On Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022 tens of thousands were expected to attend the annual Montreal Pride Parade, the largest LGBTQ gathering in the French-speaking world. However, this year, the event was unceremoniously cancelled by the organizers of Fierté Montréal just hours before its scheduled start time, citing a lack of security staff. This misstep exposes the chasm that exists between corporate interests and the living struggle of LGBTQ people.
Despite the abrupt cancellation and the scorching heat, thousands of people still took to the streets in several spontaneous demonstrations to protest for LGBTQ rights. As music, signs, and radical slogans filled Downtown Montreal, the mood was a mixture of anger, celebration, and defiance. The marchers demonstrated that they do not need the permission of corporate sponsors to show their pride and fighting spirit.
Bankruptcy of rainbow capitalism
The parade is supposed to be the main event of the week-long Montreal Pride Festival. So, how could Fierté Montréal, an enterprise with an over $5 million budget for the festival, realize this “lack of staff” at the last minute? Executive Director Simon Gamache admitted that someone at the organization had forgotten to hire about 100 “paid greeting agents” to ensure security along the route. Considering other Pride events did not suffer this apparent negligence, it is clear that the organizers of Fierté Montréal do not see the march, one of the only Pride events that is remotely political, as a priority.
To many, this comes as no surprise. In the hands of corporations, Pride has been largely transformed from a radical movement against the system to a depoliticized, multimillion-dollar marketing campaign. So, perhaps it is not so shocking that not many people are motivated to volunteer to organize a parade for the self-promotion of some politicians, bankers, and corporations. The lone fact that we apparently need a hundred hired bodyguards to “ensure security” while we march for our rights shows that Pride is a shadow of its former self.
Pride started as a riot against police repression. It certainly was not “secure” to take part in the first Pride March in 1970 in New York City, on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The masses rose up and fought for their own rights, resisting attacks by the police, the right-wing, and the media. These attacks are far from being a thing of the past; the recent barrage of anti-LGBTQ bills in the United States shows that even the legal protections we do have are not guaranteed to stick. Under capitalism, oppressed people are never “secure” no matter where, but this cannot stop us from fighting. The thousands who marched on Sunday prove how ridiculous the premise is, that we need paid employees to be able to march in the streets for our rights!
Fierté Montréal claims to represent the LGBTQ community but is overseen by a Board of Directors, “consisting of members of the business community” and “representatives from the event-planning and tourism markets.” The truth is Pride is now run like any other business – by unelected and unaccountable business people whose interests lie in the advancement of their own careers and the profits of their partner corporations. Rainbow capitalism is proof that if capitalists cannot kill a movement, they will co-opt it and keep it in safe channels, that is, safe for the capitalist system. The cancellation of the parade is only the most recent example of this class differentiation between capitalists and workers that also exists within the LGBTQ community.
“Pride is a riot, not a parade!”
After the parade was cancelled, several demonstrations were spontaneously organized by community members and activists, involving thousands of disappointed would-be parade-goers.
One demonstration, organized by activist Salem Billard, took place at Place Émilie-Gamelin in protest of the cancellation, which a contingent of activists from Socialist Figthback took part in. Billard told CBC, “We want to take back [Pride] as our home and not a corporate festival.” Indeed, many protesters were young LGBTQ people, already critical of the commercialization of Pride, willing to fight against capitalism, and receptive to socialist ideas.
As we marched down Ste-Catherine Street, joined by hundreds of passers by, protesters could be heard shouting “Pride is a riot, not a parade!” and “Corporate pride has got to go!” The police officers escorting the marchers were met with animosity and chants of “Keep police out of Pride! They are not on our side!” Enduring the heat, the crowd stretched over several city blocks, splintering off at Parc Devonshire and finally dissipating at Place-des-Arts.
Meanwhile, another demonstration took place in Dorchester Square, the original starting spot for the parade. A crowd of hundreds were led by Afro Pride, an advocacy group for the Afro-Caribbean LGBTQ community, all the way to Olympic Stadium.
In the end, the Pride March took place in Montreal, without official permission and without corporate floats. As one protester remarked, Pride is “not about festivities organized by the municipality. It’s about us. Without us, there wouldn’t be any Pride.” This is proven by these spontaneous demonstrations, as well as the Trans March, a grassroots event independently organized by activist Celeste Trianon and volunteers, which drew hundreds of people on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022 to protest for civil rights, improved healthcare, and social services for trans people, among other demands.
We cannot rely on the capitalists and their police to ensure us “security” during Pride. The community and the labour movement must do it for themselves!
Reviving the militant tradition
The fight for LGBTQ liberation is inherently linked to the fight for socialism. We need to decisively break with capitalism and its apologists and return to the radical traditions of our movement, to the time where the Gay Liberation Front proclaimed, “Complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished… We identify ourselves with all the oppressed: the Vietnamese struggle, the third world, the blacks, the workers… all those oppressed by this rotten, dirty, vile, f*cked-up capitalist conspiracy.”
The crisis of capitalism has always fallen hardest on oppressed minorities, who face greater barriers to employment, housing, and social services. The current crisis only serves to worsen these conditions and we need to be ready to fight back against future attacks. A united struggle with labour and other oppressed groups is the only way we can win against this senile system and its decaying institutions.