Saturday • 2014.04.26
Trans* March 2014 is Legal and Longest Ever – Permit for Yonge St, from Bloor to Dundas Square!
Pride Toronto’s Trans* Pride Team announced their route today, and it’s very exciting indeed.
This year’s Trans* March is longer than Dyke March. It’s even longer than the Pride Parade itself. In recent years, Trans* activists have taken on the city over the problems with the Trans* March route. All of the hard work has clearly paid off: this will be the longest Trans* March route to ever receive a permit from the City of Toronto.
Activists have been working to achieve this outcome for a very long time, and it’s especially important this year due to World Pride 2014, because the eyes of the world will be on Toronto’s celebrations. World Pride travels around the world to different cities, and this year’s city is Toronto.
The Trans* March route is described in the Town Hall announcement as follows:
1. Starting at the North Stage (George Hislop Park),
2. Marching through some of the Pride areas over to Church and Bloor,
3. Merging with Vehicles and Floats (Yes, Vehicles are approved for Trans* March this year!),
4. Along Bloor to Yonge,
5. Down Yonge all the way to Dundas Square.
This is a significant departure from Pride’s Trans* Marches in previous years, more closely resembling the rogue marches put on by members of the Trans* Community in years past. This announcement has laid to rest those concerns once and for all. This offers a secure and safe opportunity for Trans* people and their allies to bring their message to the world, without fear of being trapped behind a rainbow curtain, or of going head-to-head with police by participating in a rogue march without a legal permit.
The long battle for Trans* March’s route is finally over. We have won, and can join together in solidarity without the need to further splinter an already marginalized community.
All members of the community are encouraged to come to the Town Hall meeting to ensure their concerns are addressed this year. There is a facebook event, but here are the details:
Town Hall Meeting – Trans* March 2014
Location: OPSEU, 31 Wellesley St. East, Toronto
Date: Saturday May 10, 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm
– Accessible Venue
– ASL interpretation
– Food will be provided
If you or your group want to march, as always you can just show up on the day of the March (Friday, June 27th 2014, at George Hislop Park).
However, if you would like to register your group (to be officially recognized by Pride Toronto, e.g. to get their help securing a particular order position within the March), or if you want to bring a vehicle into Trans* March, you can register by contacting the Trans* Pride Team.
A brief history of Trans* March in Toronto
It all started in 2009, when a woman by the name of Karah Mathiason noted that Toronto needed a Trans* March, and decided to start one. Pride Toronto became involved with her plans, gave her some logistical support and a route, and Trans* March was born.
For years though, the route has been a touchy topic in Toronto. From 2009 on, Pride Toronto ran a short 3-block Trans* March on the Friday evening before Pride Weekend. Those marches were on Church Street only, in the heart of the queer village sector, where the street was already closed to vehicle traffic for the Pride festivities (and thus no marching permits from the city were required or sought).
Meanwhile, Dyke March and the Pride Parade itself enjoyed their own permits from the city, which shut down Yonge street for them to march and express their message… and which drew audiences in the hundreds of thousands to a million.
The short length and sheltered location of Trans* march hampered public visibility, which struck some local activists and Trans* people as disrespectful and insufficient. In a world and in a country where Trans* people still face far more discrimination on average, and lack human rights protections, even compared with Gay and Lesbian people.
Requests to Pride Toronto to move Trans* March to Yonge Street were not fulfilled. Explanations included difficulties securing a Marching Permit from the city. Although people in Canada have the right to collect and march as a group (it’s protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms), Pride Toronto has a relationship with the City of Toronto, and for them to run any march without a permit would be politically infeasible. So when they ask, and the city says no, the answer is no.
Some felt that by not pressing the point, Pride Toronto wasn’t doing enough to support the “T” part of the “LGBTTIQQ2SA* communities” which they represent as part of their mandate.
The Great Schism
In 2011, a local Trans* woman took matters into her own hands, using her truck and a loud sound system to create a splinter march which took her and a group of proud but angry Trans* people and their allies down Yonge street with no legal permit. This action set in motion a chain of events that would change Trans* March forever.
