By Ray Lam
Pride is a protest and it is troubling to see it used as anything other than a platform for queer rights.
Pride is the foundation most queer organizations build their entire volunteer, outreach, and fundraising programs on. Millions are spent in media, advertising, and sponsorship over Pride. When we mobilize and wield this economic power, people notice. Pride has the power to change laws and influence multinational corporations because it stands for something indisputable: inalienable human rights.
The 2013 #DumpStoli vodka boycott protesting Russia’s record is an unintentionally hilarious example of the unstoppable power of Pride. Stoli is a Latvian company and a long-time supporter of Pride. Latvian activists defended Stoli, as did Stuart Milk, founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation. The New York Times even sent reporters to Latvia to debunk the boycott. To dispel lingering doubts, Stoli poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Prides across North America, including World Pride in Toronto, and Vancouver Pride in the years to come.
Despite this tremendous power, queer “rights” are a mere privilege besieged everywhere with legislated equality facing an equally formidable power: ignorance and hate. Rather than fighting for trans rights or defending existing rights eroding under shifting political tides, Pride has lost its voice and Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) found a platform.
When BLMTO staged a sit-in during the 2016 parade, they hijacked Prides across Canada. Radical social justice warriors like BLMTO may start this self-immolation, but it has been fueled by community leaders who have lost their voice in the face of the scorched earth campaigns launched by trigger-happy allies from the troll-infested corners of the internet that make character assassination child’s play.
BLMTO and the spectre of controversy are holding the queer community hostage. While seven or eight of BLMTO’s nine demands arguably address longstanding concerns with Toronto Pride, that thin veil is a marketing ploy acting as the candy coating for BLMTO’s most bombastic demand: banning police. This has dominated the national dialogue with police in Nova Scotia pre-emptively withdrawing and us-too-activists popping up to demand the same in Prides across Canada. This on-again off-again, will-they-won’t-they drama with police is the sole creation of BLMTO’s disrespect for Pride, akin to queer activists staging a sit-in on Selma to demand freedom at a time when our very existence was criminalized.
Extrajudicial killings may be the “it-cause” today but that is dwarfed by the socially acceptable killing of queers here and abroad. Queer murders are often diminished by “gay/trans panic” arguments in criminal courts throughout North America. There is a death penalty for queers in 12 countries throughout the world. In some, they are publicly tortured before being thrown off rooftops and left to die in the streets. In others, newspapers identify people with confirmed “gay status”, publish articles like “7 signs of a Gay”, and debate laws literally referred to as a “Kill-The-Gays-Bill”, allowing lynch mobs to do the rest.
Queers can be jailed in 72 countries. Canada was number 78 or something until 43 years ago. Two years earlier, the “Fruit Machine” was decommissioned as a gay test used on over 9,000 suspected queers monitored by the RCMP, just as the last person was jailed as an “incurable homosexual”. Today, police protect us. Images of Pride being celebrated by police may be tedious those of us numbed by the privilege of equality. However, to others struggling to stay alive, they are messages of hope, sent to places hope does not exist. It is a picture of what life can be in 43 years.
The queer rights movement in North America was a response to police raids of queer venues. Our relationship with police is a source of Pride and sign of progress. This is reflected in Change.org petitions that overwhelmingly support police. In Vancouver, 2,831 people have signed a pro-police petition in under two weeks versus 966 who have signed BLM’s petition in a month. Similarly in Toronto, it’s 7,943 pro-police after only one month versus BLM’s 2,448 signers after six. That is over 13,000 voices that could be demanding equality in unison to create real change for trans people. Instead, 10,000 are left wondering how 3,000 silenced us while basic rights are slowly stripped away.
Whether it is Stonewall, Selma, or suffrage, those who choose to deny us human rights place us in the same category: sub-human. BLMTO’s tactics create headlines, not change, at the cost of stealing our voice and power as a community when we so desperately need to rise up and demand equal rights. BLMTO needs to take responsibility for this tremendous misstep before they cement their reputation in the queer community as a poorly planned guerrilla marketing campaign gone wrong, in the most epic fashion; and Pride need to step up because this fight needs leadership, not party planners.