By now, we have a little distance, I would hope, from the Pride events that caused so much heartache this spring. Two months have passed since the parade, and visions of Cyndi Lauper are fading into nostalgia.
The time has come for us to reflect. What caused the community-wrenching, vertigo-inducing, sponsor-scaring double flip-flop at Pride Toronto (PT)? How do we make sure it doesn’t happen again?
It all goes back to November. That’s when the city began pressuring PT to oust Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA). At the time, PT’s leadership had a number of options. After all, the city was operating on the vaguest wisp of concern: QuAIA might — it may, it could, maybe — violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy. The city had conducted no investigation and did not say definitively yes or no.
In response, PT could have politely refused to censor its participants. It could have demanded an investigation with a verdict: does QuAIA breach the city’s anti-discrimination policy or not? It could have taken the fight public, rallying all of us to oppose the city’s intervention.
Instead, executive director Tracey Sandilands and two board members met with city staff to politely reassure them. Their message? We’re working on a way to either oust QuAIA as a group or “Israeli Apartheid” as a message.
Hindsight is 20-20, but some decisions loom like Mack trucks; you didn’t need perfect vision to see what was coming. What were they thinking?
We’ll never know, because PT leadership kept telling Xtra that they absolutely weren’t trying to turf any group or censor any particular message. (That’s been flatly contradicted by information obtained under the freedom of information act. They were actively working with the city to sanitize the Pride parade.)
The result was an ugly spring for everyone. In March, PT’s board passed a sign-vetting policy, requiring participants to pass their messages by an Orwellian “ethics committee.” Queers were rightly outraged, and the idea was dropped two weeks later.
Certainly, then, even if the PT board of directors were a little blind to the possible backlash, they were not too blind when two months later they did it again.
In May, they announced they would ban the term “Israeli apartheid,” leading to more community unrest. PT lifted the ban just days before festivities were set to commence. But having been burned once, what made them think the second time would be any different?
Since then, there has been a thirst for transparent, accountable leadership at PT. And, unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of it.
Firstly, they punted community reconciliation onto a third party. And that might have been fine, except that that group’s organizers continue to keep a dark curtain between themselves and the community. They’ve so far refused to answer key questions, leading Queer Ontario to announce it would boycott the process.
Meanwhile, after hearing loud and clear that the AGM should be postponed until the consultations are finished, PT turned a deaf ear. (Indeed, the AGM is set for Sept 23.)
In an effort to increase transparency, the Pride Coalition for Free Speech and Xtra held a meeting for the community to get to know future board members (an event I helped organize). I hoped that PT leadership would embrace a more open process, but they chose not to.
The latest bit of news — that PT has appointed someone to its board less than a month before the AGM — fits the pattern. The board is either incredibly naive or it’s thumbing its nose at its own members, who could easily have voted for a replacement board member at the September AGM. At this point, neither interpretation is beyond the pale.
In the end, the year might be remembered as one in which events innocently conspired to create a near disaster.
Or it might be remembered as a year in which those at the helm — those who pulled the levers of policy and public relations — made a number of very bad decisions.
Those who attend the Pride Toronto AGM will be asked to vote their conscience on exactly this. So, between now and then, it’s time to do a little reflecting.