Hamilton: Honouring the Legacy of Pride and Riots

Submitted anonymously to North Shore

This past Sunday marked the passing of yet another Hamilton Pride, complete with all the rainbows you can pack into a swag bag and a good measure of generally joyful times had by all. The stage was set for this gathering of Queers in Gage Park – a cornerstone of Hamilton’s public spaces – and it was billed as a day of family fun, free food, and entertainment. I attended the festivities, but this year I was there to fill a specific role.

 

I was one of a few fellow anarchists tabling for The Tower.

Let me just set this up by saying that I’m not speaking for The Tower, but as an individual who supports the space and organizes out of it. The day’s events were rather fine. Despite worries from some that we were setting ourselves up for a day of defending riots and arguing with liberals, quite the opposite happened. Dozens of people came up to offer up their support and solidarity, took our free literature (including this zine telling the anarchist side of the story of the last few months), and made plans to come visit our fabulous new space on the corner of Barton and Lottridge.

 

There were some dark spots to the day – mainly the intrusion of a bunch of right-wing-nut street preachers with some vile signage – but I’ll speak more to that later. Because I think that the weeks and months leading up to Pride this year tell a more interesting and challenging story. One that I think lays a lot of context to my critique and offers something for my fellow Queers in this city to consider.

 

So I ask you, how political is your Pride?

 

I’m not going to go into any short history of Queer struggle because every yeshomo with their head out of the sand knows that the first Pride was a riot. We’ve read it stamped into buttons and printed on t-shirts and even cross-stiched into decorative pillows. At the time of the riots, those Trans women and radicals leading the charge on the streets were betrayed by a growing movement that wanted to present a polished face of respectability as a pathway to acceptance, but we like to believe we have seen the error of our ways. Our communities are proud of our riot origin story and we defend those who took action in the streets outside the Stonewall Inn. The pages of our history now herald them as heroes.

 

While I am thankful that those people are now given the respect they deserve, I can’t help but feel that it comes at a terrible price. Their actions are placed at the beginning of a timeline that tells a story of things continually getting better, rights being won, and equality slowly achieved. A timeline that reinforces the very liberal idea of social progression through engagement with the state. “Riots were necessary back in the 60s, but things are different now.” “Pride isn’t about struggle anymore, it’s a celebration of our success.” “We’ve made it. Hurrah.”

 

Let’s bring this back to Hamilton. I live in this city as both a queer and an anarchist, among various other identities, and my Pride is fucking political. Back in March a bunch of black-clad folks marched through a rich neighborhood and down a bougie retail street and lit off some fireworks and broke some windows. Okay, they broke a lot of windows. And people were scared. The action set off an all-consuming political debate in the city over tactics and gentrification and retaliation. It brought to the surface a conflict that had been simmering for years about the rapid take-over of Hamilton by capital and the forced displacement of the poor. People shrieked for the police to bring those responsible to justice. Some even advocated taking the law into their own hands. Donut Monster made a donut.

 

Then about a month later, the police went full commando and kicked in the door of a collective house of anarchists. They threw in flash grenades and dragged people naked out of bed and threatened to shoot their dog and threw a bunch of feminist art in the toilet. They arrested my dear friend Cedar. All of those people affected that day are Queers in the Hamilton community and yet the Queer community said nothing.

 

Cedar was hauled off to Barton Jail and was denied bail on account that they were “too dangerous” to the people of Hamilton. They would go on to spend 30+ days in pre-trial detention in that hellhole. During that time, as a Trans person in jail, they were aggressively interrogated about their gender, kept in segregation, forced to endure invasive strip searches, and threatened with sexual violence. My friends and I spent countless tearful and angry hours ensuring as best we could their safety and fighting to secure their freedom. And yet there was silence from most of the Queer community.

 

As we struggled over these months fighting white supremacists and losing The Tower space and finding a new space and then dealing with a second round of arrests involving seven more of our comrades (including more Hamilton Queers, by the way), we continued organizing and staying true to our politics. One of the ways we did that was accepting a tabling space at Hamilton Pride that was offered to The Tower about a month prior to the event. The Tower has historically run a monthly Queer and Trans Social, participated in alternative Pride month programming, houses a library of Queer and Trans radical literature, and is a meeting place for political Queers.

