Thursday • 2013.03.21
Here’s the Scoop on Toronto Trans* March 2013
Toronto’s Trans* March has a short and controversial history. As plans take shape for 2013’s “Pride” week, the controversy has re-ignited. Once again, the hot-button issue: what is the appropriate route for a march that champions the causes of equality, and visibility for Trans* people in Canada and worldwide?
As Canadian Trans* people (and a growing population of kindhearted allies) are very keenly aware, given the present legal and social status of Trans* persons throughout Canada, at this stage in our country’s history a Trans* March is still very much a civil rights demonstration representing an entire class of people who have yet to attain legal equality, and who are otherwise disproportionately affected by invidious discrimination.
A “town-hall” meeting was recently convened, on Thursday February 28th, by Pride™ Toronto’s Trans Pride team. This team is comprised of a trio of trans-identified individuals. According to their website:
Trans Pride is a volunteer team working within Pride Toronto whose goal is to promote Trans education and awareness, within Pride Toronto events and beyond. Trans Pride represents any person within the trans* spectrum, which refers to anyone whose gender identities do not match the bodies they were born with.
At the town-hall, questions were raised by concerned members of the Trans* community: If Pride™ Toronto takes on the responsibility for organizing such an event, as they have done (or attempted to) for several years, should that organization not also assume responsibility for achieving the goals of maximizing visibility of the message? Is it not reasonable to expect them to take all steps within their power to do so, particularly since all of their marketing materials are so quick to include Trans* people in the queer umbrella of their mandate?
The first Trans* March was Friday June 26th, 2009, a grassroots effort organized by Toronto trans woman Karah Mathiason (with support from Pride™ Toronto). They marched on Church street, from Bloor, down to Wellesley. This set the tradition, and ever since, Toronto Trans* Marches have always been held on the Friday evening of the main Pride weekend. As Church street was already closed to vehicle traffic at the time due to the annual Pride festival, no permit was issued by the city specifically for the Trans* March.
In fact, it emerged at the meeting, the City of Toronto has never actually issued a permit specifically for Trans* March. And because the annual March operated by Pride™ Toronto has always been just a short jaunt down the already-closed Church street, they’ve never even sought one.
That route, favoured by Pride™ Toronto, a three block trot down an already closed road, is the source of the controversy. Concerns that the route does not afford any real visibility outside the queer community, and frustration with Pride™ Toronto’s perceived unwillingness to address these concerns, have in recent years prompted activists to take matters into their own hands… Breaking off from the “official” march, and taking their message out of the village, and into the city proper, in unauthorized and unpermitted civil rights actions. This happened once in 2011, and again, in 2012.
The fact that this has happened twice in as many years speaks to the fact that the Trans* community feels marching on Yonge street (as the Pride Parade and Dyke Marches always get to do) is critically important if the Trans* March is to be taken seriously at all. At the town-hall meeting, several expressed the opinion that Pride™ Toronto’s perceived inability to meet this requirement has been, two years running, the specific cause which spawned the “renegade” Trans* Marches.
In point of fact, out of all the Toronto-based Trans* Marches that have taken place so far, only the ones not managed by Pride™ Toronto have truly taken the message of Trans* visibility and equality to the streets of Toronto, despite Pride™ Toronto’s long standing practice of always ensuring that the Parade itself and the Dyke Marches have access to Yonge street (Toronto’s main thoroughfare).
To their credit, the Trans Pride team is very aware of the perceived need of a respectful and legitimate route for Trans* March. It is important to remember that these dedicated individuals are volunteers, themselves members of the Trans* community. By the time of the meeting, they had already had the chance to discuss these concerns with their superiors at Pride™ Toronto, and with representatives from Toronto’s city council.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam was originally scheduled to attend the meeting, but was a no-show due to illness. A representative of Pride™ Toronto read from a written statement prepared by Wong-Tam (of which I have obtained a copy). The statement directly addresses the issue of the route:
I know the issue of the march route has been a contentious one, and that many in the community would strongly prefer to have the march take place on Yonge Street rather than Church Street on Friday night. I understand the symbolic importance of Yonge Street, and have worked with Pride Toronto, at their request, to see if a creative solution can be found. Unfortunately, Friday night traffic patterns, coupled with the additional resources required to close the street for a third consecutive day, mean that City of Toronto staff and agencies are unable to support the closure.
The statement reveals that Pride™ Toronto has heard our concerns, discussed them with the City of Toronto, and that in response the city has said “no.” In an attempt to placate the community, Wong-Tam goes on to suggest an alternative:
In discussion with Pride Toronto, and understanding the desire to be on Yonge Street, we have explored another option, namely, to hold the march on Yonge Street on Saturday, either immediately preceding or immediately following the Dyke March, with a small gap to distinguish the two marches from each other. This will give the trans community greater visibility, and the access to Yonge Street some of you have requested.
This contentious issue has been a point of mounting concern and discussion with Pride™ Toronto as the spotlight of WorldPride 2014 looms, and at the meeting they acknowledged the need expressed by the two renegade civil rights actions, which they called “alternative” marches.
