Raising the Pride flag at Toronto police headquarters is more than just symbolic, and shouldn’t be taken for granted, noted clergyman and LGBTQ rights activist Rev. Brent Hawkes.
To kick off Pride Month, senior officers joined Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Service members and their allies, outside the Chief’s office on June 1.
“Around the world, there are many LBGTQ communities and activists who want to raise that flag, but can’t do so,” he said. “They can’t do so partly because police services around the world won’t protect them, or it may be those very police services are preventing them from doing it. So, having the Pride flag raised here at police headquarters, not because of the demands of the community, but because the Toronto Police Service wants to do this, is a significant event when you see what’s happening around the world.”
Hawkes said the Service’s leadership should be celebrated for taking such bold and meaningful positions.
“Speaking for me, personally, I trust Chief Mark Saunders, Deputy Chief Barbara McLean and Constable Danielle Bottineau (the LBGTQ liaison for the Service),” he said. “I trust that the three of you are open and willing to listen to the concerns and the questions that the community have. I trust you that this Toronto Police Service is open to looking to change, to having an outside view, to hearing the recommendations and to working to improve your Service. Many of us are looking forward to working with you over the coming years to make Toronto Police Service an even better place to be. I trust your heart, I trust your honesty when you tell me you are open and looking at things and I trust the future that we are going to build together.”
Hawkes said there has been substantial improvement in the relationship between the Service and the LBGTQ community over the years.
He recalled a time when police refused to meet with the LBGTQ community because of accusations of assault.
Last April, Toronto Police withdrew its application to march in this year’s Pride parade, following concerns byevent organizers that the presence of uniformed officers would make members of the LGBTQ community feel unsafe.
Saunders said he hopes the move “will be received as a concrete example” of the fact that he is listening closely to the community’s concerns.
“This has been a tough year,” Hawkes admitted. “In any relationship, there are going to be times when one or more persons make mistakes that challenge the relationship itself. As we have those bumps, it is critically important that we continue the dialogue and we continue to be at the table together and that we continue not to fearmonger or make crazy allegations.”
Inspector David Rydzik, the officer in charge of the Community Partnerships & Community Engagement Unit, said the Service is committed to working with the LBGTQ community to create a more inclusive, collaborative and transparent partnership.
“Those partnerships, admittedly, have been challenged in the past few months, but we are very grateful for those who are willing to come to the table, with mutual trust and respect, to make things better between the Service and the community,” he said.
Bottineau welcomed Service members and LGBTQ allies to police headquarters to witness the flag-raising.
“I think it is vitally important to continue to celebrate Pride and to continue the conversation,” she said.