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Discuss the well-known slogan “Black Lives Matter”. What were activists attempting to communicate by framing their movement in this manner?

In the supplement article assigned this week, the author introduces the debate surrounding whether or not members of LGBTQ communities are “just like everyone else” or, as some advocate, should celebrate their difference. Which of these positions do you think is a better strategy? Why?  What are the implication for the queer political agenda?

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Queer inclusion precludes (Black) queer disruption: media analysis of the

Black lives matter Toronto sit-in during Toronto Pride 2016

Article  in  Leisure Studies · May 2018

DOI: 10.1080/02614367.2018.1468475




1 author:

Some of the authors of this publication are also working on these related projects:

“It’s just safer when I don’t enter the change room”: Establishing strategies for fostering the inclusion of transgender and gender non-binary individuals in locker

rooms. View project

Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health and Vulnerability of Sexual and Gender Minorities living in Toronto View project

Ali Greey

University of Toronto



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Queer inclusion precludes (Black) queer disruption: media analysis of the Black lives matter Toronto sit-in during Toronto Pride 2016 Ali Greey

Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

ABSTRACT During the 2016 Toronto Pride Parade, an annual leisure event which attracts thousands of spectators, the group designated by Pride Toronto as the ‘Honoured Group,’ Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLM-TO), held a sit- in to raise attention to what they termed anti-Black racism in both Pride Toronto and the Toronto Police Service. I employ a qualitative content analysis to examine reports in queer and mainstream media. I identify three thematic representations apparent in many reports: a narrative of terrorism, a discourse framing BLM-TO as an aggressor, and language identifying BLM-TO as an outsider to the queer community. The discus- sion section seeks to examine how media reports removed the action from the context of racism in which BLM-TO asserts the action occurred. I also examine how, through a disavowal of BLM-TO and the sit-in, a sense of Canadian and queer community was reasserted. I also suggest that BLM-TO’s sit-in disrupted the legitimacy of the discourse of Canadian multiculturalism. Finally, I argue that the paucity of reports on the action in queer media outlets suggests that issues of racism come to be relegated to the periphery through a larger process of centring Whiteness within the identity category of ‘queer.’

ARTICLE HISTORY Received 28 January 2018 Accepted 17 April 2018

KEYWORDS Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trasngender, Transsexual, Queer (LGBTTQ); Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLM-TO); homonationalism; anti-Black racism; leisure event

This paper takes as a point of departure the sit-in organised by Black Lives Matter-Toronto (BLM- TO) at the 2016 Toronto Pride Parade. Through an analysis of how BLM-TO disrupted the narrative of Pride Toronto’s ‘Honoured Group,’ I will demonstrate how Canadian and American queer1 and mainstream media responded to the event, operating to position BLM-TO as an outsider to an imagined Canadian queer community while affirming national narratives of racialised and queer inclusion. Through an analysis of how imagined communities come to be constructed (Anderson, 2006), I suggest that the boundaries of a Toronto and, more broadly, the Canadian queer community were reaffirmed through a disavowal of BLM-TO’s action. Examining the paucity of reporting on the event within North American queer media outlets, I propose that issues of systemic anti-Black racism may have been overwhelmingly dismissed as irrelevant to queer communities. My analysis contributes to a growing body of literature raising difficult questions about how both implicit and explicit racism operates within queer communities and in the construction of the concept queer. Finally, I suggest that the centring of Whiteness within the identity category queer is part of a larger process characterised by the appropriation from and erasure of queer and transgender individuals of colour, a historical amnesia that is demonstrated both in media reporting on the BLM-TO sit-in as well as in the (mis)representations of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the event which sparked the modern Pride movement. Through their sit- in and list of demands, BLM-TO not only disrupted of the Toronto Pride leisure event, but also

CONTACT Ali Greey [email protected]

LEISURE STUDIES 2018, VOL. 37, NO. 6, 662–676 https://doi.org/10.1080/02614367.2018.1468475

© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Grouphttp://orcid.org/0000-0002-5882-1560http://www.tandfonline.comhttp://crossmark.crossref.org/dialog/?doi=10.1080/02614367.2018.1468475&domain=pdf

threatened the legitimacy of dominant notions of Canadian multiculturalism, homonormativity, and homonationalism.

Critical event studies emerge as a notable field of inquiry, one that offers significant and distinct ontological insights into a scholarly understanding of leisure events. Ian Lamond, considered by many to be a pioneer in the field asserts that ‘. . . all “events” are contested, multiple, layered, and complex. . .’ (2018, p. 38). Lamond eschews a universal definition or interpretation of event, instead suggesting that possible conceptions of an event-cum-text are diverse and manifold. The emerging field of critical event studies offers scholars a conceptual tool for rendering visible hegemonic structures of power within societies. In Sports Events, Society and Culture, Daspher, Fletcher, and McCullough (2014) posit that ‘. . . sports events are not benign, whimsical leisure pursuits, devoid of political meaning; rather they are serious spaces which should encourage critical engagement with these issues’ (p. 6). Similarly, Lamond and Platt (2016) describe critical event studies as ‘motivated by a desire to engage in an emancipatory and liberatory activity, one rooted in a concern for the people and places impacted by events. . .’ (p. 5).

