Story: Allan Gardens Children’s Conservatory / 2013

Jin | 2013 | QTBIPOC Grief / Rage | Allan Gardens Children’s Conservatory

I was new to Toronto and about to get my induction into Toronto Pride racism. Coming from Europe and starved of queer of colour energy, I was excited to see a famous queer Asian drumming collective perform in Allan Gardens, and also apprehensive about the Pride organizers’ choice of the park as a venue. Allan Gardens is used by all kinds of people, including street-involved people, many of whom Black, Indigenous, POC, sex working, and using the many services along Sherbourne, which borders the park, just a few blocks east from the gay Village, encapsulating the Village’s queer expansion into the Downtown East. These contradictions would be brought to the fore a year later, in the lead up to World Pride 2014, when Toronto Police stationed the notoriously antiblack TAVIS units in the area to “increase safety” and “engage with community members”. Just how engaged the queers already were was brought home to me that afternoon in 2013. The event kicked off with a mob of queers chasing a Black man who looked confused and said something about Jesus but hadn’t harmed anyone. They did so while chanting Pride slogans and with the direct help of the police. The whole spiel was ugly and lowlights included a bottle being thrown at the man by leering queers, and a bunch of police offers escorting him to the edge of the park. There, he was manhandled, searched and finally sent to the other side of the street. Only two of us were there to witness – the rest of the party had just got going, drumming and all. Cops to us: ‘You want to help him? Take him home’ (as in, he hasn’t got one so this is what he deserves). ‘You’re obstructing me and having to turn to you forces me to point the gun at him’ (strange hip twist to the side to demonstrate phallic object protruding from his belt). And some verbal abuse to my friend and me which I won’t repeat as this was not about us securely housed non-Black folks. Only one person reached out as he saw us walk up to the police. They witnessed but couldn’t join in as they didn’t feel safe because of the police. They told us that the guy had been sleeping in the park and had been picked on by the cops hours before the event already. As firmly established by Black Lives Matter Toronto and others, Toronto cops have a habit of killing people for looking Black, homeless, and mad. I complained to a volunteer at the Dyke March, who handed out feedback forms. She expressed surprise as the organizers had specifically got in “sensitivity-trained” police. I said No surprise here, you’ve just politically corrected their murderous ways. Business went on as usual, drumming and all, until I recognized representatives from Maggies, the sex worker rights organization, on stage. They had missed the whole thing but spontaneously rose to the task and called out the incident when I interrupted their speech. The crowd had cheered all throughout their speech, which was excellent and kick-ass and ironically full of calls to abolish the prison industrial complex. But they went passive and sheepish when we called them out for just having participated in criminalizing and evicting someone. I re-learned that day a lesson I knew all too well from Europe: That white queer placemaking tends to happen at the expense of BIPOC. That’s the same difference. The same whiteness, here and there.