A three-storey mural along Church St., that marks a turbulent history between the police and the LGBTQ2S community, is about looking to a future of inclusion.
Created by artist Team Spudbomb, it celebrates the history, diversity and strength of the city’s LGBTQ2S community and, at the same time, marking the bathhouse raids that sparked community outrage.
“I am proud to say I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend, a police officer and, most importantly, I am proud to attach the word ‘gay’ in front of all those words and I will never let anyone take that away from me,” said Constable Patty Retsinas, of the Divisional Policing Support Unit, who spearheaded the mural project. “And that is what this mural is all about. It’s about change.
“…This mural is a result of activists, advocates, individuals, organizations and a community that spoke up and said ‘enough is enough. We want change.’ It didn’t happen overnight and there is still work to be done, but it’s happening. And this mural will look very different 35 years from now. To me, when I celebrate Pride, I am celebrating because I can. And I am celebrating and honouring the people who championed equality for all. This mural is a representation of that change.”
Chief Mark Saunders said the mural recognizes that the relationship between the LGBTQ2S community and police is evolving and a work in progress.
“The more we learn about each other, the more we realize how common we all are," he said, after listening to Retsinas speak about gradually being accepted as a lesbian in the Service. "When we hear those stories, it reminds us. And that’s what makes Toronto, Toronto. That’s why I love our city... We’re in a good spot but we recognize we have a long journey to take and we want to take that journey because it’s the right thing to do.”
Chief Saunders made a historic apology on behalf of Toronto Police Service (TPS) at the annual Pride reception at police headquarters on June 22.
Police raids on Toronto bath houses, 35 years ago, were the catalyst for the annual Pride Week celebrations in the city. An extraordinary community response led to the acquittal of the almost-300 men arrested.
Saunders said the Service regrets its actions taken on February 5, 1981.
“The 35th anniversary is also an occasion to acknowledge the lessons learned about the risks of treating any part of Toronto’s many communities as not fully a part of society,” he said. “Recognizing diversity requires constantly renewed proactive strategies in reaching out to communities and vigilance in challenging stereotypes. Policing requires building mutual trust and that means forging links to the full range of communities that make up this extraordinary city.”
Mural artist Spudbomb said the creation was challenging and a learning experience.
“Going into it, I never knew there would be as much work or I would learn as much as I did,” he said. “As an outsider, coming in, there is a lot I didn’t know about, so I had to do a lot of research to find out what I could put on the wall, what would stand out on the wall, and what would be meaningful.
“The final product that we come to now is a multitude of all that research put together, along with sketches and drawings. Everything on the wall, here, has meaning, a story to it and has something to do with the LBGTQ community in Toronto.”
The background of the mural represents the colours – light-blue, pink and white – of the Trans flag. The light-blue-and-pink stripes represent the traditional colours by baby boys and girls, respectively, and the white stands for those who are intersex, transitioning, neutral or undefined.
The colour purple became popularized as a symbol for pride in the late 1960s and, on Spirit Day which is celebrated on October 20 annually, people wear the colour to show their support for the LGBTQ youth who are victims of bullying.
The rainbow flag, also referred to as the gay pride and LGBTQ pride flag, is a symbol of LGBTQ pride and social movements, while the pink triangle inverted has been reclaimed as an international symbol of gay pride and the gay rights movement
The right sleeve with the red stripe represents the pants a Toronto police officer wears, the shard of glass is a reflection of the banners used during protests after the February 1981 bath house raids, and the sleeve on the left side is a pattern of underwear, acknowledging the “Pussy Palace Raids or Panty Raids.”