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Pride Toronto votes to limit police role in annual parade

Hamilton, Ont., police officers march along the parade route during the annual Pride Parade in Toronto, Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Mark Blinch/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Pride Toronto has banned police floats and stalls from all future parades in a controversial vote that follows months of pressure from Black Lives Matter.

The tumult within Pride Toronto was sparked by a sit-in organized by Black Lives Matter Toronto during last July's Pride parade. The sit-in was a protest against police, who Black Lives Matter Toronto leaders said had a history of targeting black residents, including those in the LGBTQ community.

Pride Toronto's response to a list of demands presented by Black Lives Matter Toronto during the sit-in was originally supposed to be decided during community consultations, but was added to the agenda of Tuesday's annual general meeting at the last minute.

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Black Lives Matter Toronto has said it is not seeking to ban LGBTQ police officers from participating in Pride, but that it does not want police floats in the parade or police booths at Pride events as it would create an unsafe space for marginalized communities.

Akio Maroon, a black LGBTQ activist who was elected to the board of Pride Toronto on Tuesday night, described the vote as "historic" and said it signalled that safety is important to members.

"If we're talking about survivors who have been molested by clergymen, we wouldn't invite someone from the clergy to participate in that session unless the victims or survivors of the abuse feel that it's safe for them to participate," she said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a written statement that police were needed each year to keep Pride safe and "obviously they must continue to do so," but did not come down on one side or the other of the Pride Toronto vote.

"With respect to police participation in the Pride parade, I am hopeful that people of goodwill can find a way to resolve this issue and to ensure that we can continue to build those vitally important bridges," he wrote.

The Toronto Police Service has not responded to Tuesday night's vote.

Some Pride sites such as Blockorama, which was created for the black population, rely on community safety teams and volunteers to provide security, rather than on-duty police officers, and that's why black people feel more comfortable there, said LeRoi Newbold, a steering committee member of Black Lives Matter Toronto. "We believe it would be safer to have Pride without policing."

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The Pride Toronto membership has made it clear that police floats and stalls will not be allowed at Pride events, but the extent to which police can participate while in uniform must still be discussed and debated before this summer's Pride parade. Other demands that were voted on Tuesday night included increasing funding for programs that serve racialized communities and recruiting members of vulnerable groups.

Both Ms. Maroon and members of Black Lives Matter Toronto point out that the origins of Pride Toronto lie with protests against police raids of gay bathhouses in the early eighties and that spirit of protest must remain.

"We're not a corporate party for folks to come and enjoy the revelry and leave and not have to think about our suffering," Ms. Maroon said.

In the aftermath of the sit-in, Black Lives Matter Toronto and Pride Toronto received a large volume of hate mail, some of which came from members of the LGBTQ community. At least one member of Pride Toronto walked out of Tuesday's meeting in protest of the vote and the direction the organization was pursuing.

While there are dissenters, LeRoi Newbold said the overwhelming support for Black Lives Matter's demands shows Toronto's LGBTQ community has turned a page.

"I think the membership of Pride demonstrated last night that discourse is shifting and people are starting to understand that until our whole community is free, none of us will be free."

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About the Author

Dakshana Bascaramurty is a national news reporter who writes about race and ethnicity. She won a 2013 National Newspaper Award in beat reporting for her coverage of changing demographics in the 905 region. Previously, she was a feature writer for Globe Life. More

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