LeRoi Newbold of BLM Toronto says that the Toronto Pride festival needs to be taken back to its roots and make more space for queer Black and Brown people
DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor joining you here in Baltimore. This past weekend was Toronto Pride. An annual festival held in Toronto and other cities across the globe in celebration of LGBTQ identity. During the Pride parade, the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, the festival’s guest of honor, staged a protest for about 30 minutes. They halted the march and issued a list of demands to the festival’s organizers. Joining us from Toronto to talk about this is LeRoi Newbold. They’re on the steering committee of Black Lives Matter Toronto. Thanks so much for joining us, LeRoi. LEROI NEWBOLD: Thank you for having me. NOOR: So LeRoi, as a steering committee member you were directly involved in the planning of this action. Could you speak a little bit about the action, what went down, and what the demands were? NEWBOLD: This action was an observation in the Pride parade and on the Sunday of the Pride parade, the parade stopped for 30 minutes in order to address some of the longtime issues between black LGBTQ community and Pride Toronto. NOOR: And there’s been some confusion for some about the action, to say the least. As I said, Black Lives Matter was the guest of honor at Toronto Pride this year, and many have wondered why you would choose to hold a protest at an event where you’re supposedly being lifted up. So what did you make of the position of guest of honor and why did y’all decide to disrupt in spite of that. It’s even accurate to say, despite–in spite of that? NEWBOLD: Well, we decided to take this action during Pride to address some of these issues because Pride is political. Pride is about being able to live with dignity. And we can’t live with dignity when our black trans sisters can be disappeared and murdered within the city that we live without impunity, and the police aren’t accountable to finding out what happened to them, such as what happened to Viña del Mar. We can’t live with pride and dignity when trans people are unemployed at four times the rate that white straight people are. So it’s important for us to push these issues to the forefront. The roots of Pride are political, and Pride has failed to continue to prioritize the political advancement and the livelihood of our communities. NOOR: And we’re going to come back to the political nature of Pride. But first I want to talk a bit about the demands. You started with the demand for the commitment to supporting the black queer youth initiative space at Pride. Can you speak a little bit about those spaces and what’s been happening to them? NEWBOLD: So the Black Queer Youth Space is a space that prioritizes black queer and trans youth and this year while we were being–while we were receiving the news that we’d be the honored group for Pride–we also received the news that black queer youth would be moved once again far away from the central Pride area, that they would have some cuts to their funding, and that they may not even have a stage anymore. So that was one of the concerns with black queer youth. We also are supporting Blackness Yes and Blockorama, which is a long standing black queer and trans stage that’s part of Pride and has been for 20 years. And Blockorama has experienced a lot of issues with Pride. They have very, very little funding for being one of the largest spaces at Pride. They aren’t prioritized in terms of space. They’ve been asked to move repeatedly to make room for corporate stages, and really just haven’t been supported in the ways that they need to be to create that space that’s important for our community. NOOR: Right, and Blockorama is actually saying that they haven’t had a funding increase since 2006. Has Toronto Pride overall gotten more funding since 2006? Are there other stages that have gotten increased funding? NEWBOLD: Yes. Toronto Pride is the world’s largest Pride. It has an astronomical amount of funding and a lot of that funding comes from corporations and what we’re seeing is that those corporations are having more voice and more power and more space than the community groups who really need it in Pride. NOOR: Another demand that’s gotten a lot of attention is this commitment to remove police floats and booths from Pride. In response, this gay cop wrote an upon letter. He seemed distressed that he’ll be “excluded from Pride celebrations to come” and Jay Khan, who’s a Black Lives Matter Toronto Founder, highlighted on Metro Morning, the CBC radio show, that Black Lives Matter is just trying to stop the floats not just individual participation. So can you talk about that distinction? Why ban police floats from Pride? NEWBOLD: Absolutely. It was really unnecessary and inappropriate for Chuck Krangle to write that article about his fear of being excluded as an individual police officer from Pride. Black Lives Matter Toronto isn’t calling for the individual exclusion of anybody from Pride. We were calling for the exclusion of the police as an institution and what that represents. So police floats. Because why would we prioritize the voice and presence and visibility of an institution that kills black people every 8 hours, over the presence