Note: The following contains my proposed strategy that the trans community might follow in demanding that the formal Trans Pride Toronto March route next year incorporate Yonge Street.
Also, it may be worth mentioning that I wanted to post this as I was leaving Toronto in mid-August… however, due to preparations for an academic conference and some other things just as I was moving, I didn’t get a chance to finalize it until today.
It has been nearly three years since I arrived in Toronto in early October 2009, and I have to say that I’m much more sad to be leaving than I had expected.
During this time I’ve gotten close to so many amazing people, including many wonderful members of Toronto’s queer and trans community, and I’ve further had the opportunity to work with some great people in my field at the University of Toronto. I also feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to be a part of this city and to be involved in activism and community organizing here (in particular, I think it was an interesting time to be in Toronto!). I feel like I’ve learned a lot and grown through those interactions and the organizing I have been involved here.
Indeed, looking back it almost seems a bit odd that I showed up in Toronto when I did: back in October 2009, just a few months before what turned out to be a pretty massive confrontation around the Pride festival and the participation of the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) (or as I like to think of that confrontation: the Israel lobby’s perpetual storm of self-defeat). I joined up with QuAIA shortly after I arrived, and in my part in the ensuing debates I ended up having to learn my way around Toronto’s queer community pretty quickly.
And I have to say I’m pretty proud of how all that turned out. Somehow, a handful of grassroots queer activists managed to push back against the massive, well-funded Israel lobby, and beat them over and over again. (And after all, what business does the not-particularly-queer Israel lobby have telling queer activists what they can and cannot say at the Pride Parade?)
Not only that, but in coalition with the wider queer community (primarily through the Pride Community Contract group and the Pride Coalition for Free Speech) we compelled Tracey Sandilands, the corrupt executive director of Pride Toronto, to resign.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is that following the debacle(s) around the 2010 iteration of Pride, the Pride board was compelled to institute some form of accountability to the queer community, which took form in the Community Advisory Panel (CAP). As the CAP consultation process developed, it became clear that one of its constituent communities that Pride could no longer afford to ignore was the trans community. In fact, it became clear that previous to 2010, Pride Toronto had done little to empower or explicitly include the trans community as a whole, and that this would no longer be acceptable.
Hence, one spin-off result from the community coalition’s successful free speech battle was that it provided an opening for the trans community to demand an audience with Pride, which has resulted in expanded trans community programming and support for trans artists at the festival in the last two years, as well as the election of the first trans member of the Pride Board.
However, I also want to critique some of the developments that have occurred during that time, because I think that we can deal with one issue in particular better next year (I say ‘we’ partly in hopes that I will be able to make it back to attend Pride next year ).
In the last two years, I think there have been some unfortunate developments around how to best maximize the impact of the annual Trans Pride March. The problem is that of the three marches (the Trans March on Friday evening, the Dyke March on Saturday, and the Pride Parade on Sunday), the Trans March is the only one that has been confined, year after year, to march down Church Street (the traditional queer Village), while the Dyke March and the Parade are privileged with routes down Yonge Street (one of Toronto’s primary thoroughfares). The Trans March also works out to being the shortest of the three routes.
Hence, it is quite clear that in the long run the Trans March route must be lengthened and altered to run down Yonge. And I think that, on the whole, the Toronto Trans community has been clear that that is necessary.
Unfortunately, how that has been handled in practice hasn’t been so great (and I’m not the only trans community member who views it that way). In both 2011 and 2012, individual trans community members took it upon themselves to make more-or-less unilateral, last minute declarations of alternate routes for the Trans March. This has resulted in division, miscommunication, and uncertainty within the community. What’s more, in 2011 the two primary organizers of the formal march (two amazing trans men of color who I’m proud to call my friends) ended up being on the receiving end of some pretty outrageous verbal abuse from one of the organizers (a trans woman) of the alternate route. That was totally unacceptable, and it was the primary reason that many others and myself chose to ignore the alternate route and just go with the formal Pride Toronto Trans march.
In 2012, another trans woman activist again made a last-minute unilateral declaration of a second March route. I will give credit that she was at least thoughtful enough to put the alternate march after the formal Trans March, avoiding the conflicting routes scenario that literally divided the community in 2011. However, this alternative march was still declared unilaterally without any clear community mandate on how to approach the issue.
Further, I’m going to make a very blunt comment here that I do not wish to be led in any type of trans march by a non-op woman who is very publicly on record referring to the Province’s requirement of bottom surgery to obtain a gender marker correction as “forcing trans people to mutilate their bodies.” I emphasize here that personally I am about as non-op as I could possibly be and still I recognize perfectly well how that type of language is destructive for the trans community as a whole, and using that language (in the middle of a Provincial election campaign, no less!) demonstrates poor judgment and poor leadership (although, yes, of course the Province’s demand for bottom surgery before gender marker correction must be overturned).
With all this in mind, I would like to give my proposed strategy for obtaining a Trans March route on Yonge Street in 2013:
- Well in advance of Pride 2013, a few trans community members should come together to start a petition, directed at both the Pride Board and City Council, demonstrating support in the queer and trans community for a Trans March route that runs down Yonge Street.
With that support in hand, I don’t think it will be difficult to convince the Pride Board, however, convincing the city may be more complicated.
- A group of trans community members should work with the Pride Board on a strategy to approach the city about the issue. Susan Gapka has been involved with politics for a long time; she is a Board member and she should play a key role in this conversation.
- We already have a great person to work with at City Council in Kristyn Wong-Tam. With a clear mandate from the community and the Pride Board, I wouldn’t be surprised if she could help us.
So that’s my proposal on how to approach the issue, and I hope it’s a bit more diva-free, or at least diva-lite than earlier approaches (and just FTR, I’m as much of a diva as anyone, but come on, we all have to put a check on that at some point).
In closing I will just say that I feel lucky to have been a part of this city for these three years and I am more than a little saddened at the reality that I have to move on. I can only hope that I will have the opportunity to return and visit all the beautiful friends, sisters, lovers, and allies that Toronto has been so generous to share with me.
Savvy + Toronto = <3