Following November's announcement that Pride Toronto would again allow police organizations to apply to march in uniform in next year's Pride parade, I wrote that it was time for that two-year ban to end. For me, it was mainly fatigue with the ongoing ideological stand-off and a great discomfort with the notion that a ban on an entire profession of individuals, regardless of the content of their personal character, would stay in place indefinitely.
After that, I got into a great many heated discussions with supporters of the ban who rightly argued that the police have done pretty much nothing to fix their systemic problems when it comes to how they currently treat marginalized communities. Letting uniformed police back in would be rewarding them for doing nothing.
Ban supporters have excellent points that I find impossible to refute. Individual cops were of course always allowed to participate out of uniform. But keeping out the police as an organization sent a strong signal that organizations that have oppressed LGBTQ people and continue to do so, with little if any accountability, will not be rewarded.
Furthermore, the fiasco of Pride Toronto's annual general meeting on December 4th, in which the organization's executive director and board refused to clearly answer community questions about how the police ban reversal had come about, nor even take any questions about Pride's woeful financial situation before a sudden end of the meeting, exposed an organization in chaos.
I have to be honest: I've grown tired of the monster that Pride Toronto has become.
In the early 1980s, it was a grassroots movement that played a vital role in our community, challenging bigotry and creating vital community for a hated sexual minority.
But over the years, it has grown and evolved into a giant celebration that at some point in the 1990s became very corporate (once corporations saw value in sucking up to us, or at least not being seen to snub us.) Gay Pride even got watered down to the generic "Pride" which now means almost anything you might want it to mean. Pride Day became Pride Week became Pride Month, all the more opportunity for corporations to cash in.
Did the community ever vote to see Pride turn into the giant monster it's become today, filled with every corporation under the sun, and other fake allies like the police looking for good public relations? I sure didn't vote for this.
Yet somewhere in the backrooms of Pride Toronto over the decades the decisions to make Toronto Pride as big as possible, with as many sound stages and giant events, costing huge amounts of money every year, were set in motion. This made Pride dependent on corporate and government sponsorships, which in recent years has led to annual debates at city council where funding is constantly threatened should Pride not conform to the latest wishes of some unenlightened suburbanite's conservative agenda.
Many queer people of colour have long complained that they didn't feel welcomed as a part of Pride Toronto, both by the organization but also the white LGBTQ community as a whole. The actions of Black Lives Matter in 2016, halting the parade and bringing attention to their demands, re-focused those issues and led to the official police ban. Yet the ban reversal this year, negotiated in secret, has undermined those efforts again.
The result seems to be a mess. There are reports that Pride Toronto is hundreds of thousands in debt and struggling to stay afloat. It appears the ban reversal was probably all about money: were the ban to continue, private and public funding would be denied and threaten to bankrupt the whole organization. The inability of Pride's leadership to be honest about those realities is off-putting.
What's the solution here? I have to agree with Kristyn Wong-Tam, Rinaldo Walcott, and many many others: It's time to downsize Pride and get back to basics.
Does Pride need to take over all of the streets and other public spaces it does for one or two weeks at great cost? Do we really need to have this giant party with endless lines, noise and mounds of garbage piled up along Church Street? I say hell no.
There are still aspects of Pride like the Night March or the Dyke March which still do reflect the grassroots nature many of us crave. They take little money at all to put on.
The solution should be that Pride Toronto, as the umbrella organization, should fix itself and its governance and become the community organization it was originally meant to be. If it refuses, then grassroots LGBTQ folk who want change need to break away and form our own celebrations at different times in the summer. It's happened in other major cities like Montreal where alternative festivals went their own way and had much success. If Pride Toronto won't change, it should happen in Toronto too.