Pride, Police, and Doug Ford: One of These Things is Not Like the Other One
Year after year, the debate resurfaces as to whether uniformed police officers should be allowed to participate in Pride parades. The debate recently reignited when Doug Ford, the newly elected premier of Ontario on behalf of the ‘Progressive’ Conservative party, suggested that his appearance at the Toronto Pride Parade is dependent on the inclusion of uniformed police officers (Calero, June 8 2018).
The ban on the participation of uniformed police in the parade was adopted in 2016, following the protests by the activist group, Black Lives Matter (BLM) Toronto (Walcott, June 28, 2017). At the parade the following year later, BLM Toronto made another unannounced appearance, holding signs including those which read, “May we never again need to remind you that WE built THIS” (Gray, June 25, 2017).
Indeed, pride began as a protest; in fact, the first-ever pride parade, held in New York City, fell on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising – four-night long riots headed by racialized trans women who were fighting against police oppression at a time in which cross-dressing was criminalized (Duberman, 1994; Feinberg, 2007). Making their way to the Women’s House of Detention, and chanting “Free our sisters! Free ourselves!,” it became evident that a central tenant in queer and trans activism was a fight against the prison industrial-complex (Stanley, Spade, and Queer (In)Justice, p. 155).
Today, the support for uniformed police officers’ participation in Pride not only contradicts the lengthy history of queer/trans activism, but overlooks the oppressive underpinnings of the (racialized) LGBTQ* community’s relationship with the criminal justice system.
We are living in a period of time in which equality is often conflated with inclusion, which can lead to the misguided belief that the denial of uniformed officer’s participation in pride is a form of discrimination. Yet, rather than being an opportunity to valorize one’s career choice, Pride serves as a moment to highlight the historical oppression of a community of people and offers a reminder that queer/trans equality does not yet exist. The ban on uniformed officers symbolizes solidarity particularly with the racialized LGBTQ* community, who continue to bear the burden of the systemic racism and violence embedded in policing and the criminal justice system more broadly (Carpenter and Marshall; Vitulli). Reflecting on Stonewall, it seems utterly contradictory that the queer/trans rights agenda today would ever support policing (Bassichis, Lee, and Spade).
It should also be of no surprise that the values of the critical queer/trans community runs in stark contrast with those of the ‘Progressive’ Conservatives.
According to the Ontario PC’s webpage, as part of his crime-fighting agenda, Ford plans to spend $30 million per year to hire more police officers, beginning in year 2. Ford also plans to revise the current sex-education curriculum in Ontario to ensure that it is “age appropriate” – undoubtedly eluding to the belief that children should not be educated on sexual or gender diversity, which were highly contentious issues among the conservatives (Curlew, June 21, 2018).
Finally, recalling the heated debate surrounding freedom of speech in Ontario – specifically that which was sparked by University of Toronto Psychology Professor, Jordan Peterson, who advanced the deceptive and erroneous claim that he would be subject to compelled speech by having to refer to trans people in gender-neutral pronouns, less risking criminalization (Cossman, 2018) – Ford promises to protect freedom of speech in universities and classrooms, even at the expense of how freedom of speech is often mobilized to incite hatred against vulnerable groups (Ahmed, 2016).
Now, as to Doug Ford’s participation in Pride, what makes him think he was invited in the first place?