Toronto Media Co-op

Local Independent News

More independent news:
Do you want free independent news delivered weekly? sign up now
Can you support independent journalists with $5? donate today!

Stonewall TO: Never Again?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Crowds at the STOnewall event. (photo: Minus Smile)
Crowds at the STOnewall event. (photo: Minus Smile)

June 26 marked the 42nd anniversary of the Stonewall Revolution; three days of battle in the streets of Greenwich Village, New York City. In Toronto on June 26, it was remembered by more than 1,000 people, who marched from Queen’s Park to the front of 519 Community Centre at Church and Wellesley Streets, a river of silver glitter marking the path taken by the happy crowd. Music took over the stage in the 519’s neighbouring park and those marching were encouraged (eventually with police) to leave the streets and follow it.  Some were not willing to move.

Event organizers herded the crowd into the park and were eventually able to move most of those who felt we still belonged in the streets. A handful of individuals held firm, refusing to leave the street for nearly half an hour afterwards. Two indigenous women holding an anti-G20 banner which read “Stop the Invasion” stayed on at the side of the road, and many others watched until police pressured the protesters off of the street.

Most wondered why these few were there protesting in the first place, rather than joining in the festivities and fun. They had been shouting anti-police oppression chants throughout the parade, and admitted they were concerned they were going to be “ejected” by parade organizers on more than one occasion.  

That those protesting the most fervently felt out of step with the group seemed odd, considering organizer Sasha Van Bon Bon was quoted as saying, “The march put the politics of Pride front and centre, especially in the wake of the city’s threats to pull funding from Pride Toronto (PT) this year and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid’s (QuAIA) self-removal from the 2011 parade.”

Yet despite this statement, the chants coming from the emcees leading the march from the back of a pickup truck (adorned by a large advertisement for Oasis Aqualounge, a heterosexual sex club that allows only heterosexual couples and single women) were decided safe, even though they were political. “Queer rights now,” “An army of lovers will never be defeated” and “Stonewall, never again” were the chants led by the emcee.

Yes, there were lots of flags, colours, fabulous get-ups, dancing and beautiful queer people in the streets. But politics? This journalist begs to differ.

Said Linus Wyle, 48: “Although there was much chanting, and everyone was paying much-deserved respect to marches in the 1980s and early 1990s that I attended, it ultimately was more of a tribute than an actual demonstration. The level of anger in the shadow of the bathhouse raids was much greater -- as was the anger due to the life-and-death struggle of the later AIDS epidemic before life-saving drugs became more accessible to some Torontonians. So compared to queer protests and the earliest pride marches it seemed more a celebration of memory. That in itself is worthwhile, but not the same as what was being commemorated."

In fact, the “march” had much more in common with the corporate Pride than the early Pride or St. Christopher Street Parades.  Rather than a visit to the prison or police station like the marches that Stonewall T.O. purported to reclaim, the parade made a beeline for the safety of the Village.  It was clear organizers were trying to avoid the anti-police nature of Stonewall, and only in name did the event bear any resemblance to the riots that ignited the rights movement in the western world.

Despite chanting “queer rights now,” the crowd made no specific demands of anyone: not the police, the public, Rob Ford or Parliament. The crowd included political powerhouses such as QUAIA (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid), who bowed out of Pride in order to pressure Rob Ford into admitting his own homophobia prevented him from approving of Pride’s funding, and yet the organizers were not willing to lead anything more confrontational than “queer rights now.”

The placating tone of the event went so far that the third chant led by the emcee was “never again,” shouted after hearing “You say Stonewall, I say...” At Stonewall, queer people fought against police oppression and brutality and won. At Stonewall, the marginalized of our community -- trans-women, people of colour, the poor -- all fought because they couldn’t take it anymore, not because their darling Judy Garland had just died. If you ask me, I would like to see Stonewall again and again, until the brutality ends.

I would like to see a parade march past a prison and let the disproportionate percentage of queer people inside know that we are still fighting tooth and stiletto for their freedom and for true equality, or to the courts and the police stations and to let them know that their days of oppressing us are coming to a close. What if we could have a parade that marches to the embassies and demands that our queer family throughout the world be given dignity and equality, and that laws like the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda be stricken from the table forever? A parade, a march that is not afraid of civil disobedience or making real demands.  “Queer rights now” is nice and all, but means nothing when we go nowhere where we haven’t already carved out a community. The Village is not the place where change will happen.

There was no anger in this march.  Toronto seems to have forgotten that we have much in Canada and the world to fuel outrage It calls to question what the word “queer” means.  Has “queer” left the realm of critical thought and anti-oppression and manifested its own culture, merely to be consumed by it?


Socialize:
Want more grassroots coverage?
Join the Media Co-op today.
930 words

Comments

Confused about the point of STONEWALL TO?

