decision to welcome the Toronto Police Service back to the 2019 parade. As the ever-expanding acronym that describes the community reflects, the range of opinion is wide and nuanced.
Brian De Matos has been a member of Pride Toronto for several years. He said that in 2016 and 2017, Pride Toronto members voted on the issue at the annual general meeting (AGM).
This year, Pride Toronto’s board announced the decision to include police in the 2019 parade prior to the AGM, which many people have viewed as an attempt to push the decision through without a community vote.
“We are angry that Pride has made this decision without consulting anyone. They consulted themselves. They consulted other organizations. They haven’t consulted the community, and they definitely haven’t consulted the membership,” said De Matos.
Olivia Nuamah, Pride Toronto’s executive director, confirmed that since Black Lives Matter Toronto brought festivities to a halt in 2016, the question of whether or not to allow the police to march in uniform has been raised at the AGM. However, the ultimate decision-making power, she says, has always belonged to the board.
“It has been a discussion at the AGM, and the members have certainly been very involved in the conversation about what it means for the police to participate or not participate,” says Nuamah. “I wouldn’t argue that there’s been some sort of formal resolution put to the AGM.”
In previous years, the AGM was open to the public. The 2018 meeting, however, is now restricted to registered members of Pride Toronto. This came as a surprise to some, who were hoping to voice their opinions at the AGM. They will now have to wait until next year as registration for this year has closed.
While some community members found the change disappointing, Nuamah is focusing on the AGM as it was intended — a business meeting to fulfill Pride Toronto’s yearly requirements.
“The AGM is a business process, it’s not a town hall,” said Nuamah. “Pride Toronto is not some sort of space in which everybody who is or isn’t part of this community is able to dive in on a conversation about what police participation looks like for black people. That’s a conversation for the members of Pride Toronto. There are rules around what that membership looks and feels like and all we’re doing this year is following the rules.”
In 2019, Toronto’s Pride parade will be 38 years old. But it hasn’t always been the boisterous celebration it is now. In 1981, police arrested over 300 men after raiding several bathhouses during a sting on the gay community, called Operation Soap. At the time, the Toronto Police Service (then called the Metropolitan Toronto Police) rationalized the invasion of private gay clubs by citing suspicions of prostitution as the reason for the arrests. The next night, thousands took to the streets to protest the discriminatory mass arrest.
Things look very different decades later. In 2018, 1.6 million people took to the streets to celebrate the gay community and many other marginalized groups. The parade has become a space where some members of the LGBTQ2S+ can interact with law enforcement in a safer setting, backed by their community.
Ian Tweedle, from Oshawa, says Toronto Pride is where he first experienced positive interactions with police after many painful ones in his hometown. He’s been attending and marching in the parade for over a decade.
“I remember talking to a lot of Toronto officers . . . and saying that ‘I’m just so surprised, and so relieved, that it’s OK to see you here.’ Every year that I went and walked in Toronto Pride after that, I made an effort to go up and thank the police for being there,” said Tweedle, who says he’s happy the police are allowed back next year.
According to Nuamah, Pride Toronto’s decision to welcome uniformed officers back in 2019 wasn’t made during any particular meeting, but slowly over time.
“In the end it’s much more organic than a moment,” says Nuamah of the decision. “At some point you start to move in a direction where you’re talking about the same thing and change starts to look and feel the same for the both of you.”