#BlackLivesMatter Is The Best Thing To Happen to Pride Toronto Since The Orlando Shootings (An Open Letter To Mathieu Chantelois, Pride Toronto)

When I heard that 49 of my Orlando brothers and sisters died as a result of the one man’s hate fuelled rampage I felt sick because I know it’s caused by a culture that rewards homophobia, sexism and oppression. Sometimes I wonder if we are no longer in the modern era but have gone back in a time machine to more barbaric period and we just can’t see our own barbarism.

The real crime was not that Omar pulled the trigger on those innocent people but that our entire city jumped up in unison exclaiming ‘How can something like this happen given all the progress we’ve made?!” Yes we have made progress but the crime of this statement is that anyone saying it gets to remove themselves from what is actually happening. Adding further fuel to the fire was the media and public who went scrambling to make sense of this situation but instead of looking inwards at the pressure cooker of a culture we have created, people tried to make the situation about some extraordinary circumstances like how he was a product of ISIS, his father brainwashed him, he was mentally ill, etc. This is a problematic way to view a mass murder because now there is nothing we can learn if we dismiss their actions as highly unusual. Take a look at Omar Mateen’s face, he is not crazy. In fact I was bullied, picked on, tormented and harassed all the way through grade school by guys just like Omar. He’s not ill, he’s a product of this culture and is just one of many that make up the majority. Look at him. I’m serious, take a hard look at his picture and let’s not pretend that we are seeing something other then what it is. An arrogant boy who is as homophobic as he is a misogynist just like all the other bad boys our culture is supporting. Sure he made himself a connection through ISIS but I’m pretty sure he was an asshole before he sought to align with them. This is not the face of a killer, he is in fact the boy next door in more ways than one.

When the news of those 49 victims hit Toronto weeks prior to our biggest LGBT celebration it was an opportunity for the city to take a hard look at itself. And we did. At The 519 candlelight vigil the next evening the speeches were filled with rage, sadness and talk of being political once again. Suddenly Toronto remembered that while we may have won the battle, the war is far from over and most importantly we all learned that the world only appears safe to those who live in relative privilege. It’s sad and deeply tragic that we had to wake-up as the result of these deaths but at least these people will not die in vain. Even Pride Toronto delivered speeches that resembled something a leader who cares for the future of our planet would say.


And then Pride kicked in and the city partied, danced and completely forgot that we shouldn’t be having a party when we have so much work to do. Enter Black Lives Matter (BLM) who took Pride’s invitation to ‘Come Sit With Us’ quite literally and during the 30 minute sit-in protest gave this city a much needed gift: the gift of self-reflection but we still haven’t collectively proven that we are up to the challenge. Instead we are still arguing about whether the police should march in Pride or if #BLM tactics were fair or not. We’re all missing the opportunity for some self-refection because what we should be arguing about is how much we need to do with the police and the communities they are supposed to serve. What BLM did was morally courageous because they took an honoured position and used it to expose back the imbalance and injustices they experience including from organizations like Pride Toronto who instead of being inclusive has lost touch with it’s roots. BLM looked right into the whites of our eyes and demanded that we see and hear them. I see you, I hear you and I’m so sorry for the pain we keep causing. We are all a part of the problem and we need to join forces in pursuit of a solution. I know many people who have busy lives and it’s hard to talk about such difficult subjects for long stretches but please, please, please if you are tired of working this out remember the 49 dead people in Orlando.

So many people have to die in order for Canadians to wake up but this is the price of apathy. There’s also a secondary level of institutionalized discrimination on the part of Pride Toronto that needs to be addressed even before we tackle the issue with the cops. Dishearteningly many people in this city think it’s okay to discriminate one group over another as long as the group we’re repressing can be labeled a ‘terrorist’, ‘hate group’ or other such nonsense. We do need to safeguard again hate but that’s not what Pride Toronto has been tampering with. In 2010 Pride Toronto spent lots of money and resources trying to force the community to pre-approve all parade signs and banners before they set out to on a witch hunt to ban QuAIA. Last year they successfully banned the men’s group CAFE because they didn’t like their politics. Why is it that we allow Pride to decide what is okay and what is not? How about we get to make our own mistakes and if you don’t like a particular group shut up about it because you have not been appointed the morality squad. As long as you are taking cash from floats like Viagra and The Pickle Barrel you have no business telling others who they should be or what or how they can speak. Pride Toronto is publicly using words like ‘inclusiveness’ to defend the police being in the parade. It should never be up to Pride to decide who marches anyway and someone needs to call them out on this banning business because it’s only at the whim of the committee du jour.

Mathieu Chantelois, you have a wonderful opportunity to stand up and take our entire city into a whole new direction. One that is marked by leadership, innovative thinking and moral courage. Some of the major media outlets have already predicted or called for the resignation of the entire Pride staff but I would argue there’s a rainbow lining in this cloud, a catalyst to making serious change within our police system all while supporting those in our community who are the most vulnerable. Mathieu, some people may not like you if you listen to the needs of BLM but I and many others will back you up. Yes there are some good cops and some queer ones but can we stop focusing on the tiny bits of progress that we have made with them. Let’s stop pretending they lead us through a process of community reconciliation. Let’s remember that what little goodwill that exists is there becasue it came out of them harassing us on the streets, in our clubs, shops and even our homes. So we demanded action. We can congratulate the police for the progress, thank them for their dedication and then insist that we do some serious talking with our black and trans family. This is not a right/wrong paradigm, it’s shades of dirty grey that is getting more tainted the longer we turn our backs on taking action. If the Metropolitan Toronto Police were a business they would be sued into oblivion over just the last year’s worth of horrendous behaviour. Yes there are good cop stories but this is about the gestapo we have come to believe has been serving and protecting us. I was at the bathhouse raid ‘apology’ and anyone else who was there should be deeply offended by both the presentation of the circuit party style event to the delivery of the most insulting non-apology I have ever heard. Who are you people and why aren’t any LGBT cops standing up in disgust?

Mathieu please stand tall and support BLM, the police and the community in a long overdue dialogue. We need you to fight for us more than we need a parade that reinforces Pride Toronto’s irrelevance as a leadership organization.

Raymond Helkio, The Reading Salon