Pride Week activities in Sudbury were kicked off with an official flag-raising event at city hall Monday morning and barely a mention of cancellation over the weekend of Sudbury’s annual pride march.
Fierté Sudbury Pride revealed in a social media posting on Saturday that organizers decided to cancel the organization’s signature Pride March that was to have occurred on Saturday, July 15 in downtown Sudbury.
"After careful consideration, and in solidarity with our friends at Black Lives Matter Sudbury, we have made the decision to cancel the Pride March at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 15," said the announcement on the Fierté Sudbury Pride Facebook page.
The issue boils down to the fact that a community march on municipal streets would require police escorts of the event for traffic control.
In the Facebook posting, Fierté Sudbury Pride wrote: "We have met with the Mayor and requested that we be allowed to march led by our volunteer marshals; however, currently bylaws and restrictions through the Highway Traffic Act do not allow organizations to use city roads without police in place as traffic control."
The idea of police involvement did not sit well with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Sudbury organization, which issued a public statement, as follows:
"We were incredibly disappointed when informed that Fierté Sudbury Pride had been in close contact with Greater Sudbury Police Services and that police will be involved with the march and other programming.
“Police have a longstanding history of targeting queer spaces and criminalizing 2SLGBTQ+ people," said the statement from BLM Sudbury.
The BLM statement mentioned incidents involving police at the Stonewall Inn in New York city in 1969 and bathhouse raids involving police in Toronto in 1981. The statement did not specifically mention any incidents in Sudbury or anything involving local police.
In cancelling the pride event, Fierté Sudbury Pride said it is fundamental to the 2SLGBTQ+ communities to have the responsibility to continue anti-oppression and anti-racism work “and to work to dismantle systems that cause harm."
Fierté Sudbury Pride apologized and said it forgot the march can only be a successful if it feels safe for everyone.
"By involving police in our march we did not create safety for those who continue to be harmed by policing in our community," said the Sudbury pride group.
"We are deeply sorry for this misstep," the statement from Fierté Sudbury Pride continued.
No mention of the cancelled-march situation was specifically alluded to in the opening ceremony for Pride Week at city hall.
Laur O'Gorman, vice president of Fierté Sudbury Pride, was one of the key speakers at the city hall ceremony.
O'Gorman (who uses they/them pronouns) said this is a frightening time for the 2SLGBTQ+ community, with a level of pushback that hasn't been seen before, especially in parts of the United States, where laws are being passed to silence free discussion and free expression in the queer community.
"It feels different,” they said. “Everything feels different this year. There's been a pushback against queer folks and in particular trans folks and trans youth and drag queens, like I have never seen before. As a trans person, I'm scared and I know that trans youth are scared too."
O'Gorman said Canadians will say it is not happening here, but argued it is beginning.
"It's happening here right now, because it doesn't start with putting people in prisons,” they said. “It starts with having three local anti-trans candidates that you can vote for at the last provincial election.”
The organizer also brought up the cancellation earlier this year of a drag show that was to take place at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School and a Sudbury Catholic trustee’s use of social media, which included comments and reactions to material regarding the trans community, among other topics.
The issue of police involvement in the queer community was addressed by Garrett Carr, a Sudbury drag performer.
Carr mentioned the New York City incidents in the 1960s and later incidents in other cities. Carr said the oppression did not end with those incidents all those years ago.
"It was not the end of police brutality against our community. It was not the end of police negligence toward our community,” Carr said. “The entire concept and institution of the police force was and is a system of oppression for all marginalized communities. We must remember this if we intend to make the necessary changes for the safety of the queer community and every other marginalized community.”
After the city hall ceremony the group went out into the courtyard area of Tom Davies Square, where the formal flag-raising event took place.
Pride Week is being celebrated from now through to July 16 in Sudbury with a wealth of local activities that will be showcased on the Fierté Sudbury Pride social media page.
Len Gillis is a reporter with Sudbury.com.