Rainbow Capital, Queerness, and Black Lives Matter’s Shocking Reformism

Earlier this year, I predicted that Sunday’s Pride Parade would take the form of a wrestling match between the activist and establishment sides of queerness. With the activist side, represented by Black Lives Matter-Toronto marshaling and others, and the establishment side represented by Justin Trudeau, Toronto Police and the usual orgy of corporate sponsorship under the guise of “social responsibility, I expected that the previous years’ tensions would be heightened.

But I didn’t think that they would shut down the parade.

I’d expected a possible fight for loudness and space. I also expected to encounter the typically odd sight of droves of chanting-militants nestled between the Conservative party’s bizarre outreach initiative and the Home Depot float. But I didn’t expect the conflict to run deeper than sarcasm and a few “Stop the corporatization of pride,” petitions.

BLM had the chance to do something truly remarkable. They stopped the parade, shut down corporate power (albeit momentarily—it’s only ever momentary) and forced the voices of the oppressed in. It’s everything that someone like me—a lefty queer, disenchanted by Pride’s faux progressivism and rainbow capitalism—could want.

And yet, It felt anti-climactic.

To be clear, I fully support BLM-TO using the shock tactic of a sit-down protest in the middle of what is effectively a corporate march. Symbolically and politically, I like it.

I also agree with their demands. The Toronto Police services, like all police forces have a clear racial, class and political orientation. They are not the allies of a movement aimed at affirming rights claims. The Police are the state’s armed bodies of men, carrying out its most basic function of protecting the interests of its paymasters. This involves cracking down on organizations from below like BLM-TO when they provide the oppressed layers with even the hope of eventual emancipation. That can’t be fixed.

I support the right of LGBT-officers, as workers, to live free from discrimination and to march in Pride as individuals, but I do not want the police banner at Pride.

I also find the irony presented in a Toronto Star story about how police officers are scared of black activists to be very amusing.

Additionally, I support the organization’s other demands, aimed at making Pride friendlier to Black people and those from other oppressed groups.

So why the long face?

Though I support BLM’s policy goals and shock-tactics, their lack of analysis of the forces behind the oppression of Black and other people seems to put them in an awkward place. Frankly, it frustrates me.

Their use of shock tactics makes them too radical for the reformists, while their emphasis on piece-meal reforms and little else alienates the radicals. It puts them in a kind of activist nether-space that makes unity difficult. It also doesn’t help that my experiences with some of the lead organizers have lead me to conclude that they are generally unpleasant people (even by Toronto-left standards) who are hostile to comradely criticism and possibly more interested in being seen and heard than in actually doing anything. It’s politics as fashion.

If you’ve got everyone listening to you: say something worthwhile, or they’ll stop listening.

Still, in a fight between the establishment and the activist side of Pride, I’ll proudly throw my lot in with BLM. The more noise they make and the more the establishment trembles, the better things become for the rest of us.

Mitchell Thompson is a journalism student at Ryerson University and a contributor at Disinfo. Read other articles by Mitchell.