Black Lives Matter protesters brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “Surrender Dorothy” this weekend when they shut down the Toronto LGBT Pride parade with smoke flares and a sit-in.
BLM held Toronto Pride hostage, unless their demands, which included excluding police from the parade, were immediately met.
Toronto Pride ultimately relented — agreeing to, among other things, increased minority representation in Pride and kicking the cops out of future parades and festivals. (Pride parades typically have contingents of LGBT cops and firefighters, and booths set up by the local LGBT officers’ group at the accompanying street festival.) Though today we’re hearing that Pride Toronto may now be backing off its shotgun-promise to bar the police from future Pride events.
Judging by their success in forcing Toronto Pride to capitulate, I suspect we’ll see Black Lives Matter groups protesting more Pride parades in the future. And as a longtime national and international LGBT rights activist, I have a problem with that.
In a nutshell: Fred Phelps protests Pride parades. Our friends don’t.
Civil rights allies don’t target each other
Civil rights allies don’t shut each other down on their most important day of the year. And civil rights allies don’t hold each other hostage, treating each other like the enemy. In fact, Black Lives Matter — which is not an LGBT group — was previously invited to help lead the Toronto Pride Parade, and even had an honorary contingent in the parade, which BLM then used to shut down the entire event.
As President Obama noted a month or so ago, it’s one thing to be angry, it’s another to channel your anger effectively. Occupy Wall Street, for example, had been quite good at anger. They were less good at channeling that anger into positive change.
Dogging progressive allies is a waste of resources, and counterproductive. It gets you less bang for the buck than targeting actual racists, and it also ticks allies off, which does nothing to advance your cause. For example, Donald Trump has won the Republican nomination. So BLM targets Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. And the Republicans are two weeks away from a convention where they will nominate a racist xenophobe. So BLM targets the gays. Priorities, people, priorities.
Demanding a cut back on cops following Orlando is supremely bad timing
And let’s say a word about BLM’s supremely poor timing.
Three weeks after the horrific terrorist attack in Orlando, when on that same day a well-armed man was arrested on his way to LGBT Pride in West Hollywood, the LGBT movement is on pins and needles over concerns about another possible attack. We’re getting frisk-searched upon entering Pride parties (as I was upon entering the Buzzfeed party in NYC), and the police are forced to station counterterrorism units to defend our bars (as they did at the Stonewall Inn the week after Orlando) and our meeting places (I also ran in the counterterrorism police outside New York’s LGBT community center).
With all of that, Black Lives Matter thought it would be a good idea to sow chaos by throwing pyrotechnics in the middle of the most important LGBT event of the year. It’s not only the worst time to be demanding fewer cops, it’s also the worst way — by in essence simulating an explosion. Talk about your trigger warnings.
— TorontoStar (@TorontoStar) July 4, 2016
BLM also pulled out of San Francisco Pride last week as a protest against increased security following Orlando. BLM wanted less security in the wake of Orlando, for the same “comfort” reason as above.
You’ll note that, other than the ban on cops, the rest of BLM’s Toronto demands appear relatively reasonable. So why the need to hold Pride hostage?
Taking cops out of the parade does nothing to make attendees feel more “comfortable”
One of the reasons Black Lives Matters forced Toronto Pride to no longer permit police floats, contingents, or booths at future Pride events, is because BLM claims the police presence makes some people of color “uncomfortable.” Perhaps, but the lack of a police presence, post-Orlando, makes a lot of other people uncomfortable. Not to mention, how is removing a few floats and booths going to make things more “comfortable” for people of color, when the entire Parade is now defended like the White House? The cops are still there, just less flamboyant than they’d be in a float contingent or a festival booth. So how does this help anyone feel more comfortable? It doesn’t.
I led a rather high-profile, and effective, campaign against malfeasance in the DC police department back in 2002 or so. I am hardly “soft on cops.” But I still recognize the important and dangerous work the police do. I appreciate them showing up, in force, at our bars and our protests and our Pride events to help ensure that another lunatic doesn’t pump several hundreds rounds into me and my best friends. I also appreciate cops participating in our parades and at our festivals. It sends a great message to LGBT kids, and adults to boot, that even the police think we’re okay. Let’s face it, the homophobes would like nothing better than to have the cops pull their visible support of Pride.
Cops are LGBT too
There’s another thing the BLM protesters are forgetting: Cops are LGBT too. Are LGBT police officers, and LGBT police organizations, also not permitted to march in Pride parades and have booths at Pride events? For example, what of the NYPD’S LGBT group, the “Gay Officers Action League.” GOAL had to sue the NYPD, all the way back in 1996 (before it was cool), in order to get be officially recognized and treated like every other police group. Is GOAL now a bad guy too? And beyond GOAL, the NYPD is itself now doing LGBT sensitivity trainings for other police forces, has trans-friendly bathrooms, and has openly-transgender cops who have transitioned on the job. Should none of that be recognized and lauded?
How exactly do we decide who’s a good gay cop and a bad gay cop?
I fear that what BLM is doing is indicative of a larger problem on the left of late. Progressives are increasingly suspicious of each other; and every lefty sees every other lefty as the enemy, when in the past we used to target, you know, real enemies. Thus, rather than targeting the Republicans, BLM targets Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and the entire LGBT community.
In the past, the LGBT movement has also targeted Democratic allies. But we did it for strategic reasons, when those Democrats stopped allying themselves with us. We heckled President Obama and chained ourselves to the White House fence because we felt the President was going soft on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and we wanted to make inaction too costly. Our protests worked. We got the President’s attention, and in the end, he became the fierce advocate he’d promised us all along.
But what is BLM actually accomplishing by getting the police thrown out of Pride parades. And just as importantly, what do they gain by shutting down a sister civil rights movement? We never once shut down a fellow civil rights movement. I can only imagine how “uncomfortable” BLM supporters would be if LGBT activists appropriated their biggest day of the year (MLK’s birthday?) to focus attention on, say, homophobia in the black community.
I’ll close with an extended comment left on the Huffington Post story about Toronto:
Yes, let’s exclude police floats so LGBTQ officers and LGBTQ POC officers and POC officers who are allies can feel excluded and shamed for their choice of profession and their sexuality/skin color all at once.
Those people exist too, you know. And they were there, and many were affected by the choice of these so-called activists.
The bulk of their demands are fair and should have been in discussion long before the parade even started or before they agreed to be the honored guests. Given part of the reason of Pride is INCLUSIVITY, not EXCLUSION, many of their demands likely could’ve been met with organizers prior to Pride, even months before, where the result of their demands could have been put in place for this Pride.
But instead it’s better to be a news headline and to continue the act of excluding people rather than working to find middle ground amongst differences. The police are an integral part of the parade, moreso than the donors who pay for floats to simultaneously pedal their product or company while touting how into equality they are. The police are the ones who try to make the event as safe as possible, set up the barricades for the marches and parade, close streets and implement safety plans for the public in the event of an emergency. In the wake of Orlando, their presence is important. I was at Toronto Pride and spoke with many officers who were not only helpful in giving directions and assisting citizens but also who were there to jointly celebrate as officers and as part of the LGBTQ community.
Instead of excluding their float, we should be encouraging more conversation between parties to find unity and progress. Progress will never come to fruition with acts of exclusivity. We must recognize the past and the acts of those who have harmed all minorities while recognizing the progress that we have made and the progress that we can continue to make through positive activism. Please stop supporting the alienation of allies and minorities who overlap into those groups that many so-called “activists” try to exclude.