 

A few weeks before Pride, that table space was taken away from us.

 

At the same time, it was announced that Pride had accepted a sponsorship from the real estate sharks of Ambitious Realty – one of the most aggressive driving players in the ongoing gentrification of Hamilton. Ambitious Realty came out with a rainbow version of their logo.

Now, the situation was complicated and we didn’t want to jump to conclusions so a couple friends asked for a meeting with Pride organizers. And people wrote things online about it. I want to cover this delicately. I have a lot of respect for those who showed up to talk and I consider them part of my community, but I think it would be doing us all a disservice if I tried to spare feelings by not writing about it. This isn’t about throwing people under the bus, it’s about investing in things being better.

 

The meeting went well – The Tower was offered the table space back. But the reasons for retracting their initial offer became readily apparent through the course of the conversation.  One of them was to do with public image. They were afraid of how Queers would react to our presence. Underneath of that, they were worried about how anarchists might act on the Ambitious Realty booth. It’s worthwhile to note that the committee was torn on the issue of inviting us or not, but those who were real adamant we be left out we’re holding a firm line. It is to the credit of the committee that they realized after spreaking with us that excluding a community space from Pride on those grounds just couldn’t stand up to scrutiny.

 

This raises some interesting issues though. Like who is actually included in this so-called “Queer community” that we talk about so much? And what kind of Pride are we building in Hamilton when sponsorship becomes more important than politics? As we slowly see our neighborhoods gobbled up by Toronto, I can’t help but feel like Pride is slipping a similar way. Can we be on the same page about one thing? Toronto Pride sucks. Big time. It’s one long week of advertisements peppered in with protests by Queers over the event itself. Just this week, folks in Toronto are holding an event called RIP Toronto Pride: 1981-2018 that’s a wake to mourn a dead event. Let’s not do that here, okay.

 

Let’s talk for a minute about the issue of sponsorship. The line goes as such: we need corporate sponsorship because our event needs to grow and therefore we need money. It seems to make sense, but I argue that this logic misses the mark entirely. Pride isn’t a festival, it’s a statement. It’s about claiming public space and demanding our right to be there. When anarchists talk about gentrification, it’s not something separate than the struggles Pride is meant to celebrate. A lot of the people who come out to Gage Park are also facing displacement as rents continue to rise, and so what does it mean when groups that are profiting off that are given a place of honour?

 

If the Pride that you’re planning can’t happen without taking money from the companies actively destroying your community, then scale it back. The Pride committee has a kick-ass mission statement that clearly states its opposition to homo-gentrification (they even held an anti-gentrification workshop as part of the schedule of events). If taking a sponsorship is going to violate your own organizational principles, don’t take the money. Queers in Hamilton are really good organizers and we can keep this grassroots and we can do it well.

 

I feel like I’ve spent a good deal of time in my life defending Queerness as having radical organizing potential whilst quietly urging other Queers to actually be those people. And here I go again, I guess.

 

How political is your Pride, y’all?
It’s not worth it to take the sponsorship from Ambitious Realty – giving them all the good rainbow cred that comes with it – for a few more free samosas. And what happened to the Pride March? I’m not convinced we get to throw a party and stop fighting until we’ve actually won our freedom. Not just freedom for those among us who can pay for it, freedom for all of us. Freedom with a circle A. That means standing up for Queers in prison. It means showing up for Cedar and the other people charged in the same case. It probably means standing against prison itself.

 

There’s a tour of queerphobic street preachers making the rounds to Pride events right now. They showed up in Hamilton and guess what… a lot of those who held down and stood out in front were anarchists. And communists, to be fair. Without these non-associations the courts have imposed and other restrictive conditions, we could have done more. Don’t get me wrong, nothing the courts and the cops can do is going to stop us from organizing and being the liberal commie homo-fascists*** the Right thinks we are. But things are still fresh and right now we could use your support.

 

The Pride organizers have done an amazing job of keeping the police out for the last two years (and they extend that to pandering politicians, thankfully). But if we are going to tell the police to fuck off then we need to be prepared to keep each other safe and defend our spaces. A small crew of organized folks could have easily intercepted those fools and edged them out of the park. Some paint and some water guns would have made short work of their cameras and signs. There’s folks willing to do that work, we just need to know you all have our backs.