Did we want to start a fight with police in the middle of the street and give a reason to increase the police presence in the village? So by creating a feeling of anti-police sentiment we improve awareness of queer issues? So the writer bel...ieves it would have been in our best interest to act as anarchists and create a poor public response to our march? I don't think this was the direction of the organizers and rightfully so. This event was meant to celebrate the achievements of stonewall and the fact we no longer have to go to the extreme of rioting. If we riot we prove why they chose to marginalize us to begin with which actually sets us back! Oh btw Oasis Lounge hold events for queer females and their partners. Not only straight people. Get your facts straight before you start throwing stones and inciting riots in the streets over misinformed opinions.

  A group of people spent an

 

A group of people spent an entire month organizing this march with absolutely no funding whatsoever. We asked for no city permits to march.

As you probably know from your own experience organizing unpermitted marches, the police show up. Despite the fact that we had spent weeks planning, getting volunteer medics, legal observers and 40 volunteer marshals trained, there was little we could do about their totally unnecessary presence.

Before we began the march, a group of people we feared were undercover officers wearing costumes, began inciting people. We documented them, because we didn’t want them inciting unnecessary violence, as they are known to do in Black Bloc groups. They went away.

There were a few people who became agitated and wanted us to take on the police. As I was marshaling close to a group of queer moms and their children, I didn’t feel compelled at that very moment to risk their safety to grandstand. The cops did not assist us nor did we want them to—they simply created an irritating presence—we had it covered, doing our own marshaling and ignoring them. Believe me, I was stewed that after a month of organizing something with a dedicated group of volunteers, the police got to show up and look like they were helping us out. They do this at Take Back the Night as well. It sucks.

 

Oasis, which does not just allow straight couples and single women in but hosts a variety of events that welcome people of all genders, generously donated a sound truck for the event. They are fucking awesome.

 

As we arrived at the 519, where we had agreed to meet up with a collective known as Back To Our Roots (we in fact changed our original route in order to correspond with their event so people could attend both) also doing their own celebration of events such as Stonewall, an insane woman in a car almost ran over a pregnant person. This was stressful and as we worked to deescalate the situation on our own the police intervened. A novice marshal was being picked on and rather than have her screamed at by an aggressive and racist woman, we chose to get out of the situation.

The reason we encouraged people off the street is not because the police demanded we do so, but because someone tried to run over a pregnant person. The commotion was creating unnecessary stress. I did not feel compelled to foster this stress on behalf of a small group of people at the risk of further injuring a pregnant person. At that point, our 40 marshals, who had been instructed to stay on the streets until the crowd dispersed, were not going to stand there marshaling six people. There were several young anarchists demanding we fight with the cops. (One of whom remained masked during the entire march but removed his mask at the end. What was the point of this? To intimidate the group of lesbian moms he was skipping around ominously? God that was fucking boring). If this person felt that one of the marshals asking them why they were wearing a mask during the march (to which I replied “They’re anarchists. They wear masks sometimes”) was a threat to leave, I have to wonder what he would have done in the event of a real threat. “Stonewall was about fighting the cops,” one of them said to me. Yes, it was. It was about fighting the cops when the cops were being abusive. If you want to fight the cops while simultaneously keeping your eye on a group of mothers because the cops have become present,  be my guest. My priority is not to a bunch of entitled, deliberately antagonistic teenagers. If the cops had gone near the mothers I would have certainly done something. I expect that entitled anarchist teens can fend for themselves.

Inciting violence for violence sake is not radical. And just to be clear, when the shit really does hit the fan? I’ve got your ass so hard my hand will come out your mouth. 

Calling the cops stopping

Calling the cops stopping traffic for the march pigs and telling them to leave is hardly anti-police oppression chanting. I certianly agree that we need to do more to challenge police oppression in this city, but yelling "pigs go home!" isn't challenging police oppression or doing anything to stop police brutality. Its not like they were chanting against the police abuses of our civil rights or against police brutality or any other legitimate cause, they were just chanting "Pigs go home/get lost" and so on. I admit I was uncomfortable having the police there and wished they would have left us alone but if those who claim to challenge police oppression are serious they need to do a lot better than just telling the cops present to get lost.

Its not like they were saying anything at all about police oppression and brutality, they never even mentioned anything about that in their signs or their chants. Perhaps they just weren't prepared or creative enough to come up with chants or signs that expressed views like the ones outlined in this article, that's not the fault of the march organizers but those who came to protest against the police but came unprepared to actually do so. The  march organizers made it clear that they weren't providing causes for people to fight for, those attending were supposed to bring their own causes and to be prepared to protest around those causes themselves, again just because they weren't prepared to do so isn't the fault of the orgainizers but those who intended to protest against the police.

However I do agree that the route chosen wasn't the most effective, while marching on Queen St on a Sunday would have had more impact it also would have made for a very long march that would have been difficult for many in attendance. However in my opinion Colege St would have been a better choice since there are more stores, restauants and people ine general on College on a Sunday than on Wellesley, plus we would have passed police headquarters which would have given those there to protest police oppression and brutality a better target, but again they would have had to been better preapred to make an actual statement against the police than they were. To me it seemed those chanting for the cops to get lost were more concerned with projecting a certain image of themselves than projecting any message against the police. At least other groups with other causes made actual statements about their causes whether through their signs or their chanting. if there's going to be any effective protesting against the police then those doing so need to get more serious about their message than their image.

