TORONTO – An activist group that stalled Canada’s largest Pride parade to demand more rights for racialized communities says it’s being flooded with hate mail, some of it sent by members of the LGBTQ community.
Black Lives Matter Toronto says the vitriol demonstrates the racism it is trying to combat with its actions.
The group – a Canadian chapter of the a larger U.S. movement active in Toronto since late 2014 – caused a stir on Sunday when some of its members who were marching in the city’s Pride Parade staged a sit-in – bringing the event to a halt for about half an hour.
The parade resumed when Pride Toronto’s executive director Mathieu Chantelois signed a list of demands that included more funding and better representation for racialized communities during Pride events, and a ban on police floats in future parades.
Chantelois later told the media that he only signed the list of demands so he could get the parade moving again.
“The show and the parade had to go on,” he told local TV station CP24, adding that he had only agreed to have a conversation about the issues raised by the group with his LGBTQ community.
Ever since the sit-in, however, Black Lives Matter Toronto has been the target of vicious, racist emails, some from members of the larger LGBTQ community, said Janaya Khan, a co-founder of the group.
“Particularly our queer and trans members, myself included, we have received dozens and dozens and dozens since the action,” said Khan. “I think that is testament to why we had to create an intervention into Pride in the first place.”
The hate mail, which is “100 per cent” made up of anti-black racism, denounces members of Black Lives Toronto who have identified as queer and trans, said Khan.
“It’s ‘You could never be a part of our community, you savage monkey,’ that kind of thing,” she said. “The reality is that gender and sexual diversity doesn’t negate the reality of racism and white privilege…In their minds my blackness made it so that I couldn’t possibly be a part of their community.”
The group is now focused on ensuring Pride Toronto follows through with the list of demands that was signed at the stalled parade.
“Whether or not our demands are seen through – and they will be seen through – the success that comes out of creating the type of dialogue that we’ve seen is monumental,” said Khan.
“This type of push back, this type of backlash, it means that we’ve struck a nerve…It shouldn’t have taken 30 plus years for Pride to really consider what would make black communities and racialized communities feel safer in Pride.”
Sunday’s sit-in was just the latest in a series of actions taken by the group that has frequently accused Toronto police of racial profiling and violence against the black community.
Last summer, a rally shut down a portion of a busy expressway as the group called for justice in the police shooting deaths of two black men.
This March, members of the group camped out in front of Toronto police headquarters for two weeks, demanding an overhaul of Ontario’s police watchdog and the release of the name of an officer who fatally shot a man last summer. The group has also been a vocal critic of the controversial practice of police carding, street checks which it said unfairly targeted young black, brown and indigenous people.
The group’s demand to ban police floats and booths from the Pride Parade and Pride community spaces appears to have emerged as its most contentious call since Sunday, but Khan said Black Lives Matter Toronto isn’t seeking a meeting with police over the matter.
“We’re not closed off to discussion and negotiation, but we do not at this point trust commitments that the police make to us directly,” Khan explained. “We’re going to move forward focusing on what the community wants from us.”
The group specified, as well, that its demand centred around police floats in particular, and would not prevent LGBTQ officers from being at the event if they wanted to.
“We believe they should not have police floats and we believe they should not be in uniform and they should not be armed,” said Khan. “That type of police presence within the parade itself is inherently problematic and creates very exclusive space for police officers and excludes marginalized communities from participating in the parade.”
Pride Toronto said it hopes to gather feedback on this year’s Pride events at a public town hall scheduled for August.