Police Check: UTM lecturer Beverly Bain on cops and the Pride Parade

Beverly Bain
Friday, May 11, 2018 - 2:45pm
Blake Eligh

When Toronto Police Service recently announced that the organization would not march in the 2018 Toronto Pride Parade, it marked an important win for Toronto’s Black and racialized LGBTQ2SI community. Among those calling for the withdrawal of police participation in the parade was Beverly Bain, a Toronto activist and lecturer with U of T Mississauga’s Women and Gender Studies Program. 

Bain, who researches and teaches on colonialism and cultural resistance, diasporic sexualities and critical theories of women and gender, is a familiar figure in Toronto’s community where she has active in anti-racist, anti-violence and feminist groups forover 30 years. Her earliest activism dates back to the 1970s when, as an undergraduate student, she protested apartheid as a member of the U of T’s African and Caribbean students’ association. During that time, she was also active in community initiatives responding to excessive use of force by police against black citizens. She founded Women Against Police Violence and served as executive director of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women from 1992 to 1997.

Two years ago, Bain added her voice to those demanding that Pride reconsider its relationship with black and other marginalized groups in the queer community. Many felt that Blockorama, a long-running program that celebrates Black and Caribbean LGBTQ2SI communities, was being pushed to the periphery in favour of corporate-sponsored events. “We formed to support racialized and Black queers,” Bain says. The conflict came to a head when activist group Black Lives Matter Toronto stalled the 2016 parade. “They brought a stop to the parade to raise demands about the way Pride treats these groups, and also to bring attention to the policing of Black lives in the city,” she says. The tactic was effective—at the parade’s annual general meeting in 2017, organizers approved Black Lives Matter Toronto’s recommendations, which included a provision to exclude official police participation at Pride.

“They asked for no visible presence of police in Pride—no police floats, no police in uniform,” she says. “No institution of policing can be represented while it continues to be a visibly militarized and brutal institution that violates the lives of Blacks and racialized people and, as we see [with the Bruce McArthur murder investigation], ignores the murders of brown, gay men.”

“I think we need to actually go back to why we’re here today,” Bain recently told the Toronto Star. “And why we’re here is because of the ongoing police relationship with the Black community, Black queers, queers of colour, trans, sex workers. The ongoing violence—police violence—that these particular groups endure on everyday basis.”

Bain hopes the elimination of police participation at the parade will bring attention to the gendered and racialized violence experienced by vulnerable groups at the hands of the police. “There has to a recognition that police cannot be participants in Pride—they belong on the periphery doing their jobs,” she says. “The chief’s letter to withdraw the application said he hoped that some resolution would be reached by next year. They need to back off—if we want them there, we will invite them. It’s not up to the police to determine when that happens.”

Bain takes the position that the police cannot reconcile with the LGBTQ community without a major overhaul of the police institution. “Long-term, we need to think about what police and prison abolition might look like, and new strategies of what care could like in our community,” she says. “We need to consider community support and how we hold people accountable for different behaviours and actions. Then we could determine what kinds of resources an institution like the police can provide the communities in ways that work for us. We have a lot of thinking and working to do.”

Read more:

Beverly Bain on The Creation of Blockorama as Black Queer Diasporic Space in the Toronto Pride Festivities