Recently sporting mega-events have received significant scholarly attention (see for example, Horne, 2007; Lenskyj, 2014; Rojek, 2012; Sykes, 2017; Travers & Shearman, 2017). Despite the examinations of sporting mega-events, Pride events remain underexplored within the field of leisure studies. A notable exception includes Jayne Caudwell’s (2018) analysis of Baltic and European Pride events. In this text, Caudwell asserts that a dearth of scholarship addresses human rights events (p. 49). Another exception is Ian Lamond’s (2018) autoethnographic exploration of the 2017 São Paulo Pride Parade. He describes the event as characterised by ‘[t]he commodification and erasure of dissent’ (2018, p. 43), a particularly intriguing assertion considering Lamond’s interest in studying protest as a form of an event (see Lamond & Spracklen, 2015).

Lamond’s characterisation of the São Paulo Pride Parade also parallels the de-politicisation of the Toronto Pride Parade, the event in which the BLM-TO’s sit-in occurred. The Toronto Pride Parade can be characterised as an event that began as a protest but has become a leisure event characterised by state involvement and corporate endorsement. BLM-TO’s action can, within this context, be understood as an attempt to return Pride to its functional roots as a protest event.

The Toronto Pride Parade began in 1981 in response to a military-style raid on gay bathhouses by the Toronto Police Service (Dryden & Lenon, 2015). The raid, named Operation Soap, was intended to supposedly purify the city of the menace of homosexuality and resulted in the arrest of over 300 gay men. Today, the Toronto Pride Parade is attended by thousands each year and is sponsored by corporate entities such as Toronto-Dominion Bank and Mercedes-Benz, as well as the Government of Canada (Pride Toronto, 2017).

Each year, Pride Toronto designates an ‘Honoured Group’ to march at the front of the Pride Parade. Pride Toronto frequently invites queer and transgender individuals of colour from the Global South to fill these roles.2 Arguably, selecting these seemingly once-oppressed-now-free queers to lead the parade reinforces an image of the Canadian nation-state and Pride Toronto as multicultural and exceptional. This narrative draws upon what Mimi Thi Nguyen (2012) has described as the gift of freedom, a bestowal which demonstrates the benevolence of the liberal state, while simultaneously endowing the state with a power over the indebted migrant (p. 8). In May 2016, Pride Toronto designated BLM-TO as the Honoured Group in recognition of their work publicising anti-Black violence within the Toronto Police Service.

The action

During the 3 July 2016 Toronto Pride Parade, BLM-TO held a non-violent sit-in which delayed the festivities for roughly 30 min. The truck that carried BLM-TO’s float slowed to a halt in the middle of an intersection on the parade route. BLM-TO co-founder Alexandria Williams


dismounted the float and addressed the crowd through a megaphone, describing the fear that she feels when her partner (whom she identified as Black and gender non-binary) leaves their home.

Williams’ reflections upon Toronto Pride celebrations and the discrimination particular to racialised queers addressed why BLM-TO disrupted the parade:

Even though we are celebrating Pride, and giving folks the opportunity to live their life, there’s still a group – black folks and people of colour – who are still very much criminalized for their queerness and are not safe. (Williams, as cited in Mann, 2016)

Through foregrounding the experiences of racialised queers, Williams’ comments directly chal- lenged the image of Canada as a colour-blind sanctuary for queers. Under the relentless July sun, hundreds of supporters sat on the asphalt in solidarity with BLM-TO. Pressed against the yellow gates lining the parade route, a crowd of onlookers, many with rainbow umbrellas and feather boas, stirred with audible discontent. A chant directing the group to “Move that truck!” gained volume. Heckles and derisive jeers from the overwhelmingly White crowd threatened to drown out activist Rodney Diverlus as he read out BLM-TO’s list of demands for Pride Toronto. After Diverlus called out ‘Black Lives!’ a small, but audible ‘Matter!’ responded. This chant continued several times before Diverlus announced that Mathieu Chantelois, the then executive director of Pride Toronto, had signed the group’s list of demands. The supporters seated on the concrete rose to resume the parade. Several on-lookers yelled ‘All Lives Matter!’ as the truck carrying the BLM- TO float restarted its engine and continued along the parade route. In an interview after the sit-in, Alexandria Williams offered further comments upon the conditions that necessitated the BLM- TO-led intervention:

There’s been a lot of . . . folks asking how we could be the honoured group (for Pride) but act in such a way. The reality is the way that Pride handles Black Lives Matter Toronto, the way Pride handles blackness, the way Pride handles black LGBT youth is abysmal. (Williams, as cited in Krishnan, 2016)

Williams’ comments actively dismiss representations of BLM-TO as disruptive and instead insist that Pride’s practices created the conditions which led to the sit-in.

BLM-TO’s list of demands to Pride Toronto included: More diversity in staffing, a commit- ment to hiring a greater number of Black ASL interpreters, increased funding and autonomy for community spaces such as Black Queer Youth, and most controversially, the exclusion of police floats and uniformed police officers in future parades. The day following the action, Chantelois revoked his signature, indicating that ‘what I did [Sunday] was made the parade move’ (Hong & Edwards, 2016). Despite Chantelois’ withdrawal, in January 2017 a significant majority of Pride Toronto’s membership voted to adopt BLM-TO’s demands (Mann, 2017). As a result, no uniformed police officers marched in the 2017 Toronto Pride Parade. Nonetheless, Alexandria Williams has been openly critical of Chantelois’ decision to renege on his support, asserting that ‘Black Lives Matter and Black LGBT community does not have a place in Pride Toronto. He [Chantelois] has actively made sure to push us out by flip-flopping on his stance of solidarity with us’ (Williams, as cited in Krishnan, 2016). Here Williams appears to allude to how Chantelois’ refusal to identify with BLM-TO and their imperative has impacted the group, resulting in their action being dismissed as an issue unrelated to queer rights, a dismissal which operates to further alienate BLM-TO from queer consideration.

