Activist group Black Lives Matter was an honored guest at the Toronto Gay Pride parade on Sunday, but brought the event to a standstill for 30 minutes until a list of demands were met by Pride organizers.
“We are under attack,” Alexandria Williams, one of the BLM group’s co-founders, shouted. “Pride Toronto, we are calling you out! For your anti-blackness, your anti-indigeneity,” she said.
After the rainbow-coloured cloud cleared from smoke bombs set off in the intersection, some paradegoers joined in the chants of “black lives, they matter here!” while others shouted for the protest to move on.
The group staged the shutdown to call attention to marginalized groups’ experiences at Pride, organizers said.
“Folks are forgetting that we haven’t all made it to the point of queer liberation. That not all communities who participate in Pride are actually able to be free in that celebration,” said Williams before the event.
The Toronto Star reports the BLM’s demands were:
…to increase funding and support for Black Queer Youth events and Blockorama, the Pride showcase for black performers; reinstate the South Asian stage; hire more black deaf and ASL interpreters; hire more black trans women, indigenous people, and others from vulnerable communities; and remove police floats from future parades.
Pride executive director Mathieu Chantelois and board co-chair Alica Hall signed the list of demands on the spot.
“Their requests were extremely reasonable,” Chantelois said. “Everything was making a lot of sense.”
The Toronto police refused to comment on the BLM demands. However the Toronto police union president, Mike McCormack, did have a comment, saying the agreement was “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.”
Executive director Chalenlois says he was not surprised by the protest. “We did this because we want to do things better with our black community. We wanted to be educated,” he said of the decision to include BLM in the parade.
Williams explained, “It has always been something where the folks at the front causing the change have been black, have been from the LGBT trans community, and have been forgotten.”
BLM’s co-founder told the Toronto Star the group wanted to return Pride to its “political roots.”