Rachel Epstein, Sky Gilbert and El-Farouk Khaki are just three of the more than 20 past honoured dykes, grand marshals and award recipients who will return their honours to Pride Toronto tomorrow morning in protest of the organization's choice to censor the term "Israeli Aparthied" from this year's Pride parade.
WHAT: Press conference and return of awards with photo opportunity
WHEN: Monday, June 7 at 10 am
WHERE: 519 Church Street Community Centre auditorium
Pride Awards founder and past grand marshal Salah Bachir, former 2010 grand marshal Alan Li and former 2010 honoured dyke Jane Farrow, are also scheduled to be at the conference.
Read statements from Epstein, Gilbert and Khaki below….
Rachel Epstein, Honoured Dyke, 2007:
I am deeply saddened by Pride Toronto’s decision to ban the words “Israeli apartheid” from the 2010 Pride celebrations. This decision runs counter to principles of free speech and the democratic spirit upon which Pride has been built. I was full of Pride in 2007 when I was named Honoured Dyke by Pride Toronto and by my community, for my work with LGBTQ families. But if Pride is now about narrowly defined issues, censorship and the denial of free speech, I must regretfully hand back the honour.
My 35 years of activism have included working with and on behalf of LGBTQ families, with domestic workers from the Caribbean and the Philippines and on a project in the Philippines exploring the impact of micro-technology on women’s work. I was a founding member of the Toronto Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. These issues cannot be separated one from the other. The dynamics of race, class, imperialism, homophobia and transphobia are inextricably linked. The beauty and the strength of social movements lies in our recognition of these connections and in our commitment to solidarity across struggles. Pride was founded in this spirit and, for me, this spirit remains the underpinning of all struggles for social justice.
I cannot support a Pride that excludes, and so it is with sadness that I join my compadres in returning our honours.
Sky Gilbert, Grand Marshal, 2000:
I am returning my award to protest against the de-politicization of Pride. Pride Executive Director Tracey Sandilands was quoted as saying “We are not political, nor do we tolerate hatred of any sort, and we do not let any political group use Pride as a soapbox for their views." What does Tracey Sandilands think the purpose of Pride is? "So the queer community has a chance to celebrate its vibrancy." I respectfully disagree with this view. Being gay, lesbian, transgendered or simply queer IS political. It always has been (and will be for some time I expect) because is grounded in sex and the body. Tracey Sandilands is not the first to try and de-politicize Pride – she is the final nail in the anti-sex coffin, sounding the death knell for those who celebrate our bodies in all their splendid difference and exuberance. (The anti-sex campaign at Pride started many years ago, when Pride officials started telling us that we couldn’t have "sexual acts" on floats). How we have sex — and whom we have sex with, have always been, and will continue to be, political. Countries across the planet still outlaw queer sex, religions demonize us, and North American governments still quibble over the details of our basic civil rights. To declare that Pride is "not political" betrays a deep lack of understanding of our community and is a slap in the face of so many who have fought deeply political battles (and continue to do so) around the world – battles that have sex and sexual orientation as their origin.
El-Farouk Khaki, 2006 Award for Excellence in Spirituality, 2009 Grand Marshal, 2009 Pride Theme Award:
When I received my Pride 2006 Award for Excellence in Spirituality for my work around Queer Muslim sexual orientation and gender issues it was a recognition from my community and my peers of my work for social justice and human dignity.
I was honoured when I was nominated and then elected by the community as the Pride 2009 Grand Marshall and was the recipient of the 2009 Theme Award.
I cannot remain proud and honoured by the recent declaration on censorship by the Pride Toronto Committee.
The drive for censorship at Pride began last year with non-Queer groups declaring "since when has Pride been political?" The recent decision of the Pride Committee to censor the use of the expression ‘Israeli Apartheid’ is unacceptable. In silencing dissident voices for justice, it is our history as queers that they silence.
I quote Dr. Li:
“Pride’s choice to take preemptive steps to censor our own communities’ voices and concerns in response to political and corporate pressure shows a lack of backbone to stand up for principles of inclusiveness and anti-oppression.”
I too urge Pride Toronto to rescind its ban. Its failure to do so will only further estrange the Bureaucracy and Governance of the Committee from Toronto’s Queer Communities.
Till it does so, I cannot retain my two Awards with integrity.