July was a challenging month, especially for those members of our communities who identify as Black. There has been a great deal of backlash against the political demonstrations made by Black Lives Matter – Toronto (BLM-TO) during Pride festivities. In addition, numerous accounts of police violence against Black people have made the headlines. In response to all of this, we (OurSpace) want to acknowledge that we stand in solidarity with BLM-TO – and Black Lives Matter (BLM) more broadly – and support them in their work against the ongoing systems of racist violence and anti-blackness that continue to impact the lives of so many people, including many of our members.
In our values, we state that we apply anti-oppressive principles and practices to create safer and affirming spaces for all guys who like guys. To fully realize the goals of anti-oppression, we recognize the need to speak out against issues like racism and anti-blackness, and the need to create spaces where Black and other queer and trans guys of colour can feel safe and have their voices heard. And so we raise awareness about racism and other issues via social media and we facilitate a queer and trans guys of colour discussion group. But we recognize that these efforts will only reach so many people. We are therefore grateful for BLM-TO and BLM for raising awareness and mobilizing a much wider range of people through the power of protest.
Protest has an important role in the history of queer and trans communities, a history that many of us are unfamiliar with because of our age, lack of access to older queer and trans mentors, and the exclusion of queer and trans history from classrooms and mainstream media. A few of us have managed to overcome these barriers and, in the process, have learned about major events like: the riots at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco and the Stonewall Inn in New York City; the demonstrations against police that followed the 1981 Bathhouse Raids in Toronto; and the political theatrics of AIDS activist groups like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in the United States and AIDS Action Now! in Canada. BLM-TO lived up to their role as the Honoured Group during the Toronto Pride Parade this year by holding a demonstration that honoured this history of activism that has been integral to many queer and trans communities.
However, there has been a great deal of backlash to BLM-TO’s actions. In particular, many people have opposed BLM-TO’s demand to remove police floats from the Pride Parade, describing this act as one of exclusion. We, however, support each of BLM-TO’s demands. We recognize that many queer and trans people, especially Black and other queer and trans people of colour, have had negative encounters with the police, and that being around police officers who are in uniform can trigger histories of trauma. The well-being of young queer and trans guys is at the core of the OurSpace mission and vision, and so we support any actions that can make queer and trans people feel safer during Pride. We also recognize that everyone’s identity is intersectional, meaning that police officers are not exclusively police officers and can therefore march in the Pride Parade with contingents that reflect their other identities as queer and trans people or allies.
The work that BLM-TO and BLM are doing is important for all us, especially the many people in our communities who continue to experience violence and oppression as a result of systemic racism and anti-blackness. We will do what we can to support this work to the best of our ability so that we can achieve our vision of building a unified community where young guys who like guys take care of themselves and each other to live happier and healthier lives.