A vote by members of Pride Toronto to ban police floats and stalls from future parades is regressive and self-defeating.
Having the police in the parade is a powerful symbol of progress for gay rights. A force that once swept through city bathhouses to round people up for their supposed crimes now joins in a noisy celebration of freedom. Gay officers who might once have had to hide their identity now take part openly – out and proud.
That sends all sorts of important signals. To the LBGTQ community it says: We, the police, stand beside you as you march. The force that was once your oppressor is now your partner and protector. To the city as a whole it says: the gay community is a part of this town, as legitimate and worthy as any other. To those who might persecute, even batter gay people, it says: back off. To those in law enforcement who still might harbour prejudices it says: get real, the world has changed. Gay police officers serve alongside you, taking the same risks and shouldering the same burdens.
Does Pride want to throw all this out the window? It would be a giant step backward to downgrade the police presence. And for what?
Those who want to ban the police claim that some people are intimidated by having men and women in uniform among them. Really? The police that march wearing rainbow garlands and waving rainbow flags? The police that engage in laughing squirt-gun fights with the crowd? The police that hold hands with marchers and pose, grinning, with half-naked musclemen? The police presence could not be more benign.
If anything, having police around should make marchers feel safer. Security is an issue, especially after last year's nightclub shooting in Orlando. Along with marching in the parade, police guard it.
None of this seems to matter to the small core of activists who are behind the move – not the clear evolution of police attitudes over time, not the steps that police chiefs have taken to forge bonds with the gay community, not the growing visibility of gays and lesbians in uniform. In their eyes, the police remain an irredeemably oppressive force whose very presence can be "triggering" to marginalized groups.
Tell that to Chuck Krangle, the gay cop who wrote an open letter to Pride Toronto. He was assigned to the security detail for last July's parade, his first. He was inspired. "What an eyeopener – the support, the togetherness, the unity." Watching all those cops marching or riding on a float, "I realized that my employer fully supports this part of me, and so many others like me."
When it emerged that some people wanted to downgrade the police presence, he had to say something. Black Lives Matter, an activist group that has been a harsh critic of police, temporarily blocked the parade to back their demand for, among other things, a ban on police floats and booths in future. What would it say to Const. Krangle if Pride went ahead with that ban?
The situation after this week's vote is cloudy. It's not clear whether the unexpected vote is binding or what the new board of Pride will do. Let's hope it sees sense. Pride is a joyous, inclusive event. The last group its organizers should exclude are the police.