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Not too long ago, a Black Lives Matter protest held up the Toronto Pride Parade and refused to move until their demands were met. One of the demands has been met with quite a bit of backlash – the demand the remove the police from the pride march.
— Casey Oraa (@caseyoraa) July 3, 2016
There has been a lot of discussion about this, including a well written response from a gay Toronto police officer, but Black Lives Matter are adamant in defending their position. At the time of the original protest, a document was signed by Pride organisers agreeing to their demands, but of course that document was signed under duress.
However, it seems Pride Toronto are at least considering the demand to ban police from the gay pride parade.
They issued a rather lengthy statement, but one of the key parts is this: “It is our existing decision-making mechanism, which we believe is the best tool to assess the participation of law enforcement agencies in a manner that is objective, transparent and involves the participation of human rights experts.”
“When initiating the DRP we also have to recognise that a decision governing a group that can include as many as 400 marchers and 11 different law enforcement agencies is unique. Recognising that no one has asked or agreed to a full exclusion of this group – the DRP will however consider the nature of police participation.”
The interesting there here is that the quote “no one has asked or agreed to a full exclusion of this group” does seem to run counter to the request from BLM, which asks for “removal of police floats in the Pride marches/parades” as well as having an issue with uniformed police marching.
I wanted to discuss this, as I feel it’s absolutely key for Pride Toronto to be an exemplar here. Exclusion does not promote inclusion, and the presence of police floats serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it serves the LGBTQ+ community itself. While we have a come a long way in recent years in promoting equality and stamping out homophobia, the LGBTQ+ community was not always accepted.
Some of this bigotry and discrimination sadly happened (and sometimes still happens in certain places) at the hands of the people who were supposed to protect us. The police floats are just one way of showing that is (mostly) no longer the case, that the police are our allies and are showing their support for the community. It also is a very loud message to anyone still stuck in the past: that the majority of the police are on our side.
The second purpose ties into this, and the letter from the Toronto police officer which I linked earlier. The homophobia I just described also exists within the police and the officers themselves. The LGBTQ+ officers themselves have every right to celebrate Pride, both in and out of uniform.
As the cop writes: “I never “came out” while serving in the military. Though not for fear of persecution, I only told a select few about my orientation. I was still quite young and was simply not ready. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided to come out.”
“I began to tell a few peers at work, and soon word spread. I can say with absolute pride that my peers, and my employers/senior management, have never made an inappropriate comment to me. I have never been made to feel discriminated against. The 2016 pride events really opened my eyes to something. The support that I have from my peers and supervisors has been unwavering.”
“When I saw all those floats and officers marching (hundreds), I realized that my employer fully supports this part of me, and so many others like me. As I stood post at Yonge and College, ensuring a safe atmosphere, Chief Mark Saunders came up to me. I had the opportunity to salute him, and I knew that I had a leader who was invested in this celebration of Pride.”
“LGBTQ cops have struggled for decades. I am fortunate, because it is their struggles in the past, that have made my orientation an irrelevant factor in my workplace interactions. Members of police services, and their employers (like RBC, Telus, Porter, etc) have just as much right to participate as any other group.”
“Police officers are significantly represented in the LGBTQ community and it would be unacceptable to alienate and discriminate against them and those who support them. They too struggled to gain a place and workplace free from discrimination and bias. I do not speak for the police, and I do not speak for the LGBTQ community. I speak as an individual, one who saw his first Pride, only to be excluded from the next.”
The main thing though, is the point I started with: exclusion does not promote inclusion. We are supposed to be a welcoming community, welcoming even those from outside the community to come and join in with our pride celebrations, and also joining forces with our allies. The police are our allies. While we still have work to do in completely stamping out homophobia in and outside of the police force, but excluding them would be detrimental.
How can we work with them and improve things for LGBTQ+ police officers, and the LGBTQ+ community who rely on the police to keep them safe, if we are sending the message that they are not welcome? We have enough in fighting and exclusionary behaviour within the community with issues like transphobia and bi-erasure, without making enemies outside of it.
And again, who are we to take away the freedom to celebrate pride from the LGBTQ+ officers like the one who wrote that letter? He wrote about finally feeling accepted, and the feeling of family we all know so well from various pride events across the world. Why should that be taken away in the name of excluding a huge portion of people, especially for flimsy reasons? If we are to improve relations with the police, and also influence future generations, let us not exclude in the name of inclusion.