What About Pride?
Remaking Pride through Organizing, Protest and Mutual Aid
As COVID-19 began at the burgeoning of Spring in North America, and lock down initiated (for most of us) shortly after, the question lingering behind our collective existential dread became more and more pressing as the days became longer and the flowers blossomed: what would become of the Summer? What would become of Pride?
Masking up, calling our loved ones, and supporting our neighbours have become more than daily life, but an act of mutual aid and survival. Out of the many crises of COVID boiling over from Spring into Summer have been the far-reaching uprisings in response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers and the many more violences of police and militaries the world over.
These movements are not an aside from COVID, nor do they contradict the work we’ve put into keeping each other safe during the pandemic. We act today for Black Lives because COVID (and related crises) has been most brutal for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC). All the while, queer and trans BIPOC Colour holding down the fight for justice and liberation give us reason to be together (safely) in such daunting times.
“But what about Pride?”
What about it? Pride might be ‘cancelled’ (read: moved online) for 2020, but the struggle for gender and sexual liberation surely hasn’t stopped.
Our struggles are emboldened. From Minneapolis to Toronto, Seattle to London, Black queer and trans people continue to lead struggles that centre gender and sexual violence and liberation within overarching calls for police abolition and Black freedom. These days, Pride looks more like a parade of affluent whiteness than of today’s frontline struggle or its roots in the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion. Since Sylvia Rivera’s famed interruption at New York Pride in 1973, people of colour have called out the racist, transphobic, and classist apathy-as-violence of bankrolled Pride festivals the world over. We’ve seen notable Pride disruptions from Tel Aviv’s No Pride in Occupation, Toronto’s Black Lives Matter, San Francisco’s Gay Shame, to Queer Mutiny in the UK.
Pride Toronto, the umbrella 2SLGBTQ+ organization that organizes the annual late-June festivities in the city I call home, has been a site of struggle for far longer than COVID has been in the news. Since Black Lives Matter TO disrupted the 2016 procession, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to hold Pride Toronto accountable for persistent anti-Blackness, the organization has buckled under the weight of demands to restrict police marching in the parade and centre the voices of queer and trans Black and Indigenous people.
Only since the start of 2020, Pride Toronto has battled allegations of harassments, misuse of funds, and discrimination following the unprompted dismissal of Executive Director Olivia Nuamah. Amidst the turmoil, COVID must have come as almost a sigh of relief for Pride Toronto’s leadership, who quickly took the turn of global affairs to reduce and move their June programming online. The situation in Toronto is emblematic of Pride organizations across the globe that dilute queer militancy to fit within capitalism and the non-profit industrial complex.
So, what about Pride? Pride Month in Toronto came hot off the heels of mass demonstrations against the police killing of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. June 2020 has been sweltering month for Toronto, boiling over at the heat of protests against the police and celebrations of Black Lives. Public mobilizations, like that of the newly-formed Afro-Indigenous Rising (AIR), have put Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour back at the helm of the fight for intersectional queer and trans liberation during Pride Month.
The ongoing AIR occupation of Nathan Phillips Square outside Toronto City Hall is only to be bolstered by a rally and teach-in to defund and abolish the police tomorrow, Pride Sunday. The demonstration is organized by No Pride in Policing Coalition in conjunction with the AIR encampment, and it is set to gather queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour from around the Greater Toronto Area under the common banner of abolishing the police and justice for Black and Indigenous Lives. Meanwhile, participating performers and activists in Toronto’s Virtual Pride have brought the demands of Black Lives Matter, Indigenous liberation, and police abolition to the fore of their contributions to the online events.
In Toronto and beyond, the retreat of Pride from the streets has given way to more radical and colourful public fare this June. When Pride moved online, the folks that Pride pushed out continued rising up to speak truth to power and gather in support of transformative change. Black Lives Matter and allied actions around the world have mobilized the masses in both mourning and celebration during a month always hotly anticipated.
This year, we’ve given ourselves the reason to be together: the fight for a better world, one without police. Now is precisely the time for us to reconsider what and who Pride stands for—in every city, neighbourhood, and town. This June, we’ve come to understand clearly that queer and trans joy and struggle doesn’t need a central Pride organization to determine the manner of our month. Queer and trans BIPOC are remaking Pride for ourselves in the shell of the old. Until Pride truly becomes a protest by and for the people, until Pride rejects policing, apartheid, and until Pride refuses capitalist profiteering: we’re better off without it.