Although BLM-TO delayed the parade for about 30 min, the main disruption the group imposed was to challenge the legitimacy of the superficially inclusive narrative of the Honoured Group; a disruption which pushed the group outside the dictates of respectable settler colonial citizenship, and thus queer consideration. Pride Toronto’s invitation for BLM-TO to play the role of Honoured Group represented a symbolic gesture of solidarity as well as an apparent unfami- liarity with BLM-TO’s methods of disruptive pedagogy. When BLM-TO used their role as the Honoured Group as a platform for raising difficult questions about anti-Black racism within Pride, it inspired a media maelstrom.

664 A. GREEY

BLM-TO’s sit-in has sparked discussions about the role of uniformed police officer involve- ment in Pride Parades across North America. Uniformed police officers have been withdrawn from the Pride Parade in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Pearson, 2017); the action has also inspired Black Lives Matter-led debates about the role of police in Pride events in Ottawa, Ontario (Malyk, 2017), and San Francisco, California (Wong, 2016). BLM-TO’s sit-in sparked BLM-led disruptions in 2017 Pride parades in Vancouver, British Columbia (Azpiri, 2017); Minneapolis, Minnesota (Savransky, 2017); Washington, DC (Olson, 2017); Cincinnati, Ohio (Curnutte, 2017); Seattle, Washington (Grinberg, 2017); Columbus, Ohio (Gribble & Rutono-Johnson, 2017); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Hajeli, 2017); Chicago, Illinois (Massey, 2017); and New York City (Gibian, 2017). The burgeoning of these BLM-led Pride protests speaks to Caudwell’s assertion that ‘[g]lobal manifestations of Pride are uneven, and yet, they are connected’ (2018, p. 53). The proliferation of BLM-led actions sparked by BLM-TO’s sit-in suggests that greater insight is needed into the context surrounding the initial action, the group’s motivation for it, as well as BLM-TO’s method of leisure event protest used for this action.

In her book, Terrorist Assemblages, Jasbir Puar outlines the concept of homonationalism. Puar describes one facet of this concept as the process through which the state confers legitimacy and respectability upon white, middle class queers (2007). Puar argues that in exchange, these queers are recruited to typify the nation-state’s tolerance and benevolence. This process allows the nation-state to ‘maintain its homophobic and xenophobic stances while capitalising on its untarnished image of inclusion, diversity and tolerance’ (Puar, 2007, p. 26). With a Canadian prime minister who has marched in Pride parades across the country, Canada may appear tolerant. Despite this supposed tolerance, the viability of Canadian discourses of multiculturalism may be dependent upon the silencing of voices calling out for recognition of racial injustices. This paper suggests that BLM-TO activists have been villainised for asserting that this acceptance of sexual diversity is not extended equally to all queers.

Methodological overview

The theoretical framework for this paper follows a queer of colour critique and queer diasporic critique, through the work of scholars such as Roderick Ferguson (2005), Sarah Ahmed (2006), and Jasbir Puar (2007) who have argued that queer politics’ tendency to push issues of racism to the periphery serves to replicate a logic of racism. Embedded in the theoretical framework of this paper is also the work of critical race theorists and postcolonial scholars Sherene Razack (1998) and Sunera Thobani (2007) who have demonstrated how the viability of national discourses of multiculturalism depends upon the silencing of voices calling out for recognition of racial injustices.

To investigate the thematic constructs present in media reports describing the BLM-TO sit-in, I performed a qualitative content analysis on primary news documents reporting on the action. Content analysis offers a systematic approach to studying the characteristics of messages commu- nicated through text (Holsti, 1969). Traditionally, content analysis research methods were only perceived as legitimate when they produced data which adhered to positivist requirements for statistical and enumerated results (Kaplan & Goldsen, 1949). The traditional quantitative approach has been critiqued by scholars arguing that more meaningful and accurate inferences arise from qualitative content analysis than they do from quantitative content analysis (Auerbach & Silverstein, 2003; Kracauer, 1953). Today, across myriad disciplines, qualitative content analysis is a widely accepted research method (Altheide, 1996). Holsti (1969) has described how the aim of qualitative content analysis research is to describe the attributes of messages, the intentions behind messages (encoding), and the effect of these messages (decoding). My research attempts the first two aims: first, to describe the attributes of the media reports, and second, to offer speculation into the socio-ideological context of the encoding process (Hall, 1973).

The research performed in this study also compares how attributes in these reports differed between two media subsets, those I denote as queer media and mainstream media.3 The


conceptual umbrella category of queer has been challenged by a queer of colour critique. Martin Manalansan (2005), for example, describes how the colourblind logic of queer politics tends to portray the differences between white queers and queers of colour as immaterial, a portrayal which, as the media reports on the action affirm, tends to render the experiences of queers of colour invisible (2005, p. 143). With an awareness of the multiple tensions present in the term queer, for this paper I employ queer media to denote media outlets that explicitly cater to a LGBTQ readership. Conversely, I define mainstream media as outlets which are not specifically written for a queer readership. Holsti (1969) describes how researchers can test hypotheses using qualitative content analyses to ‘compar[e] the messages produced by two or more different sources. Usually the purpose is to relate theoretically significant attributes of communicators to differences in the messages they produce’ (1969, p. 30, emphasis added). Seeking to identify trends in how these two media subsets reported upon the BLM-TO sit-in, I sought to explore not only the differences in the thematic constructs which appear in these outlets’ reports, but also the similarities.