In 2012, with no changes planned from Pride Toronto as to how they would execute their Trans* March, she contacted me saying she wasn’t feeling well enough to repeat her heroic actions, and asked me if I would take over the responsibility. I was aware I would be taking on a legal risk, but I agreed anyway because I felt strongly that it was a historic time for the Trans* community and that it was critically important to achieve visibility and raise awareness about how far we still need to go to achieve equality. With the help of a dozen friends and volunteers, we did it again, but this time, starting after and picking up a great number of marchers at the end of Pride Toronto’s Trans* March and taking them down Yonge Street and beyond. “The Unofficial Trans* March 2012” still stands as the longest Trans* March route in Toronto’s History (albeit, without a permit).
This march raised the profile of the issue, because it continued on from and was comprised of marchers from the “official” march, who were unsatisfied to stop after the short route inside Pride grounds. As Pride 2013 approached, the question on everyone’s mind was whether this would be the year that Pride was able to secure a permit for a proper, respectful Trans* March on Yonge Street.
Pride Toronto has a dedicated Trans* Pride Team, made up of Trans* individuals from the community. Every year, Pride Toronto allocates resources to this Team for their march, and for creating Trans* spaces and events throughout Pride Week. In 2013, I was asked to join Pride Toronto’s Trans* Pride Team. It was a tempting offer, as I would have access to more resources than ever before to organize Trans* March, and for the first time I could take a hand in organizing events outside the march itself. Not to mention having an inside look at how Pride is put together. I had to decide whether or not to accept the job.
The Trans* Pride Team deserves recognition for their fantastic work, but as subordinate members of the greater organization, they are not able to control what permits are acquired from the City of Toronto.
Unfortunately, I was informed that once again there would be no permit from Toronto for Trans* March on Yonge Street in 2013, and that was a deal-breaker for me. I respectfully declined the offer, and explained that I felt I could accomplish more for the community as an independent activist than I could achieve as a member of Pride Toronto under the political circumstances at the time.
Community Town-Hall consultation meetings were held between Pride and members of the Trans* community. When the news about the lack of permit came out, it was not received well. The community spoke loudly in response, declaring that we would do what Pride Toronto was unable to accomplish as a result of their political realities: we would continue the tradition and take another Trans* March down Yonge Street, regardless of permit.
I felt bad for the Trans* Pride Team, because they caught the ire of the community for a situation that was legitimately beyond their control. They committed to an interest in accommodating the community and cooperating with us, to the full extent of the limits placed on them by the organization and by the City. The Trans* community members present at the Town Hall requested that Pride Toronto step aside from hosting a Trans* March, and focus their resources instead on holding a rally and other events through the week. That way, Pride Toronto would not be responsible for any Trans* March which was subsequently organized by community to take Yonge Street without a permit. Pride Toronto agreed, and notified the city in a letter to Police Chief Bill Blair.
The writing was on the wall: our plan to hold an enormous unpermitted march on Yonge Street, as we had done in 2011 and 2012, was public information. This might be the reason why the City of Toronto later flip-flopped on their decision, and belatedly un-rejected the permit application for Pride Toronto to have Trans* March on Yonge street. The new approved permit was for a shorter route than activists had planned: it was too little, too late.
Despite some last minute setbacks, Trans* March 2013 proceeded not as a Pride Toronto event (as was falsely reported in various media), but as a community driven action of resistance and free expression: Trans* March 2013 was a huge success.
The Long Road Forward
The City of Toronto has clearly learned their lesson: Trans* March is a big deal, and isn’t going away. This year, as Toronto celebrates WorldPride 2014 with the potential to be the biggest and best Pride Week Toronto has ever seen, we see now as a community that our efforts have paid off. Pride Toronto went forward to the city and boldly requested the longest permit ever issued for a Trans* March, and it was approved.
I am proud to say that this year, I again received an offer by Pride Toronto to join as one of the Trans* Pride Team Leads. When I found out that Yonge Street was secured, I accepted the offer. In this role I plan to work hard ensuring that things are done properly this year, that community needs and concerns are received respectfully and dealt with.
I speak in this article as an independent entity, in my own voice, and not in my capacity as a representative of Pride Toronto. The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pride Toronto. I do commit I will continue to do my best, and will bring these new resources to bear working with my amazing co-Leads to create safe accessible space at World Pride 2014 for the Trans* community to assemble and self-express, as well as to hold events where they can celebrate and share.
How timely that on the eve of World Pride, Trans* March has finally taken on its rightful place, and will continue as the strong political statement it has always been: that Trans* Rights are Human Rights, and the Trans* Community in Toronto will never allow itself to be relegated to the sidelines again. Happy World Pride, everyone.