 

This is important because the answer to defending Pride from Christian hate-mongerers isn’t getting the police involved. The police being involved will always put Queers at risk. And it isn’t about getting the city to enforce a bylaw infraction so that they could be removed for protesting without a permit. That sort of nonsense will only be used against anarchists and organizers when we try to rally and march and demonstrate dissent on the streets that we’re entitled to take. Without a permit. The answer is engaging in meaningful community defense. The first Pride was a riot, a community defending itself. Fighting back against gentrification in Hamilton isn’t just a rhetorical position, it’s real daily work that comes with risks: what would it look like if we saw real estate speculators as threats to the queer community in the same way those street preacher jerks are?

 

Okay, okay, I’ve said a lot. So what am I asking you to do?

 

Start by making sure you check in on how the person arrested at Pride is doing. The one who wrestled the sign away from one of those homophobes and ripped it in half. If charges come down, show up to support him. He had your back so have his too.

 

Then maybe come by The Tower and check out our new digs. Or donate to the legal fund of those arrested. Maybe organize your own fundraiser. Keep your fellow Queers out of jail. So much of what Pride and its supporters claim to stand for is the same as what we fight for as anarchists. Don’t let the media and the cops trick you into fearing the wrong people. We’re really quite lovely.

 

And lastly, when Pride organizing starts up again next year, make your voices heard in making it what it should be. Sponsorship-free. Anti-gentrification. In support of riots. And fucking political.

 

*** one of the street preachers signs read “Liberal Commie Homo-Fascists are Ruining our Children”

 

North Shore Note:
If you want to drop by the Tower, they’re hosting a re-opening party
Cedar wrote a public letter about the case

2 thoughts on “Hamilton: Honouring the Legacy of Pride and Riots”

  1. I wish I could understand why the writer of this essay felt it necessary to distort facts in pursuit of, I suppose a more compelling narrative? In the lead-up to Pride, and now after the tents and tables have been packed up and the organizers have had some time to put their feet up, there has been a great deal of worthy discussion about some pretty big stuff. Pride in Hamilton feels more than ever like it is at a crossroads, and many of the larger issues our city is facing are playing out in the shaping of this event.

    North Shore has run a few essays now on these topics, and for the most part, I would agree with what these writers have had to say. Like many, I am never enthusiastic about rainbow-capitalism and corporate sponsorship of Pride events, let alone from the mercenaries of Ambitious Realty. There is indeed a looming threat of Hamilton Pride turning into something I can’t get behind – I would disagree that we are anywhere near the point of Toronto Pride, but I could certainly see Pride become a gay version of Supercrawl if we do not work to prevent that from happening. There are definitely people in our queer communities who would like to see that happen, and its going to take some organization to prevent it. These points are valid, and well argued.

    Which is why I am so profoundly disappointed in the seemingly deliberate mischaracterisation of the incident involving The Tower’s table space in the festival, as laid out in this piece.

    I want to be clear that I am not an organizer of Hamilton Pride, nor am I an organizer at The Tower, but I am a Hamilton queer who considers many people in both of those categories to be friends. Allegedly, so does this writer, which makes it even harder to accept their willingness to misrepresent what happened with The Tower, their table space, and the miscommunication that occurred around that.

    I would like to set the record straight.

    This year’s process for groups getting table space was that applications were to be sent in, and the committee would approve or deny applications. There were too many applications to give space to everyone who wanted it, but the only hard no’s were cops and political parties.

    Unknown to most of the Pride committee, a volunteer committee member went rogue and invited The Tower, offering them free table space without consulting with anyone else, or even informing anyone else until well after the fact. This person was in no way involved in organizing table space, and had no authority or ability to make this offer. By the time the Pride committee learned that this had happened, all of the space had all been spoken for. There was not room to honor this offer that was made by an out-of-line volunteer overstepping their role.

    It is unfortunate that The Tower’s interperetation of this was that this decision was political, and Pride should and as far as I know did take responsibility for that miscommunication. It is likewise unfortunate that some folks apparently continue believing that this situation was politically motivated after the fact.