I collected online and in-print articles from 19 North American news outlets. In total, I reviewed 40 articles. News articles were identified through a Google web search. All articles which made reference to BLM-TO and the 2016 Toronto Pride sit-in were included. In the first phase of data collection, I reviewed all material published in news media that included immediate reports of the BLM-TO action itself (written between July and September 2016). In the second phase of data collection I also examined reports covering two events stimulated by the action: a Pride Toronto council meeting where the membership voted to adopt many of BLM-TO’s demands, and an initiative led by Toronto city councillors to defund Pride Toronto as a result of the membership’s vote to adopt BLM-TO’s demands (these articles were written between July 2016 and April 2017). In the final phase of data collection, I reviewed reports on similar Black Lives Matter interventions in Pride Parades across North America in the summer of 2017 (written between June and July of 2017). My rationale for including this third phase was two-fold: First, that these interventions employed similar tactics and demands as the 2016 BLM-TO Pride Parade intervention had, and second, that organisers of these actions often explicitly referenced the BLM-TO action.

Articles were collected from numerous mainstream and queer Canadian and American media outlets. Canadian mainstream outlets included: CBC News, Chatelaine, CP24, Global News, Globe and Mail, Huffington Post, Metro News, National Post, Now Toronto, Torontoist, Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, and Vice. I also collected data from mainstream American media sources Fox News, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post, which had also reported upon the event. To compare the two media subsets, I also reviewed Canadian and America queer media. An exhaustive search for Canadian queer media reports on the event produced only articles from Daily Xtra Toronto and Daily Xtra Vancouver. I observed a significant absence of reporting of the event in other Canadian queer outlets such as Fugues, Gay Calgary.com, Outwords, Plenitude and Wayves. An investigation of American queer media outlets such as OUT, Gay People’s Chronicle, LGBT Today, GayZette, and The Rainbow Times yielded few results on reports covering the action. I observed a notable exception in the American queer periodical, The Advocate. My research suggests that, in compar- ison to mainstream media outlets, American and Canadian queer media outlets reported little on the action.

After collecting the 40 articles for review, the first level of my reading served to code content for the emergence of dominant themes. These themes were inductively generated by identifying repeated keywords and representations in the reports. My second level of reading involved coordinating the themes identified during the first reading into prominent thematic constructs (Auerbach & Silverstein, 2003). My final level of reading included comparing and contrasting

666 A. GREEY

these thematic constructs within the two media subsets. The following thematic constructs were identified in the reports: first, a narrative of terrorism, second, a discourse representing the group as an aggressor, and third, language framing BLM-TO as an outsider. Although I had, at the beginning of my content analysis, deductively expected to observe more sympathetic reporting from queer media, as I will describe in the sections to follow, I observed that queer and main- stream media became strange bedfellows, converging in their reports to frame BLM-TO as terrorising, aggressors, and outsiders of the queer community. My analysis seeks to explore how, through these reports, conceptions of what constitutes a queer identity is constrained by what Lisa Duggan (2002) calls homonormativity. Following the work of Martin Manalansan (2005) and C. Winter Han (Han, 2007, 2015), my analysis seeks to examine how an understanding of shared queerness is contingent upon a shared Whiteness. For the reader’s reference I have included the name of the media outlet in brackets beside the reference, for example [Los Angeles Times] (Kirchick, 2016).


Narrative of terrorism

Since 9/11, terrorist discourses have intensified in their ability to evoke virulent racism (Grewal, 2003). In Terrifying Muslims Junaid Rana (2011) argues:

In the aftermath of the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center and elsewhere on 11 September 2001, Muslims and Islam came to the foreground of the national imagination in the U.S. as a threat and an enemy. This was followed by a backlash against Muslims and “terrorist-looking” populations. . . (2011, p. 16).

Although the members of BLM-TO do not immediately fit the image of Muslim and thus ‘terrorist-looking’ individuals, as supposedly ‘militant’ and racialised activists their resemblance perhaps comes close enough. Rana further argues that Islam is intimately linked to the inception of racial categories and thus of modern racial domination (2011, p. 25). This entanglement between terrorism, Islam, and racialization appears to make the news reports use of a discourse of terrorism particularly precarious.

Both queer and mainstream media framed BLM-TO’s sit-in as terrorising. Mainstream media in Toronto, for example City Pulse 24, reported that the Pride Parade had been ‘hijacked’ (Freeman, 2016). The Toronto Sun ran the headline ‘Black Lives Matter Hijack Pride Toronto’ (Levy, 2016). Nationally, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) joined the media melee, identifying the action as ‘hijacking’ (CBC News, 2016). Even the Fox News network in the US weighed in, describing the sit-in as a ‘successful hijack’ (Marchal, 2016). Nearly a year after the action, queer voices such as Ray Lam’s were broadcast through mainstream media to accuse BLM-TO of ‘holding the queer community hostage’ [Georgia Straight] (Lam, 2017). And Daily Xtra, a Canadian queer periodical identified the action as a ‘stand-off’ (Mann, 2016). The National Post quoted Toronto Police Association President, Mike McCormack, who commented on the sit-in: ‘Not only did it hijack the parade, it hijacked the purpose’ (Hensley, 2016). A consistent thread in both mainstream and queer media reporting is a representation of BLM-TO as criminal and terrorising. This representation is significant in its capacity to justify the refusal of consideration of the group’s demands. Through referencing the rhetoric of terrorism, these reports implicitly draw upon Western panics of national security and Islamophobia to deny the legitimacy of BLM-TO’s claims.


Media reports repeatedly drew upon a discourse representing BLM-TO as aggressive and challen- ging their intentions for the action. The group was accused of ‘forc[ing] organisers to agree. . .’