  A group of people spent an

 

A group of people spent an entire month organizing this march with absolutely no funding whatsoever. We asked for no city permits to march.

As you probably know from your own experience organizing unpermitted marches, the police show up. Despite the fact that we had spent weeks planning, getting volunteer medics, legal observers and 40 volunteer marshals trained, there was little we could do about their totally unnecessary presence.

Before we began the march, a group of people we feared were undercover officers wearing costumes, began provoking people. We documented them, because we didn’t want them inciting unnecessary violence, as they are known to do in Black Bloc groups. They went away.

 

There were a few people who became agitated and wanted us to take on the police. As I was marshaling close to a group of queer moms and their children, I didn’t feel compelled at that very moment to risk their safety to grandstand. The cops did not assist us nor did we want them to—they simply created an irritating presence—we had it covered, doing our own marshaling and ignoring them. Believe me, I was stewed that after a month of organizing something with a dedicated group of volunteers, the police got to show up and look like they were helping us out. They do this at Take Back the Night as well. It sucks.

 

Oasis, which does not just allow straight couples and single women in but hosts a variety of events that welcome people of all genders, generously donated a sound truck for the event. They are fucking awesome.

 

As we arrived at the 519, where we had agreed to meet up with a collective known as Back To Our Roots (we in fact changed our original route in order to correspond with their event so people could attend both) also doing their own celebration of events such as Stonewall, an insane woman in a car almost ran over a pregnant person. This was stressful and as we worked to deescalate the situation on our own the police intervened. A novice marshal was being picked on and rather than have her screamed at by an aggressive and racist woman, we chose to get out of the situation.

 

The reason we encouraged people off the street is not because the police demanded we do so, but because someone tried to run over a pregnant person. The commotion was creating unnecessary stress. I did not feel compelled to foster this stress on behalf of a small group of people at the risk of further injuring a pregnant person. At that point, our 40 marshals, who had been instructed to stay on the streets until the crowd dispersed, were not going to stand there marshaling six people. There were several young anarchists demanding we fight with the cops. (One of whom remained masked during the entire march but removed his mask at the end. What was the point of this? To intimidate the group of lesbian moms he was skipping around ominously? God that was fucking boring). If this person felt that one of the marshals asking them why they were wearing a mask during the march (to which I replied “They’re anarchists. They wear masks sometimes”) was a threat to leave, I have to wonder what he would have done in the event of a real threat. “Stonewall was about fighting the cops,” one of them said to me. Yes, it was. It was about fighting the cops when the cops were being abusive. If you want to deliberately provoke the cops while simultaneously keeping your eye on a group of mothers, be my guest. My priority is not to a bunch of entitled, deliberately antagonistic teenagers. If the cops had gone near the mothers I would have certainly done something. I expect that entitled anarchist teens can fend for themselves.

Inciting violence for violence sake is not radical. And just to be clear, when the shit really does hit the fan? I’ve got your ass so hard my hand will come out your mouth. 

having attended this

having attended this demonstration i agree with this article completely. this event looked almost exactly like the corporate pride events i've been to but with token chanting added. and the chanting was never explicit or pointed, if you didn't know what stonewall was going in you might not know leaving.  i was inspired to see that  group of young anarchists, seemingly the only ones there who remembered that (as their chant went) stonewall was a riot. i was less encouraged to see the marshals and emcees politely but repeatedly trying to shut them up. i did not see them actually attack the police or do anything to escalate the situation or endanger anyone in practice, all i saw was energy and anger, something the rest of the demo lacked.  are you really going to call an event "stonewall t.o," and act suprised when people show up pissed at the cops? sad.

having attended this

having attended this demonstration i agree with this article completely. this event looked almost exactly like the corporate pride events i've been to but with token chanting added. and the chanting was never explicit or pointed, if you didn't know what stonewall was going in you might not know leaving.  i was inspired to see that  group of young anarchists, seemingly the only ones there who remembered that (as their chant went) stonewall was a riot. i was less encouraged to see the marshals and emcees politely but repeatedly trying to shut them up. i did not see them actually attack the police or do anything to escalate the situation or endanger anyone in practice, all i saw was energy and anger, something the rest of the demo lacked.  are you really going to call an event "stonewall t.o," and act suprised when people show up pissed at the cops? sad.

Join the media co-op today
Things the Media Co-op does: Support
Things the Media Co-op does: Report
Things the Media Co-op does: Network
Things the Media Co-op does: Educate
Things the Media Co-op does: Discover
Things the Media Co-op does: Cooperate
Things the Media Co-op does: Build
Things the Media Co-op does: Amplify

User login


Google+
Subscribe to the Dominion $25/year

The Media Co-op's flagship publication features in-depth reporting, original art, and the best grassroots news from across Canada and beyond. Sign up now!