Photo of someone at a rally holding up a poster that says
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid at Pride 2010.

Why I Resigned from Pride Toronto

In April 2024, I resigned from being a member of Pride Toronto. I left given Pride Toronto’s refusal to convene a general members’ meeting to discuss the call from Queers in Palestine for solidarity with queer and trans Palestinians, and the organization’s refusal to break its ties with governments and sponsors that actively support the genocide in Gaza.

In my letter of resignation, I noted that I am “the last member of Pride Toronto who was a founding member of the Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee in 1981 that Pride Toronto traces its history back to. This resignation letter is therefore very much about history and memory.”

There were Pride events held in Toronto starting in 1971, and in 1981 Gay Liberation Against the Right Everywhere (GLARE) initiated a Pride march to celebrate the 1969 Stonewall riots, where trans and queer people fought against police repression in New York. 1981 was also the height of mass resistance to the bath raids, after police descended on four Toronto bathhouses and arrested hundreds of gay men. It’s crucial that we remember what actually led to Pride: celebrating those who are fighting against their repression by police and governments.

In January, Javier Dávila and I proposed holding a Pride Toronto meeting to discuss and adopt Queers in Palestine’s Liberatory Demand, which urges queer groups to take action to end the genocide of Palestinians, including rejecting funding from Israeli institutions. This meeting and the Demand’s adoption were supported by 19 Pride Toronto members (typically a maximum of 60 members attend meetings, making 19 a significant fraction); 64 community activists; and seven community organizations representing hundreds of queer and trans people. When Pride Toronto refused to call this meeting, they were acting against their members’ wishes, demonstrating that they have no accountability to their community. 

The statements issued by Pride Toronto on Gaza have been totally inadequate. In March 2024, while finally though vaguely calling for a “ceasefire,” they characterized the genocidal attacks on Palestine as simply a “humanitarian crisis.” They do not name the causes of this crisis: the Israeli state’s decades-long campaign of military attacks, ethnic cleansing, policy of apartheid, or blocking of aid to Gazans; and the Canadian government’s support for this genocide, including continuing to supply arms to the Israeli military. Pride Toronto has also refused our calls to condemn or cut ties with their main sponsor, TD Bank, which has $16 million invested in arms manufacturer General Dynamics which supplies arms to the Israeli military.

Photo of the front of a TD bank store in the gay village in Toronto, with rainbow stripes on it.
Pride Toronto sponsor TD Bank is also invested in arms manufacturer General Dynamics. Photo: David Gray-Donald.

This stance by Pride Toronto was foreshadowed some years ago. In 2010, the executive director and board tried to ban the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) from the Pride parade because of pressure from Zionist groups and threats from funders and government officials to withdraw their financial support. I helped get most of the founding members of the Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee in 1981 to make a statement supporting QuAIA’s participation, and I joined in the community protests that forced Pride Toronto to let QuAIA march. (For more on this history, see the 2024 edition of my book The Regulation of Desire: Queer Histories, Queer Struggles.)

As I write, the Toronto police are intensifying their criminalization of Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists, including queer and trans individuals. These activists have had their doors kicked down in pre-dawn raids, been beaten up by police at protests, and been banned from waving flags and holding banners on a highway overpass. Pride Toronto has said absolutely nothing against this. 

Of course, it’s another part of Pride Toronto forgetting its roots as an event founded to oppose police brutality. After Black Lives Matter – Toronto stopped the Pride parade for 30 minutes in 2016 to call for removing the police from the Pride festival and parade, Pride Toronto’s then-executive director, its board of directors, funders, then-mayor John Tory, and provincial and federal governments have all tried to get the police back into the festival and parade using grants and permits. 

Today, trans and queer people are facing the rise of the racist anti-trans and anti-queer right-wing. Across Canada and the U.S. we are seeing intense anti-trans organizing and legislation denying trans people life-saving health care, restricting discussions of gender and sexuality in schools, and forcing teachers to alert parents when students begin using a different name or pronoun. Groups like Pride Toronto call on the police to “protect” us when history shows they are more likely to brutalize the most vulnerable among us. 

Instead of police, we need popular education and direct action to turn back this right-wing tide and to keep our own communities safe. Pride as an event with a large audience must be a major site for this anti-right-wing and anti-fascist organizing and for refusing to rely on the police. This brings us back to the connections with Palestine. 

This year, Pride is happening in the context of a Canadian- and U.S.-backed Israeli genocide. Pride Toronto cannot pretend to celebrate queer and trans lives without calling for an end to the atrocities in Gaza, and for a free Palestine. Instead of supporting corporate and pro-genocide Pride, this year I will be celebrating and resisting at the Abolitionist Pride March – whose theme is “From Tkaronto to Palestine and Beyond” – at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, 2024 in Grange Park. This alternative Pride is calling for an end to racism, policing, and prisons. It’s also what we need to oppose genocide and to return to Pride’s roots.

EDITOR’S NOTE, JUNE 23, 2024: The original version of this article neglected to mention that Pride events were held in Toronto before 1981, starting in 1971. GLARE, which formed in 1980 and initiated a Pride march with the Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee in late June 1981, established a history of Pride marches which Pride Toronto now states is where it originated. The Grind did not intend to erase Toronto queer history from before that time. We introduced this error and we apologize to the author and our readers.

Gary Kinsman (he/they) is a longtime queer liberation, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist activist living on Indigenous land. He is the author of The Regulation of Desire: Queer Histories, Queer Struggles and the co-author of The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation. They are a member of the No Pride in Policing Coalition, Queers4Palestine – Toronto, and Scholar Strike Canada.

This article appeared in the 2024 Summer issue.