[Fox News] (Marchal, 2016), ‘bullying and intimidation’ [Globe and Mail] (Wente, 2016), and ‘bullying’ [Los Angeles Times] (Kirchick, 2016). The action was described as ‘belligerent’ [Globe and Mail] (Wente, 2016), a ‘direct attack’ [Toronto Sun] (Levy, 2016), ‘contemptible’ [La Times] (Kirchick, 2016), and ‘shameful’ [National Post] (Hensley, 2016). Headlines frame BLM-TO, not Pride, as the problem: ‘Hatred Shakes Black Lives Matter Toronto Credibility’ [Toronto Sun] (Marin, 2017) and ‘The Bullies of Black Lives Matter’ [Globe and Mail] (Wente, 2016). The action was described as aiming to ‘disrupt’ [Toronto Star] (Jamieson, 2016), and employing ‘divisive tactics’ by a Black queer essayist Orville Loyd Douglas [CBC] (Douglas, 2017). Quotations are included that suggest BLM-TO’s interest is in holding the city to ransom for its own narrow and exploitative ends: ‘[BLM-TO’s list of demands] calls for money gussied up in the language of “social justice”’ [La Times] (Kirchick, 2016). Statements in a commentary piece in The Toronto Star communicated a sense that BLM-TO is ungrateful to a tolerant host who has extended a hand of welcome: ‘after being given honorary status, it was shameful of Black Lives Matters to disrupt the parade’ (Jamieson, 2016). The representation of BLM-TO’s sit-in as an act of aggression is significant because, like a narrative of terrorism this thematic construct works to illegitimate the group’s demands.


Media reports frequently used language framing BLM-TO as an outsider to Toronto and Canadian queer communities. Engaging queer voices, such as Mark Jamieson’s, mainstream media establishes BLM-TO’s outsider status through assertions that ‘BLM has absolutely nothing to do with the gay, lesbian, transgendered community’ [Toronto Star] (Jamieson, 2016). BLM-TO is accused of ‘stealing our voice and power as a community’ [Georgia Straight] (Lam, 2017), of having the audacity ‘to make it all about themselves’ [National Post] (Urback, 2016), and of operating ‘for their own political agenda’ [Toronto Star] (Jamieson, 2016). In a Los Angeles Times opinion editorial, James Kirchick poses a rhetorical question emphasising the divide between BLM-TO and the Canadian queer community: ‘Gay people must ask themselves: Do they really want to be implicated with a movement that views the very concept of law enforcement as a racist conspiracy?’ (2016). The headline from Vancouver’s Georgia Straight ‘Black Lives Matter and Pride: No one wins when you rain on our parade’ (Lam, 2017) demonstrates how the action was framed; as unrelated to queer rights. In a CBC News opinion piece titled ‘I’m [B]lack and gay: Black Lives Matter Toronto doesn’t speak for me,’ Orville Loyd Douglas deplores BLM-TO’s tactics. Despite the fact that a significant number of BLM-TO’s members vocally self-identify as queer, the prevalence of this outsider discourse operates to distance BLM-TO from the queer community, and thus queer consideration.


Contextualising the action

As the Findings section suggests, media reports overwhelmingly framed BLM-TO as an agent of terrorism, an aggressor, and an outsider without discussing the socio-political context from which the action arose. Together, these related but distinct thematic constructs serve to reinforce a queer imaginary which envisions queerness as conditional upon Whiteness. BLM- TO’s list of demands demonstrate that the sit-in was initiated in response to perceptions of discriminatory hiring and funding practices within Pride Toronto, as well as anti-Black racism in the Toronto Police Service.

Through the process that Puar (2007) calls homonationalism, the nation-state and affiliated institutions extend the economic, political, and social rights of heterosexual citizenship to queer subjects; for example, the right to marriage, non-discriminatory health care, and to police

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protection. Through extending these rights to queer subjects, rights that many argue should be inalienable regardless of sexuality, the nation-state exploits an image of benevolence and exception- alism. BLM-TO’s demands are implicitly critical of these claims for benevolence and exceptionalism, arguing that these rights are not extended to queer individuals by the nation-state by generosity nor duty, but rather by the relentless work of queer activists. As both Puar (2007) and BLM-TO argue, this process of homonationalism serves to delineate queers according to criteria for White, homo- normative respectability. White, middle class queers have only recently become eligible for police protection from the panic of what Puar terms ‘sexual-racial others’ (2007, p. 26), Black, Brown, and Muslim bodies who threaten the respectable homonormative citizen. Moreover, as Puar suggests, the privileges associated with homonationalism necessitate the disavowal of these sexual-racial others. Accordingly, the extension of these previously retained rights to white middle-class queers is used to justify the abrogation of these rights to racialised, low-income, immigrant, and third world groups, an abrogation which informs us both about the space of leisure as well as the racialised space of the nation. The United States, for example, has used its tolerance towards queers as a justification for imperial incursions into supposedly homophobic and thus, ‘backward’ Middle Eastern nations such as Afghanistan and Iran (Puar, 2007). This justification belies the fact that systemic homophobic and transphobic violence is still pervasive in the United States, particularly towards queers of colour (Ahmed, 2006; Garza, 2014; Puar, 2007). BLM-TO’s action disrupted the image of Canada as a tolerant and multicultural queer sanctuary, a disruption that was misrepre- sented by both queer and mainstream media reports in order to defend the Toronto Pride Parade leisure event as an affirmation of the democratic and multicultural nation.

