Should the City of Toronto revoke funding for the Toronto Pride Parade?
On 31 March 2017, the Toronto LGBTQ Policing community penned a letter to Toronto City Council, asking them to reconsider the $260 000 funding they grant to Pride Toronto every year. The letter came after Pride Toronto decided to ban police floats in the City’s annual Pride Parade, following demands from Black Lives Matter (BLM). Members of the black LGBTQ community felt uncomfortable with the way that the police force was represented in the parade. Pride Toronto decided to listen to BLM’s requests as it concurred with their mission to make all members of the LGBTQ community feel included in the parade . BLM, however, will not be participating in Pride 2017, as they missed the deadline to register for the event .
It’s ironic, isn’t it? The Pride Parade, an event created to promote inclusivity and acceptance within the community, is now headed towards a path of exclusivity. Banning members of the LGBTQ community from attending an event that celebrates them is hardly the right message, and should not be acceptable.
Now, Pride Toronto has said that members of the police community could attend the parade as regular citizens. But this is wholly unfair—why must the LGBTQ police community have to choose between parts of their own identity? Why must they shed their uniforms, a badge of their identity, to participate in an event that they have every right to be a part of?
In the letter addressing this concern, the police community pointed out that the City has certain responsibilities as their employers. As employees of the City, the police stated that they would feel unsupported if their employer funded an event that they have been barred from participating in “as full, equal, active participants in their role as City employees” . The policing community also went on to say that they could “think of no examples in Canada where either a public or private employer has been a lead sponsor for an event their employees were asked not to participate in” .
Black Lives Matter (BLM) demanded Pride to ban the police from the parade because “it could discourage marginalized communities from participating” . But police officers are being hired for protection of the parade and will be in the vicinity regardless. If what BLM says is true, then will this not discourage marginalized communities from participating anyway? If so, why was there no push to remove police protection altogether? It is hypocritical of Pride to exclude police officers from the parade, while readily accepting their protection.
Police presence in the parade is inevitable. It’s just a question of whether they will be left to watch from the sidelines or be allowed to participate in an event that they offer protection for.
The City is not responsible for organizing the Pride Parade; that job is reserved for Pride Toronto. As such, the City cannot force the organizers of the parade to change their decision. They do, however, have the right to show their displeasure regarding the situation. The City has no real obligation to fund the event. Since Pride’s exclusion of the police community contradicts its own message of inclusivity, the City should reconsider the funding that it grants to Pride.
It is also important to understand that Toronto City Council, even if it does decide to cut the $260 000 grant, is not abandoning the parade. The council supports the event with over $1 000 000 annually. If the City were to withhold the grant, the parade would still receive $750 000 in support, a significant amount. This step, however, would compel Pride Toronto to reevaluate its decision to ban police floats, and craft a more inclusive approach to solve their concerns regarding the police.
In fact, this proposal has already triggered talks between Pride and the police, giving them a chance to reach a compromise without any extreme measures .
As an event that promotes inclusivity and tolerance within the community, the Pride Parade has always been a source of pride for Toronto. And yet, its organizers have decided to take an action that goes against everything that the parade stands for. Banning police floats is not reflective of the parade’s cause and serves only to increase the rift between communities. All groups should be able to march together and accept each other without having to hide a part of their identities.
And if cutting a $260 000 grant resolves these problems, then so be it.
Why exactly does Toronto City Hall fund Pride Toronto? To show support for a community that was once repressed by the City? To ensure there’s a parade to keep the general populace placated and happy? Or something entirely different?
Likely, many councillors at City Hall would agree with the former. The Pride Parade isn’t funded just so that the City can check off some annual quota for parades—there are less controversial ones which could fulfil that purpose. But despite safer alternatives, the Pride Parade continues to receive funding every summer. This leads one to believe that the funding is a show of support for the event, and the community it represents.
Which is why it’s so weird that all of a sudden, there’s been a big push to scrap funding after Pride decided to disallow police floats. Some people believe that Pride’s decision to exclude police, who provide free security for the event, was unreasonable, and is grounds to terminate all funding for the parade .
But the City wasn’t funding Pride so that every group who wanted to make a float could participate. If this were true, they wouldn’t have been pushing Pride to exclude Queers Against Israeli Apartheid only four years ago . Similarly, the police aren’t providing free security because they want a float in the parade—it is simply a sign of goodwill to the community they serve.
People must remember that the Pride Parade isn’t run by the City of Toronto, but by Pride Toronto, an independent group. Regardless of whether you agree or not, ultimately, the decision was made by Pride to exclude police floats. It should be noted that Pride Toronto placed no bans on officers participating individually, only on organized floats featuring officers in uniform. Has the purpose of the parade changed? No. So then why cut their funding?
This is not to argue that the City shouldn’t have some basic expectations for the events it funds. It wouldn’t fund something like a neo-nazi rally, something so contradictory to the values it stands for. But is police inclusion in the parade really so important that the City should be willing to cut funding, essentially withdrawing its support for Pride, for this alone? If so, then it’s strange that they have allowed Pride to run for the past thirty-four years, with the mayor themself marching in the last twenty-two of them (ignoring Rob Ford), without any police floats . In fact, they were only present for two years, 2014 and 2015, before they were banned .
Ultimately, people need to recognize that they aren’t the ones organizing the Pride Parade. Giving money, then dictating how that money must be spent can hardly be considered a gift, or a sign of support—it’s simply hiring an organization to serve your desires. If the City truly gives money to Pride as a sign of support to the LGBTQ community, then it must allow them to make their own decisions on how it’s spent.