Today’s Toronto Pride ban is damaging an inclusive celebration of diversity. Pride is repeating the very history that it claims to abhor.
By SHEILA COPPS
First published on Monday, April 9, 2018 in The Hill Times.
OTTAWA—Toronto Pride should be ashamed.
Last week’s misguided decision to deny the Toronto Police Service official participation in the country’s largest gay pride celebration is a blot on Canada’s reputation as an open and inclusive country.
It simply repeats the same kind of prejudice that forced thousands of gays and lesbians into the closet years ago.
It also sends the message that the current crop of Toronto Pride organizers have little understanding of the struggles that the community went through when it was criminally against the law simply to love a person of the same sex.
When members of Toronto Pride and a half dozen other related associations signed an open letter to explain their decision, they claimed it was in part motivated by the loss of seven community members to murder at the hands of accused serial killer Bruce McArthur.
The letter stated: “It is an incredibly complex and difficult time. The arrest of Bruce McArthur, the alleged serial killer, has added a new poignancy and a new pain to the fears that sit at the heart of anyone who lives a life of difference.”
“At the end of June, we will come together as we have for decades and we will be seen. We will rally and rise, but it will be with heavy hearts as we have not yet begun to grapple with our anger, shock, and grief.”
Of course members of the LGBTQ community and others are horrified and saddened by the discovery of multiple undetected killings over several decades. It reverberates through the whole city and the country to see such horrific crimes undetected for decades. There are many unanswered questions as to how and why a killer could move freely in the community, undetected for years.
But it was also the diligent work of the Toronto police force that ultimately uncovered the evidence to bring the cases to trial and offer closure to families whose loved ones had been missing for years.
Indeed, continuing prejudice directed toward the LGBTQ community today is what forces some members to live a double life. Keeping people out of the parade merely serves to remarginalize them.
Isolating one group of people from celebrating the joy of Pride is simply reverting to the same kind of behaviour that kept many people in the closet for years.
The decision is a slap in the face to thousands of law enforcement officials who are courageous enough to march openly in a police environment which is still rife with machismo and homophobia.
There are places around the world where police would never march and where people would be beaten by them for marching. That used to be Canada too.
Some of us are old enough to remember the bath house raids when police armed with crowbars and sledgehammers arrested 250 men in four bathhouses across Toronto.
The attack galvanized the community and is considered by historians to be a catalyst in the gay rights movement in Canada. That was in 1981.
Pride Toronto executive director Olivia Nuamah acknowledged the history when she defended the ban by saying “Pride was born out of protest. It actually was born out of resistance to police.”
To link the bath house raids to today’s ban trivializes the tremendous progress that has been made in the past 39 years. Nuamah claimed she had hoped the force would have been included after a Pride-imposed ban last year but the horrific revelations of multiple murders of gay men prevented that from happening.
“That would have continued to be the case were it not for the kind of series of events that took place in the course of about eight months.”
The open letter claimed “This has severely shaken our community’s already often tenuous trust in the city’s law enforcement. We feel more vulnerable than ever.”
The group added that police and the community need to work together to regain trust and allow members of the LGBTQ community to feel safe.
“That will not be accomplished in one day. The relationship cannot be mended through a parade,” the letter said.
“Marching won’t contribute towards solving these issues—they are beyond the reach of symbolic gestures.”
But they make a mistake in minimizing the power of symbolic gestures.
Rosa Parks and Viola Desmond’s “symbolic gestures” spawned the civil rights movement in the United States and Canada.
Unfortunately, today’s Toronto Pride ban is damaging an inclusive celebration of diversity.
Pride is repeating the very history that it claims to abhor.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.