BLM-TO’s sit-in was also initiated in response to what the group has called systemic anti-Blackness within the Toronto Police Service (Khan, 2017). To justify this claim, the group points to the repeated acquittals of Toronto Police officers charged with shooting unarmed Black individuals. BLM-TO has been outspoken in their criticism of how the Toronto Police Service handled the murder of Andrew Loku. Loku, a 45-year-old father and Sudanese Canadian was shot twice, weaponless in his apartment at midnight on 5 July 2015. Loku’s death, which came within a year of police killing Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City sparked a heated debate about racialised police violence within the Toronto Police Service. At the centre of this debate was BLM-TO; the group occupied a Toronto Police Services Board meeting on 16 July 2015, calling for the mayor and chief of police to apologise for the death of Loku (Warnica, 2015). During the meeting Rodney Diverlus, BLM- TO’s co-founder, described the anti-Blackness implicit in Toronto Police Service’s policing: ‘Every single day, [B]lack bodies in this city face violence. Whether it’s carding, whether it’s surveillance, whether it’s physical violence, and whether it’s death. This is life and death for us’ (Diverlus, as cited in Warnica, 2015). After the police officer who shot Andrew Loku was acquitted in March 2016, BLM- TO set up a ‘tent city’ in front of the Toronto Police Services headquarters to protest the acquittal and to draw attention to systemic anti-Black violence within the Toronto Police force. BLM-TO’s tent city remained from 20 March until 4 April 2016, at this time the Provincial Government agreed to meet with the group (Battersby, 2016). Pride Toronto later selected BLM-TO as the Honoured Group in recognition of the group’s tent city initiative, an initiative which clearly demonstrated BLM-TO’s tactics and positionality on policing. Despite an awareness of the group’s history of direct action methods, disapproval erupted in queer and mainstream media reports when the group used their platform as the Honoured Group to draw attention to anti-Black violence within the Toronto Police force. The contingent inclusion of BLM-TO signals a neoliberal positioning of Blackness within the Honoured Group. When BLM-TO refused to relinquish their direct-action tactics, the embodiment of their Blackness became no longer palatable for the larger white queer community and national audience.


Constructing community

The content of both queer and mainstream media reports on the BLM-TO sit-in served to actively delineate the boundaries of an imagined queer community. In his seminal work, Orientalism, Edward Said (2003) describes how a sense of commonality and shared identity within a commu- nity’s membership is established through the construction of an imaginative geography and history (2003). Within queer communities an imaginative history is actively cultivated through a fictitious re-narration of the Stonewall riots of 1969 as a story of white queer resistance (a re-narration that I discuss in more detail below). Additionally, both queer and mainstream media attempted to create an imaginative territory delineating what constitutes queer values, priorities, and opinions. Although Benedict Anderson’s (2006) Imagined Communities was written as a critique of nation- alism, the text offers significant insights into the conceptions of community and shared identity. According to Anderson, the imagined community is formed through shared symbols of national identity, symbols which are transmitted through print capitalism (2006), and now via corporate media enterprises. Following Anderson’s logic, an imagined queer community comes to be shaped and solidified through the media’s vociferous disavowal of BLM-TO’s tactics and demands. Similarly, in her text Queer Phenomenology (2006), Sara Ahmed suggests that communities are formed through ‘. . .their shared orientation toward an object’ (2006, p. 73). According to Ahmed, it is through being directed towards a shared focus that a group comes to be constituted. Accordingly, the disavowal of BLM-TO reflected in queer and mainstream media reports served to strengthen a sense of queer and Canadian community and identity.

BLM-TO’s sit-in and demands not only challenged Pride Toronto’s practices but also threatened the fabric of Canada’s identity as a multicultural and racism-free nation. In her discussion of Canadian multiculturalism, critical race scholar Sunera Thobani has argued that the discourse of Canadian multiculturalism is effective because ‘to reject foundational assump- tions by raising questions about racism is seen to be in bad form or, worse, as acting in bad faith. To do so questions the “good” intentions of nationals in their commitment to tolerance’ (2007, pp. 162–163). BLM-TO threatened these foundational assumptions of Canadian multi- culturalism by calling attention to racism within Pride Toronto and the Toronto Police Service. Furthermore, as Thobani (2007) has suggested, the adoption of Canada’s official Multicultural Policy Act in the early 1970s coincided with the emergence of what Martin Barker (1981) has called the new racism. This shift from racist attitudes in the post-war period which legitimised racism through an explanation that racialised individuals possessed an inferior biology, to the new racism of the 1970s which came to be focused upon cultural attributes (Barker, 1981). Similarly, Sherene Razack (1994) has argued that the culturalisation of racism has operated to replace narratives attributing Black poverty and criminalisation to cultural rather than biolo- gical signifiers (Razack, 1994). Though queer and mainstream media reports did not issue explicit racist epithets, the thematic constructs prevalent in the news reports demonstrate a rhetoric of racism.

Examining the narrative of the honoured group

Because Pride Toronto regularly recruits queers of colour from the Global South to fill the role of the Honoured Group,2 this role implicitly draws upon a narrative of Canada as a multicultural, benevolent, and tolerant sanctuary for queers seeking refuge from supposedly backward cultures. BLM-TO refused to play the role of grateful queers (Nguyen, 2012), and instead employed their role as the Honoured Group as a platform for raising difficult questions about anti-Black racism in Pride Toronto and the Toronto Police force. BLM-TO member LeRoi Newbold expressed disappointment after the march, suggesting that BLM-TO has been advocating for the imple- mentation of their list of demands for some time:

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I feel we’re being tokenized and paraded around and they wanted to have Black bodies at the front of the parade but they didn’t want to honor our politics and actually what we’re pushing for in terms of the advancement of LGBT Black communities. (Newbold, as cited in Krishnan, 2016)

Newbold’s comments may be understood as reflective of Black activism exhausting all other methods for communicating their needs.

