Dear Judith Butler,
I am one of the organizers of Toronto’s BLOCKORAMA stage, put on by a volunteer group called Blackness Yes!. Since 1998 Blockorama has been a place at Pride Toronto where black queer and trans folks, their allies, supporters and people who love them came together to say no to homophobia in black communities and no to racism in LGBTQ communities. To say Blackness Yes at Pride – loud and proud. Pride Toronto’s inability to lead on racism in the LGBTQ communities and homophobia in black communities sends a strong signal to black queer and trans communities and their allies everywhere.
We have built Blockorama out of love, through sweat and toiling. For 12 years, we have claimed space, resisted erasure, found community, shared memories, built bridges, embraced sexuality, and found home. Blockorama is not just a party or a stage at Pride. It is a meeting place for black queer and trans people across North America- Blockorama is the largest space of its kind at any Pride festival on the continent.
Black queer and trans communities have been central to the diversity of Pride. At the same time Pride Toronto as an organization has continually marginalized those communities. It is indeed those communities that enable Pride to be the celebration of sexual life and freedoms that we all cherish. Pride Toronto’s inability to recognize its own constituencies is not only sad and disappointing it is indeed politically naïve and damaging to the still necessary struggles around sexual freedom in our city, province and country. We have been fighting a battle here in Toronto; one that insists that Black queer and trans people be represented and reflected in the programming at Pride, and in the infrastructure of the Pride Toronto organization. More and more, we are realizing that this may not be possible within Pride Toronto. We remain steadfast in our struggle, and will continue to create space to celebrate Black queer and trans people; resist systemic racism within larger LGBTTIQQ organizing, and resist homo and transphobia within Black and African Diasporic communities- but in future perhaps outside of the official Pride organization and festival.
Pride Toronto has come under a lot of fire this year- and several community activists and leaders have chosen to decline the awards or honours given to them by Pride Toronto in protest of its actions towards Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and its continued marginalization of racialized people. We were recently contacted about similar problems happening at Berlin Pride. We are concerned about the connection between homonationalism, systemic racism, and migrant-phobia that seems deeply inherent in Berlin’s Pride organization.
It seems that many Pride organizations around the world have distanced themselves from so many of the communities that helped build the LGBTTI2QQ activist movements. In North America, racialized queer and trans people, many of whom were street-involved, working class and poor started both the Stonewall and Compton Cafeteria riots that kick-started the “gay liberation movement”. It is on the backs of racialized and working class queer and trans people that mainstream queer organizations like Pride Toronto have been built. Around the world, working class racialized people have often been at the heart of the activism that ushered in more “mainstream” queer organization- yet it is exactly this history that is omitted from Pride celebrations around the world. It is very concerning that in Berlin, these same people have been openly mocked by Pride through slogans, media and left out of programming and organizing.
We are writing to encourage you, and all other honourees at this year’s Berlin Pride to consider pulling your support for an organization that is so openly disrespectful of migrant people and racialized people.
Blackness Yes is committed to creating a space by and for Black/African Diasporic queer and trans people and all of their allies and supporters at Pride. Blockorama will always remain a political space for resistance and celebration, and we stand in solidarity with so many other groups that have been left out or forcibly excluded from Pride organizations here and around the globe.
Syrus Marcus Ware,
Blockorama Coordinating Committee