and safety and physical and mental health of our black, queer, and trans, and LGBT and two-spirit brother spirit and siblings? NOOR: And what’s your response to some folks that have been noting the police chief of Toronto is black and there have been some queer folks in Toronto that have been saying hey this is something that we’re doing to promote a better treatment by police. Has Black Lives Matter taken a position on any of this? NEWBOLD: Well we’ve heard that the police have been welcomed as a symbol of solidarity and inclusion and for us that isn’t genuine. What would for us be a good symbol of solidarity is finding out what happened to Viña del Mar who was murdered in our community, in our city. What would be a good gesture of solidarity to the black community would be find out what happened to Andrew Loku and charging Ryan Reid who murdered Andrew Loku. These issues can’t be solved. The issues between black community and police can’t be solved by marching in a parade. They have to be solved by looking at real political issues and addressing the state of urgency for black people vis-a-vis police in the city. NOOR: Right, and there’s been some confusion also as to whether the organizers of Pride are actually going to comply with that demand. Have you heard anything conclusive about that? NEWBOLD: Well, [Mathieu Chantelois] has–since the actions said that he does not intend to remove the police floats from the parade, despite having agreed to that and having celebrated this political moment with our community. So it will be an ongoing process of holding Pride accountable. And that’s one that black communities have been in that process for years around negotiating for space for Blockorama. Negotiating space for black queer youth. Negotiating instances that happen for example in 2014 when Pride collaborated with the Tavis arm of the Toronto police to raid and arrest several sex workers and trans people within our community. So these are ongoing issues that we’re constantly advocating around vis a vis Pride and that will continue. NOOR: And another response to this action was in open mail which is one of the ones that called out that fact that the Police Chief is black. But they also said that–called Black Lives Matter Toronto bullies. So I just want to get your response to a quote from the author Margaret [Winteh]. She said, “We’re not Ferguson or anything like it by pretending Toronto is just another racist hell hole where police routinely gun down black kids. The Black Lives Matter folks do not create a useful forum for discussion nor do they pay much attention to the black kids who are gunned down by other black kids. Don’t those lives matter too?” she says. What’s your response? NEWBOLD: Well, we are living in Canada where we do have a huge problem with racial profile and policing. We have a database that has thousands of black community members’ names in it who have been randomly stopped and profiled. And that is not an issue to be made light of and it’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously. We are constantly guilty of comparing ourselves to the United States and saying that we’re not as bad as the United States in terms of policing. But I don’t believe that the United States, again as a place where black people are killed up to every 8 hours by police, that shouldn’t be used as a moral compass for the world. We might not have the same issue as Ferguson because we don’t have the same black population here. However, we have a significant issue where we’re seeing cases like Jermaine [Carby] who died because of carding in the city. We’re seeing cases like Andrew Loku, a father of 5 who was killed by police within 60 seconds of them arriving at his home. And these are significant issues. NOOR: And just to close, as you said before, Pride has a political nature but this all comes under a climate in which the Toronto Mayor has said that Pride should be careful not to be too political. So what’s your response to this statement? I mean here in the states Pride was sort of born out of the Stonewall Riots, which were riots against the police raid of a gay bar. That’s pretty explicitly political. But can you speak about the political nature and perhaps the de-politicization of Pride in Toronto? NEWBOLD: Well if we’re looking at what happened in this current political climate and what has just happened in Orlando; what has just happened there has shown us that black and brown queer and trans people are not safe. We’re not safe and we’re not free. And we are mourning what happened in Orlando. Our hearts are broken over what happened there. But we will not mourn them by calling for a militarization and a police state within our so-called community spaces. Our community spaces that are rooted in seeking liberation like you said but now have become spaces for TB Bank, for Rogers, for Beer Gardens, for police floats. So this is the reason that we need to hold onto the intentions behind Pride and what it represents for our communities. NOOR: Okay and we’ll be sure to keep following what happens, whether or not these demands are met, and we hope to talk to you again soon as things unravel. NEWBOLD: Thank you. NOOR: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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