Paucity of queer media reports: who counts as queer?

The paucity of media reports about the BLM-TO sit-in within Canadian and American queer outlets is significant; a notable exception is an article by an American LGBT magazine, The Advocate. This article portrayed Pride Toronto as actively encouraging BLM-TO’s sit-in, spec- ulating that

This outcome [the sit-in and Chantelois’ subsequent signing of the list of demands] was one of the reasons Pride Toronto made Black Lives Matter Toronto an honored group of the event. They had expected a protest and welcomed the results. (Reynolds, 2016)

The Advocate’s article effectively erases the agency in BLM-TO’s action, instead crediting Pride Toronto for the group’s activism. While the article includes extensive quotations from Chantelois, statements made by BLM-TO’s members are strikingly absent.

The paucity of these reports also suggests that anti-Blackness is understood as not directly relevant to queer communities and, hence, is not a queer issue. Roderick Ferguson describes how the supposed colour blindness that a white, middle class, queer politic claims to embrace in fact serves to ‘articulate racial privilege and advance racial exclusion’ (2005, p. 58). By placing a singular primacy upon sexuality, experiences of racism, classism, and (dis)ability are pushed to the periphery. Perhaps the singularity of this identity category is responsible for the prevalence of racism within queer communities; a prevalence that is well explored (e.g., Berube, 2001; Han, 2007, 2015; Teunis, 2007). In her discussion of how Whiteness operates in institutions, Sarah Ahmed (2006) explains:

When we describe an institution as “being” white, we are pointing to how institutional spaces are shaped by the proximity of some bodies and not others: white bodies gather and cohere to form the edges of such spaces. When I walk into academic meetings that is just what I encounter. Sometimes I get used to it. At one conference I helped to organize, four black feminists all happened to walk into the room at the same time. We notice such arrivals. The fact that we notice such arrivals tells us more about what is already in place than it does about “the who” that arrives. Someone says: “It’s like walking into a sea of whiteness.” (2006, pp. 132–133)

The Toronto Pride Parade represents a space that is not only racialised, but also sexualized and gendered. Ahmed’s description can also speak to the intersectional alienation of queer Black bodies within the overwhelmingly White leisure event. One of the objectives of BLM-TO’s sit-in, and the broader BLM movement is to make the presence of this physical and ideological sea of whiteness visible.

Systemic racism from within the Toronto queer ‘community’ is a familiar experience for many Black queer and transgender individuals. The Caribbean queer masquerade band, Pelau, is a popular Carnival-inspired masquerade group which marches every year during the Toronto Pride Parade (Valelly, 2015). In July 2003, Fab Magazine, a now out-of-print, Toronto LGBTQ weekly magazine, included a photograph of the Pelau group in its annual Pride Postmortem review. Above the photograph of the Caribbean Pride performers read the heading: ‘Wrong Day. Wrong parade. . . Caribana stray’ (Kirstein et al., 2003, p. 148, as cited in Calixte, 2005). Under the photograph a caption reads, ‘Is this a voodoo or a voo-don’t?’ These quotations reinforce the ideology that a Blackness which refuses to cohere to White, homonormative values is exotically peripheral to queerness, an ideology that BLM-TO’s sit-in and list of demands actively sought to dismantle.


Queer theorists Martin Manalansan (1995, 2005)) and Gary Kinsman (2010) have argued that centring Whiteness within queer politics is part of a larger process characterised by simulta- neously appropriating and erasing the political struggles of queer and transgender individuals of colour. The Toronto Pride Parade, like many other Pride events in North America, commemor- ates the Stonewall Riots by taking place in the month of June (Trevenen & Degagne, 2015). The Stonewall Riots, which marked the historical beginning of the queer movement, were an anti- police uprising led by queers and transwomen of colour (Manalansan, 1995). Despite these origins, the Pride movement has come to be, increasingly, equated with Whiteness. The 2015 Hollywood film Stonewall, for example, depicts the Stonewall Riots. In the film, the first brick is cast at police, not by the Black transwoman activist who threw it, Marsha ‘Pay No Mind’ Johnson, but by a fictional white male character. The director, Ronald Emmerich, ‘defended both his narrative decisions and choice of lead, saying that he’d made the movie for as wide an audience as possible. . .’ (Smith, 2015). Emmerich’s explanation reflects the rhetoric of inclusion which often operates within the machinery of exclusion. This re-narration, both cinematically and more broadly, of Stonewall as a story of white queer resistance effectively erases the context in which BLM-TO’s demands have arisen.


My interest in examining the media discourses surrounding the 2016 BLM-TO sit-in was sparked by the multiple and multifarious discourses which circulated following the BLM-TO action in what I hesitantly refer to as the Toronto queer ‘community.’ Because my embodi- ment enables me to remain (de)racialised as white, I have been privy to a number of conversations which demonstrate a conceptual division in the queer ‘community.’ On multiple occasions I observed that my whiteness gained me admittance into discussions which framed the sit-in as motivated by the audacity of BLM-TO, rather than the anti-Blackness which their event sought to call attention to. This framing disturbed me. But it was not until I began to collect and analyse the media reports mentioned above that I became aware of both how trenchantly scathing the majority of reports were as well as of the anti-Blackness implicit in this framing.

