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Black Lives Matter London cancels joint event with Pride London Festival

A rainbow flag is seen at Toronto City Hall in Toronto on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima.
A rainbow flag is seen at Toronto City Hall in Toronto on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima. Eduardo Lima / The Canadian Press

The head of Pride London Festival says the board is committed to doing more to listen to Black and Indigenous community members, but some local activists are expressing frustration with the group.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) London has pulled out of a joint event with Pride London Festival, scheduled for Saturday, called Continuing the Conversation, which was billed as “an open discussion with community members about issues facing members of London’s BIPOC community and specifically issues facing Black Queer, Indigenous and Trans individuals.”

Read more: 40th Pride London Festival launches virtually

BLM London issued a statement Friday morning, stating they held many conversations with members of the Black Queer community this past week and were urged to cancel the event.

“We canceled the event ‘Continuing the Conversation’ as per their request to allow them space to hold their own conversations in a way that serves their community best,” spokesperson Alexandra Kane told Global News.

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“Black Lives Matter London serves, advocates for and supports ALL Black people.”

The local Black Queer Network issued its own statement hours later, early Friday afternoon, writing that BLM London “admitted that they entered into a partnership with Pride without taking the time to understand the relationship of the LGBT2Q+ BIPOC individuals and groups within London to the Pride London Festival (PLF).

They said that they approached it with an outsider view, admitting they believed that Pride was the only LGBT2Q voice in the city.”

Anthea Williams, a trans/non-binary Black Londoner who stands in solidarity with Black Queer Network, says an intersectional approach recognizes that individuals don’t fall under just one narrative. The term is used to describe how different social categorizations, such as race, class, and gender, can overlap.

“The identities often intersect in the aspect of dealing with the oppressive factors of like white supremacy and racism,” they explained.

“They inform, they dictate how society treats us. So our identities — we are dealing with social inequalities, economic issues, fighting for our rights to be seen and treated as equals, as viable people in this world.”

Read more: Canada’s queer rights movement exists because of Black people — but that history is often ignored

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Williams noted that it’s a “slippery slope” to try to place a single narrative on a population of people.

“Even within the LGBT community, we have increased vulnerability with certain populations, like looking at Black trans women and Black trans men who are higher rates of of policing, inequality and economics in job instability and housing instability, and as well as populations who deal with disabilities within those groups as well,” they said.

“So we need all of these voices at the table to have a cohesive understanding of these issues in order to better fight them.”

Pride London Festival issued its own statement Friday afternoon, stressing that “we are still invested and we are still here.”

The statement also referenced posts from “Black Queer Network, Haus of Ansari, and other local groups.”

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“To say that we were dismayed to read public statements from these groups rather than receive any formal communication was disheartening. To this day — we have not heard anything directly from any individual representing these organizations. We will continue to try and hold communicative talks with these organizations and groups as all voices are needed, however current requests have been declined by each group.”

The statement adds that PLF board of directors are “resolved in the belief that Discrimination and racism must be addressed at all levels of Government — and this includes our organization as well.” The statement says PLF continues to stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and is “committed in being an active partner in ensuring our members are heard.”

Jenna Rose Sands, an Indigenous and Queer activist, called out the Pride London Festival and president Andrew Rosser, specifically.

“The machine that is Pride London has excluded a lot of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour perspective and our needs and our wants within Pride. We’re not invited to the table and our criticisms have, for years, fallen on deaf ears,” she said.

“We are watching the Black, Indigenous, Queer, POC community coming together and being like, ‘no, we all want to work together and we all want to celebrate our Pride.’ And I think that’s really beautiful what’s happening here in London.”

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Sands also noted what she called the “unacceptable” decision by Pride London to criticize police “over their involvement with Indigenous folks” when she alleges that PLF itself has been guilty of “exclusionary tactics and bullying.”

“They have been informed again, and again, and again that we need spaces and we need our voices heard and we have concerns,” she said.

But Rosser says it’s “hard to respond to general comments that don’t have specific examples.”

“I know that Jenna Rose Sands has stated that she’s given us a laundry list of things to do to improve, that was in her words… and I’ve not seen any communication from her at all over the years. We’ve talked in person a couple of times,” he told Global News in an interview Friday afternoon.

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“But as always, we’re invested in serving every member of our community and we’re trying to do the best as we can as a volunteer board that a lot of people are newly elected to every year.”

Rosser added that “if people aren’t willing to come to the table to have a conversation, it becomes a lot of back and forth in the media or on social media.”

“While I totally respect that there’s lots more that every organization can do to improve in every regard, we do need tangible steps.”

Speaking Friday morning, before any statements were issued surrounding the cancellation of the Continuing the Conversation event, Rosser told Global News that “there are steps that we have taken, there’s a lot more that we need to do to listen to our Black and Indigenous community members.”

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“But it is hard, it’s hard to get people at the table, it’s hard to provide the right mechanisms for these conversations,” he said.

Read more: Toronto rally calls for reforms to police, changes to Pride

“But I think what’s important is the board — and definitely we have new board members who just came on board three or four weeks ago — we’re all very committed to kind of keeping those conversations going.”

Members of the London Police Service, London Police Association, and London Police Services Board have also agreed to conversations, according to Rosser.

“The police chief, the board chair, diversity officer for the police association all have reached out to sit down after Pride when we have a bit more time and space to talk and keep those conversations going.”

The 2020 Pride London Festival is underway and runs until July 26 with events scheduled daily. More information is available on the group’s website and Facebook page.

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