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Reclaiming Resistance: Black Lives Matter at Pride

A message from the OPSEU Workers of Colour Caucus and Rainbow Alliance arc-en-ciel

Photo Credit: Uranranebi Vizuals

On July 3, during the Toronto Pride parade, Black Lives Matter organizers held a powerful sit-in to honour members of racialized queer communities who have been killed, whose lives have been lost, or who have been endangered by police violence.

“We are proud of the work of Black Lives Matter – Toronto (BLM). We want to thank BLM for recognizing our histories of struggle and our resistance,” said Elizabeth Ha, Vice-Chair of the OPSEU Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC), “and for allowing us the space to reflect and reclaim Pride as a grassroots movement dedicated to challenging systems of brutality and violence. “

“When people say Pride is about celebration and not politics, we must insist that Pride has always been about social justice, about fighting against police violence and criminalization of queer and racialized communities, about fighting for our lives and for the freedom to live our lives,” added Robert Hampsey, Co-Chair of the Rainbow Alliance arc-en-Ciel.

This year’s Pride parade marked almost 50 years since the Stonewall riots that took place on June 28, 1969. Pride is a commemoration of the demonstrations against the police raids that were driven by the transgender, transsexual, homeless and other queer patrons of the Stonewall Inn. The riots created a space to claim queer Pride at a time when bars and bathhouses were routinely raided by police, when legislation outlawed same-sex relationships, and when members of LGBTTIAQQ2S communities were assaulted and criminalized in jails and psychiatric institutions. The Stonewall riots are widely regarded as having fueled a civil rights movement in which advocacy groups like the Gay Liberation Front and Pride emerged.

“Thinking back on our history of activism and resistance, we have to ask how we can dare to remain silent on issues of racial profiling, racist policing and on anti-immigrant and discriminatory legislation in queer communities,” said Peter Thompson, Chair of the Workers of Colour Caucus.

The WOCC has before brought attention to the shooting deaths of Andrew Loku, Jermaine Carby, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner, issues like the racial segregation in the Ontario workforce and discriminatory legislation like the Anti-terrorism Bill C-51 which defines arrest and detention to standards that are so low, almost anyone can be investigated on suspicion of terrorist activity. For more information, see http://opseu.org/news/remember-reflect-and-take-action-black-history-month-2016

“Make no mistake, we are in a crisis, given the rise of far-right and anti-immigrant politics – think Trump or the Right-wing groups like PEGIDA (Patriots of Canada against the Islamisization of the West),” said Thompson.

PEGIDA recently organized a racist rally in a local Toronto neighbourhood calling for the reestablishment of “Canadian values” and using explicit racial epithets to denounce Syrian and other refugees. (See news story here: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/06/26/bloor-west-village-rally-counters-racism-with-a-celebration-of-tolerance.html.)

“The question is not whether BLM had the right to raise these issues at Pride, “ said Peter Thompson, “but how can we not address racism and hate in the queer community at this time in our history? Just yesterday there was another shooting death of a black man–Alton Sterling–who was shot several times by police while being held to the ground and today, Philando Castile was shot by police during a routine traffic stop.”

“The fact is that not all lives matter – some are seen as having less value than others. Racialized queers know this too well, "said Jannet Geddes, Co-Chair of Rainbow Alliance arc-en-ciel. "We support BLM because racial profiling and racial hatred are issues that affect the lives of LGBTTIAQQ2S and they require our immediate attention,” said Jannet. “These are not issues that are somehow separate from queer lives and queer politics. We can’t afford to let things continue just the way they are and be complacent.”

"In the space of a 30-minute demonstration, BLM raised crucial questions about the relationship of the queer community to policing, and issues like accessibility of Pride to disabled, Indigenous and racialized members," said Elizabeth Ha. "We support BLM's demands because it's time to re-think these relationships. It's not enough that the police have recently apologized for the Bath House raids in Toronto. Our history of struggle cannot be pushed aside and erased so easily."