For years, I’ve spent most of Toronto Pride Week an anxious wreck, trying to understand my place at an event that promotes equality through a white lens. There has always been a QPOC (Queer People Of Color) presence in Pride Toronto’s programming — though, to me, it has often felt just black enough to be considered “inclusive” — but the organization had recently recruited a group of new curators and directors. And so, a year after Toronto hosted World Pride, 2016’s festivities had the glow of fresh diversity. In a sense, this year felt like the blackest Pride I’ve ever attended in Toronto.
Black queerness took the spotlight. There were even more spaces for us to be loud, sexy, and political, flipping the script on the homonormativity glorifying white bodies as the ultimate queer trophy. I watched Juliana Huxtable, an icon in the making, headline a mainstream Pride stage with an all-black line-up of women DJs, including local hero Bambii. Soca legend Alison Hinds headlined Blockorama 18, one of Pride’s longest running stages celebrating black love and unity. For 18 years, Blackness Yes! — a community organization that works year-round to create visibility and safe spaces for LGBTIQQ people of African descent, and their friends, lovers, and supporters — has created a haven at Pride with Blocko. It’s a QPOC sanctuary dominated by dancehall, street style, and an emphasis on putting blackness first. That concept is still foreign in the larger LGBT community.
This year felt like the blackest Pride I’ve ever attended in Toronto.
Which brings us to the parade itself. Going in, the big story was Justin Trudeau making a historic first Pride march by a sitting Canadian Prime Minister. But all of that changed less than an hour after the parade’s start. Black Lives Matter Toronto, invited to the parade as an honored group by the Pride organization, staged a 25 minute sit-in at the intersection of Yonge and College Streets. They put one of the largest Pride parades in the world on pause.
With the support of indigenous and Latinx activists, BLM TO offered Pride Toronto a list of real, intersectional demands, including more funding for black groups, increased accessibility for people with disabilities, and, yes, the removal of police floats in the parade. The action and the demands, which would presumably fuel the growth of this year’s beautifully inclusive events, seemed in line with Pride officially recognizing the group’s sustained activism over the last year. But I find myself gutted reading the racist backlash toward Black Lives Matter Toronto’s non-complacency at Pride. Two days prior they lead the largest Trans march in the world history. They’ve reminded us, mere weeks after the Pulse Nightclub shootings in Orlando, that Pride is political. But the media narrative has painted them as terrorists who “hijacked” the parade and made gay police feel excluded.
I am elated at the efforts of BLM TO and other racialized queers who made my existence a priority at this year’s Pride. We live in a time where cis white folks will get in “Formation” for Beyonce and share Jesse Williams’s transformative BET Awards speech on their timelines like it’s scripture. But the shameful, racist pushback to having to listen, and share space in real life, suggests that the black voice is still just for decoration — even during a celebration of equality.
Black queerness took the spotlight. There were even more spaces for us to be loud, sexy, and political, flipping the script on the homonormativity glorifying white bodies as the ultimate queer trophy.