How Black Lives Matter used Toronto's gay pride parade to make a statement

BLM activists staged a sit-in at the parade to protest Pride Toronto's 'anti-blackness,' less than two weeks after pulling out of San Francisco's parade. 

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press/AP
Members of Black Lives Matter Toronto take part in the annual Pride Parade in Toronto on Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Toronto's annual gay pride parade came to a sudden halt Sunday afternoon, as Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists staged a protest against Pride Toronto's "anti-blackness" amidst puffs of rainbow-colored smoke. 

In at least two US cities, Black Lives Matter groups refused to participate in annual gay pride parades as the movement used these events to get across its own political messages.

Black Lives Matter Toronto, which had been invited to participate in the parade as an "honored group," stopped its float and marchers, saying they would not move until Pride Toronto agreed to meet a list of demands.

"We are not taking any space away from any folks. When we talk about homophobia, transphobia, we go through that too," said Alexandra Williams, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, to CBC News. "It should be a cohesive unit, not one against the other. Anti-blackness needs to be addressed and they can be addressed at the same time, in the same spaces." 

The list of demands presented by Ms. Williams and her fellow protesters included a commitment to increase representation among Pride Toronto staff and to prioritize the hiring of black transgender women and indigenous people, a ban on police floats in future parades, increased funding and support for Black Queer Youth events, and a public town hall with groups such as Black Lives Matter Toronto within six months. 

After about 30 minutes of BLM protest, Pride Toronto executive director Mathieu Chantelois signed a document agreeing to all of the group's demands, thereby re-starting the parade. He described the demands as "extremely reasonable." 

"During the parade, BLM-TO started a conversation with us to explore how we can create an even more inclusive and safe festival," said a spokesperson from Pride Toronto, as reported by CBC News. "We, like BLM-TO have a commitment to ensure our most marginalized communities feel safe and welcome at the festival." 

Pride Toronto's cooperation with BLM's demands didn't sit well with Toronto police union president Mike McCormack, who called the agreement "a slap in the face to all police officers." 

"It's remarkable that organizers of an event that is supposed to be so inclusive could be so callous," Mr. McCormack said to the Toronto Star. 

The Toronto parade was not the only LGBTQ pride parade to draw criticism from Black Lives Matter this year, as parades across the US increased security in the wake of a mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. 

About a week prior to the Toronto parade, the Bay Area chapter of BLM announced that it would not take part in San Francisco's pride parade due to concerns about a heightened police presence. 

"We know first hand that increasing the police presence at Pride does not increase safety for all people," said BLM member Malkia Cyril in a press release. "Militarizing these events increases the potential for harm to our communities and we hope in the future SF Pride will consider community-centered approaches to security at pride events." 

The New York City chapter issued a similar statement, arguing that there is "now a continuum of violence between the daily anti-LGBTQI harassment in our neighborhoods and the unrelenting state violence of police brutality that kills a Black person every day."

With pride parade season coming to a close, Black Lives Matter is setting its sights on other forums for spreading its message in the coming months, organizers say.

Last week, DeRay McKesson, a leader in the BLM movement, told USA Today that the group may mobilize protesters at the upcoming Republican and Democratic conventions. 

"[I]t'll be interesting to see how the DNC responds to people in protest, given that congressmen literally just sat in and they seemed to validate that," Mr. McKesson said. 

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