Picking up on this terminology, one attendee sitting across from me questioned it, stating “perhaps we should be looking at the grass-roots efforts as being the ‘real’ Trans* March, and the Pride Toronto effort as the ‘alternative’ one.”
I asked for some clarification on the city’s “plan.” Would Trans* March, I asked, be receiving an individual permit for this march, or would we be “piggy-backing” on the permit already issued for Dyke March? The predicable response was that, with Wong-Tam’s solution, no permit for Trans* March would be issued, and that in fact, due to the legal requirements of piggybacking, we would be required to maintain a distance of no greater than 100 meters from the Dyke March itself (as legally, we would be a part of it).
Others at the meeting raised additional concerns about this plan. It was pointed out by a member near the back of the room that many of us choose to march in both the Trans* March and the Dyke March. To deliberately hold the marches simultaneously would marginalize individuals who identify with both groups, and thus diminish the strength of both marches.
It also emerged that Dyke March stakeholders had not been properly consulted about this plan. One attendee called the idea of amalgamating with the Dyke March “a non-option,” and several expressed their opinion that the city’s response was insulting (an opinion which I happen to agree with).
“Make no mistake,” said an attendee across from me, “there will be a March on Yonge Street. If Pride Toronto Incorporated won’t take the necessary steps, some members of the community will self-organize and arrange it.” Several heads nodded in agreement, mine included.
History has shown that Toronto has what appears to be a very pissed-off Trans* community, who will do what is necessary to bring their message into the streets, permit or no permit. Nevertheless, the group consensus seemed to be a preference to see Pride™ Toronto take some additional responsibility to do the right thing. Obviously a March would be safer if the city will authorize it, so that Pride™ Toronto can take part and bring their resources and experience to bear in seeing the March through to the fruition of true visibility.
My Enemy, My Ally
Pride™ Toronto seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place, here. It’s doubtless that they wish to support the Trans* community, which has an acknowledged need for greater visibility. In the lead-up to WorldPride 2014, Pride™ also wishes to continue to be perceived as properly and fairly representing all the groups in the queer umbrella (and not just Gays and Lesbians).
Upon analysis, it has become increasingly clear to me that it’s the City of Toronto which has thrown up the metaphorical (but almost literal) roadblocks in this situation.
Rather than seeing Pride™ Toronto as an enemy of the Trans* community, I see them as a strong potential ally. Particularly the dedicated individuals leading up the Trans Pride team, who are themselves members of Toronto’s Trans* community, and who are bending over backwards to do everything in their power to help us. I think that Pride™ Toronto wants to do the right thing, within their power, but nobody is quite sure of what the “right thing” is at this point.
We in the Trans* community know what needs to be done, and my opinion is that we should collectively team up with Pride™ Toronto to help ensure that outcome.
Next Steps – Taking Action!
Trans Pride team has announced another town-hall meeting will take place on Tuesday, April 2nd, from 6 to 9PM (details below). It’s a chance for concerned members of the Trans* community to show up, voice their concerns, and discuss this issue transparently with the Trans Pride team, and other reps of Pride™ Toronto.
I believe the Trans* community should make the following request of Pride™ Toronto:
In recognition of the fact that the City of Toronto has never issued an independent, specific permit for Trans* March, Pride™ Toronto should make a specific, separate, and independent request for a permit exclusively for Trans* March 2013, for access to Yonge Street on Friday, June 28th, 2013.
That’s all we’re really asking for, right? For Pride™ Toronto to take the same step they’ve taken for the Pride Parade, the same step they’ve taken for Dyke March, we are only asking them to apply equivalent action to represent the Trans* community, and make an official request for such a permit from the City of Toronto.
I would urge Pride™ Toronto to make this simple, straightforward request publicly, transparently, and allow the community to witness first-hand that Pride™ Toronto takes the Trans* March as seriously as they do the Dyke March.
With the strength of the Trans* Community and Pride™ Toronto joined together, speaking as one, the City of Toronto will have to decide whether or not they want to do the right thing. And they may approve the request, allowing Pride™ Toronto to go forward with the best Trans* March they have ever had (I’d certainly be honoured to be part of it).
Alternatively, if the city approves Dyke March, and approves Pride Parade, but rejects Trans* March, then we will have cast light publicly and irrefutably on the true source of the inequality… And we’ll have gained a powerful ally, in the form of Pride™ Toronto, in addressing what must be done moving forward from such an unfortunate hypothetical action on the part of the local municipal government.
Please come to the Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, April 2nd, and express your opinion. The meeting is open to everyone ( Trans* people and allies alike). Below are the details for the meeting, from an announcement issued by email from Pride™ Toronto’s Trans Pride Team.
TRANS PRIDE TOWN HALL
Tuesday, April 2nd. 6-9pm
Courtyard by Marriott (475 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4Y 1X7)
Come share your ideas, concerns, questions about the 2013 Trans Pride March and discuss the options available for the 2013 route.
Your feedback is essential to our organizing. The 2013 Trans Pride Team aims to be accountable to our communities by upholding values of transparency, respect, and collaboration; we are looking to create a space of open and respectful dialogue.
* This meeting is open to all members of our communities. Everyone is welcome*
ASL interpretation is available.
Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to make this event accessible for you.
Questions? Contact us via email: email@example.com
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.