    I will not say that every member of the Pride committee would have been enthusiastic supporters of The Tower having table space – our communities are not a monolith and so neither were the politics represented at that table. There would certainly have been voices on that committee who may have found inviting The Tower uncomfortable. I do truly believe however, that the majority of the committee would have been supportive. Many of my friends on the committee first met each-other in The Tower’s space during their queer social nights, and although I certainly do not agree with every decision this committee has made, I do truly believe that it was comprised in majority of people whose hearts and intentions were in the right place, and aligned with the hearts and intentions of our comrades at The Tower.

    There was some badly handled communication on both sides of this situation, and it was unpleasant. However at the end of the day, it became clear to the Pride committee that, in the interest of fairness and preserving friendships, that they should honour this offer that was made without their knowledge, consent, and outside of their groups agreed-upon decision-making process. The Tower was given free space to table. Things seemed to be resolved.

    Except they don’t appear to be, because we are still talking about this goddamn table, and I am still seeing and hearing folks talking about it as though Pride tried to distance itself from a group and then walked that decision back reluctantly after being pressured to.

    At no point did this committee of volunteers decide to ‘take away’ The Towers space. It was not, as far as they knew, given to The Tower in the first place, and when it was discovered someone had offered it without anybodies consent, there was no longer space available. This has been explained. Ad naseum. Apologies were made about it, and steps were taken to resolve it – notably the step to make space available.

    So why is it important to correct this information? Why am I worried about it?

    Well because it’s dishonest. It’s fake news. Its politically motivated misinformation to build a narrative that suits folks, at the expense of folks that they claim to respect and be friends with. It is unfair. It is especially egregious coming from people who like to talk a big game about solidarity and friendship meaning so much. If you don’t mean to throw someone under the bus, maybe don’t throw them under the bus to tell a story in the way you would like to rather than how it is.

    Why isn’t it enough to talk about the things that are unquestionably important – that we cannot sit by and let sponsors like Ambitious get rainbow cred, that we need to keep protecting our queer spaces from politicians and cops, that we need to make sure we make room for a rally and march, that we need to take care of each-other and show our support when our community is threatened by haters and by state repression? Why isn’t it enough to encourage folks to get involved and be heard when these decisions are being made (if we want to prevent gay Supercrawl we need to show up – the gay Supercrawl fans show up from the beginning, making anonymous critiques a month before the event dosn’t accomplish shit). There is no need to add made-up dramatic elements to this story – there is enough here to talk about already. Doing so undermines the extremely valid concerns being raised, and doing so at the expense of friends undermines the assertion that friendship and solidarity is important to us.

  2. Let me start by extending the only apology I can offer, that I did not reply to this last week as intended. I can see that you are angry and feeling defensive about your friends. I can relate to that. But as someone who clearly states they were not part of the Pride Committee and is insinuating that they were also not at the meeting where the table was discussed (and returned), I have to assert that you simply don’t have all the facts in front of you. The narrative that a “rogue” committee member offered the table without anyone knowing is what the Pride Committee asserts happened and I don’t doubt that they are being honest. However, during the conversation it was made apparent that there had already been discussions about giving The Tower the table (due to the mistake having been made on the committee’s side) but that a member of the committee threatened to quit should that happen. Several other statements were made that complicate the willingness of myself to chock this one up to a simple mistake.

    I went out of my way in this piece to not hash out which committee member said what and doubled down on the fact that I respect those organizers and made sure to point out all the things I think they did a great job at. The criticism stands. And as an attendee of Pride this year, sitting at a table that was next to another table that was a discount sunglasses vendor from Jackson Square, I have to ask myself why any queer space in the city wouldn’t have bumping rights over vendors hocking their cheap shit.

    There were many other examples of vendors at Pride I have a problem with. Emerald St. Coffee Co. is part of the wave of gentrifying businesses sweeping the poor off of Barton St. As organizers, we have to embrace an ethos of accountability in our projects. If we fuck up, the right thing to do is admit it, move on, and do better. I am in no way calling out the character of individual committee members, just that they made a bad and weak decision. I am, however, calling out the character of fellow queers more generally as I believe their complacency to let Pride slip into a “gay Supercrawl” is pretty offensive and I think it’s valid to point out the hypocrisy in their calls for support of the “Queer community” when they turn their back on their own during tough times.

    Thanks for taking the time to write back. Hopefully we cross paths in the coming while and are able to take the lessons learned from this year and apply them to put together something we can be even more proud of next year.

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