Honouring Black Leadership: The Equity Committee at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University Thanks Black Lives Matter Toronto

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The Equity Committee at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University expresses gratitude to BLMTO for their leadership in revitalizing social movements across the city. On 3 July 2016, their successful action at Pride Toronto won increased spaces and resources for queer and trans Black, Indigenous and people of colour, including Black Queer Youth, Blockorama/Blackness Yes!, as well as increased ASL interpreting. It also won the promise to remove armed and uniformed police from the parade in order to make Pride events safer for all LGBTQ2S people, including those from communities that are frequently profiled and criminalized.

We are disappointed by Pride director Mathieu Chantelois’ apparent back-pedalling on these promises, and the ensuing harmful backlash against BLM activists in the press, social media and among Toronto city councillors, who are currently attempting to legislate Toronto Police Service’s participation in the Toronto Pride parade. This active withdrawal of solidarity from the Black Lives Matter movement comes at a time when Black communities are mourning massive loss of Black lives and are fearful for their safety. In the week after Pride alone, there have been at least seven killings at the hands of police and civilians. We urge politicians, police and opinion makers to respect the autonomy of sexual and social justice movements, which are not up for state control and legislation. We urge Pride Toronto to respect their honoured guests, remember their commitments, show public accountability to their members and communities, and honour the histories that have brought us Pride.

These histories, like those of so many social movements, are shaped by Black leadership. As the Equity Committee at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, we owe our existence and success to the work of many generations of Black students and colleagues at York, who have fearlessly drawn attention to racial profiling and anti-Black racism on campus, the failures in recruiting and retaining Black, Indigenous and people of colour students, the inaccessibility of many of our programmes and facilities, the underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous faculty at York and at FES, and the problematic role of the University in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood.

Like Pride Toronto, the Equity Committee is indebted to our Black leaders, who have undertaken countless actions for equity under the most life-negating circumstances, often without receiving much support or reciprocity from non-Black people and communities, who are the beneficiaries of affirmative action and other gains. We affirm here and now that this leadership keeps all of us vigilant to the haunting presence and ugly consequences of injustice and inspires us to do the hard work that is needed to overcome it. We therefore support the courage and strength of Black students at York and elsewhere, and all those who work alongside them in BLM.

Now BLM are modelling to us what an accessible, accountable and transformative community that equitably distributes resources and power along intersectional lines looks like. In March and April 2016, this took the shape of the hugely successful two-week Tent City Occupation, which drew Torontonians’ attention to the police killings of Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby, the erasure of Black spaces in the city, and the ongoing practice of racial profiling. In addition to being an effective site of intervention, Tent City was a queer-positive site of education, healing and community building, which showcased the best of racial, sexual, economic and healing justice.

We endorse all of BLMTO’s demands. We remind everyone that all of us benefit from their commitment to make our world just and safe for all. We also call attention to their demands for sexual and social justice spaces that affirm Black people’s lives and safety, and which are free of armed and uniformed police. We appeal to Pride Toronto and others in the city to acknowledge these lessons from BLMTO, and to treat this crucial movement with the respect that it deserves.

Black Lives Matter,  Blockorama/Blackness Yes! and BQY’s Demands of Pride:

  • Continued space, including stage and tents, funding and logistical support for Black Queer Youth.
  • Self-determination for all community spaces at Pride, allowing community groups full control over hiring, content and structure of their stages.
  • Full and adequate funding for community stages, including logistical, technical and personnel support.
  • Doubling of funding for Blockorama to $13,000.
  • Reinstatement of the South Asian stage.
  • Prioritizing of the hiring of Black transwomen, Indigenous people and others from vulnerable communities at Pride Toronto.
  • More Black deaf and hearing sign language interpreters for the festival.
  • Removal of police floats in the Pride marches and parades.
  • A town hall organized in conjunction with groups from marginalized communities, including but not limited to Black Lives Matter – Toronto, Blackness Yes and Black Queer Youth, in six months, where Pride Toronto will present an update and action plan on BLM-TO’s demands.
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