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?