TORONTO – Uncertainty is swirling around a vote by the organizer of Toronto’s Pride parade to ostensibly ban official police floats from future festivities.
A surprise vote at Pride Toronto’s annual general meeting saw members vote to adopt a list of demands put forward by the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, which interrupted last year’s parade with a protest.
The demands included removing police floats from Pride marches and parades, as well as requests for more funding for certain events and greater representation for marginalized groups.
Members present at Tuesday night’s meeting say a last-minute motion saw members vote overwhelmingly to adopt the demands as a whole.
But they say the motion did not get into details concerning what, if any, kind of police presence would be welcome at the parade.
Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash says he’s unwilling to comment specifically on the vote until the terms of the decision are clearer, and Pride Toronto did not respond to request for comment.
Gwen Bartleman, a Pride Toronto member who helped push the Black Lives Matter demands onto the agenda at the meeting, said she views the vote as a successful step towards making sure all members of the LGBTQ community feel safe.
Still, she conceded that many nuances of the vote will have to be ironed out in the coming weeks.
“The crux of that demand … is that there’s no police presence in the parade,” Bartleman said in a telephone interview. “If that means no uniformed officers, I’m not sure. What constitutes presence, what constitutes a float, this is all up for conversation.”
Black Lives Matter has previously stated that individual officers identifying as LGBTQ should be welcome to march in the parade as individuals, but the issue was not discussed on Tuesday.
Bartleman said the Black Lives Matter demands were not originally on the AGM agenda when it was released days before the meeting, a fact that she and other community members found troubling.
The list of nine requests from the advocacy group has been the source of controversy and polarization within the community since the 2016 Pride parade, during which the group staged a half-hour sit-in to present their list of demands.
The parade ground to a halt and only resumed when Pride Toronto’s then-executive director Matthieu Chantelois signed the list of demands. He later told the media that he only did so in order to get the event moving again.
Chantelois resigned about a month later amid allegations of racism and harassment in the workplace, but the issue did not die with his departure.
Pride Toronto issued an apology in September for what it described as a “history of anti-blackness” and “repeated marginalization of the marginalized,” pledging at that time to honour the promises made to Black Lives Matter.
Bartleman said she and other members helped push the item on the agenda to ensure this promise was kept.
She said the meeting chair initially resisted efforts to add the motion, which simply stated that Pride should adopt eight of the nine demands. One, a request to hold a town hall meeting, was dropped because it had already been fulfilled.
Bartleman said she and other members officially challenged the chair and had the item added, saying it received “overwhelming” support from what she estimated to be hundreds of people in the room.
Bartleman said championing the Black Lives Matter demands seemed a natural extension of her advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community.
“The Black Lives Matters issues and demands are queer demands,” she said. “There’s no separation for me between that.”
She said the police force is not supportive of the community at large and said people still don’t view police as allies.
But Pugash said the force is actively working to strengthen ties with the community and said Tuesday’s vote will not change those efforts regardless of how it’s implemented.
“We’ve made great progress,” he said. “We know we still have a lot more to do, but we’re particularly interested in reaching out to groups that feel marginalized.”
Social media teemed with negative reaction to Tuesday’s vote, criticizing Pride Toronto for ostensibly abandoning its philosophy of inclusion by banning police.
Some referenced an open letter from Toronto Const. Chuck Crangle, who is openly gay and decried any move to leave his employer out of the parade.
“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,” he wrote. “They too struggled to gain a place and workplace free from discrimination and bias.”
But others felt Pride Toronto was not abandoning its roots.
Rem Zelaya, 26, attended the AGM and voted in support of the motion.
“Being inclusive doesn’t mean having to have every service organization or corporate sponsor in the parade,” he said. “Police services are not a marginalized group. I don’t see the need where they have to be represented in that way.”