In the 14 years that I have been attending the Toronto Pride Parade, my own relationship with this event has been a tenuous one. Initially, the Toronto Pride Parade offered my peers and I an introduction into queer possibility, one that not only challenged the pervasive and hegemonic constructions of heteronormative gender and sexuality we were immersed in, but also one which offered exciting new possibilities for desire and pleasure as well as for community and self- identity. Over the years, however, my initial breathless enthusiasm dimmed and was replaced with an increasing sense of frustration with both Toronto Pride and the Pride weekend celebrations. During the Pride weekend, Toronto’s Church Street, or ‘gaybourhood,’ becomes exceedingly crowded with tourists snapping photographs and every metre of the sidewalk seems to be filled with corporate vendors selling over-priced items. As I became involved in activist communities that were vocally anti-racist and anti-capitalist I grew increasingly disillusioned with the spectacle that Pride appeared to be becoming. Nonetheless, to this day, despite this disillusionment and my self-proclaimed political commitments, the Pride weekend is an event that I simultaneously critique and continue to attend.

For myself and many others that I have spoken with, Pride represents an event that is somehow irrevocably lost and potentially redeemable. For me, watching and reading about the BLM-TO sit- in demonstrated the fraught tension of Pride. The majority of the Parade’s crowd, and later the media, seemed to insist that the Toronto Pride Parade is intended to be a leisure event, a celebration. But BLM-TO’s sit-in contested this insistence, reclaiming Toronto Pride’s roots as a political event responding to police violence.

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In this paper, I have attempted to examine how North American queer and mainstream media reports responded to the Black Lives Matter Toronto sit-in at the 2016 Toronto Pride Parade. Using a qualitative content analysis, I explored how thematic constructs were used within queer and mainstream media reports to legitimise the eviction of BLM-TO from an imagined queer and Canadian community. The prevalence of the thematic constructs – a narrative of terrorism, language framing the group as an aggressor, and a discourse identifying BLM-TO as an outsider to the Canadian queer community – suggests that BLM-TO’s inclusion within the leisure event of Pride was contingent upon their willingness to fulfil the role of grateful queers. When BLM-TO disrupted that narrative by raising difficult questions about anti-Black racism, dominant repre- sentations of Canada were threatened, and the rhetoric employed in media reports covering the action demonstrates the intensity of this panic. The gestures of exclusion which preoccupied media reports challenge the image of Canada as a colour-blind, queer sanctuary. BLM-TO’s action not only disrupted a dominant imaginary of the benevolent Canadian nation, but also effectively transmuted the Toronto Pride Parade from a leisure event into a protest event, a transmutation which sought to hearken back to the roots of Pride.


1. Though I acknowledge the complexities and tensions contained within the term queer (see for example, Manalansan, 2005), throughout this paper queer is used as an umbrella term to signify non-normative sexual and gender identities such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and Two-Spirit.

2. Past examples include: in 2014, Anna Rekhviashvili (Georgia); in 2010, Gloria Careaga (Mexico); in 2009, Victor Mukasa (Uganda); in 2007, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera (Sri Lanka).

3. Sandy Grande (2015), in her seminal work discussing Indigenous sovereignty and settler colonialism, Red Pedagogy replaces the term whitestream for mainstream. Through this substitution Grande provides a compelling critique of which identities and epistemologies are implicitly centred within the term mainstream.


I would like to thank Dr. Alissa Trotz for her invaluable contributions to this project. I would also like to thank Dr. Boba Samuels who strengthened this article with her questions and suggestions. Lastly, I am appreciative of the insightful provocations made by the anonymous reviewers, their contributions greatly assisted me in deepening my analysis within this article.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Notes on contributor

Ali Greey is a Master’s student in the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education at the University of Toronto.


Ali Greey http://orcid.org/0000-0002-5882-1560


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676 A. GREEY

View publication statsView publication statshttp://www.advocate.com/pride/2016/7/04/toronto-reminds-us-pride-protesthttp://www.advocate.com/pride/2016/7/04/toronto-reminds-us-pride-protesthttp://thehill.com/homenews/news/339403-protesters-stall-twin-cities-pride-parade-over-police-presence-days-afterhttp://thehill.com/homenews/news/339403-protesters-stall-twin-cities-pride-parade-over-police-presence-days-afterhttp://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/25/stonewall-film-gay-rights-activists-give-their-verdicthttp://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/25/stonewall-film-gay-rights-activists-give-their-verdicthttp://www.pridetoronto.com/sponsors/http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/robyn-urback-how-can-black-lives-matter-claim-victory-when-pride-has-left-so-many-dividedhttp://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/robyn-urback-how-can-black-lives-matter-claim-victory-when-pride-has-left-so-many-dividedhttp://www.dailyxtra.com/toronto/news-and-ideas/news/caribanas-queer-challenge-3725http://www.dailyxtra.com/toronto/news-and-ideas/news/caribanas-queer-challenge-3725http://nationalpost.com/news/toronto/the-life-and-bloody-death-of-andrew-lokuhttp://nationalpost.com/news/toronto/the-life-and-bloody-death-of-andrew-lokuhttp://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/the-bullies-of-black-lives-matter/article30746157/http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/the-bullies-of-black-lives-matter/article30746157/http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/24/black-lives-matter-pulls-out-san-francisco-pride-policehttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/325097199

  • Abstract
  • The action
  • Methodological overview
  • Methods
  • Findings
    • Narrative of terrorism
    • Aggressor
    • Outsider
  • Discussion
    • Contextualising the action
    • Constructing community
    • Examining the narrative of the honoured group
    • Paucity of queer media reports: who counts as queer?
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgements
  • Disclosure statement
  • Notes on contributor
  • References

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