Pride Toronto’s former executive director Fatima Amarshi urges the organization’s current leadership to “wake up” and reverse the ban on “Israeli apartheid.”
Amarshi in the documentary Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride
Read Amarshi’s open letter to the Pride Toronto board:
Pride Toronto, It’s Time to Wake Up!
An Open Letter from the former Executive Director.
Two weeks ago, I watched footage of Pride’s leadership flanked by police and enclosed by a fence, tell our community that its most basic right to free-expression would no longer be guaranteed. Like many of the other former staff and volunteers who have dedicated so much of themselves to the build the organization that you have inherited, I was shocked and heartbroken by the decision. But as vehemently as I disagreed with it, as the former Executive Director, I understood what an immensely difficult position Pride was in, and was sympathetic to the toll that this was taking on you. I also remembered an organization that struggled hard to keep itself rooted in the community and was both willing and capable of self-reflection, so there was hope that you would find a way to rectify this.
Many of you that still sit on Pride’s Board and committees are respected colleagues who have worked with me to re-politicize Pride and expand our community’s biggest platform for self-expression. Together, we put politics front and center into the event with our international human rights program, paid tribute to the fearless and extraordinary heroes still fighting religious bigotry, rights of sex workers, trans rights, etc…showcased more queer art in more genres and more places than ever before, made the Dyke March trans inclusive, gave queer families a truly great family pride celebration, launched new community stages, worked on dis/ability access, and most importantly, unanimously rejected the same voices that called on us to ban QuAIA well before this year. So until this week I sincerely believed that once the community voiced their concerns, you would listen, understand, and realize your mistake.
But watching you consistently turn a deaf ear to the community over the last few weeks, and whip yourselves into such an impenetrable siege mentality that you chose to lock your doors and call the police to protect your property when the community came calling on Monday, is not just heartbreaking, it is appalling! To effectively bar the likes of Gareth Henry, Rachel Epstein, Tim McCaskell, your own choices of ILGA, Dr. Li and Jane Farrow for honours this year, from participating in Pride for standing up for the very principle that led to your founding, and then dismiss it in a press release as “regrettable”, is not only short-sighted, it’s cowardly.
It is the very people that you should be celebrating and calling on for support — people who withstood arrests, violence, governments and a public that denied them far more than permits over the last thirty years — that you are barring from your doors with police officers. These are the very people that have so fundamentally changed the legal, cultural and political landscape in this country for queers, that today, on your 30th anniversary, you have the luxury of facing only permitting and noisy election year saber-rattling as your greatest challenges.
Pride the movement and the organization quite literally grew out of the act of “parading” our queerness long before this became anyone’s idea of celebration. It was precisely by exercising our right to express our love, lives and sexuality, in spite of how uncomfortable it made anyone, that we were able to demand justice and equality for ourselves. We learnt early on that in order for our right to free expression to stand, we had to stand behind it as a fundamental and unequivocal principle. And that requires valuing diverse voices and even vehement disagreements within our community. So to suggest that censoring language doesn’t negate our history or infringe on the principle of free speech, is disingenuous and the worst kind of self-rationalizing.
So Pride Toronto, I say to you now: it’s time to wake up and turn to the community, instead of against them! As of yet, you have only managed to justify your decision as some sort of pre-emptive protection against a series of “ifs” and “maybes” and have done nothing to prove that your demise is really inevitable or imminent. This community has a legion of lawyers, fundraisers, organizers and a powerful voting bloc that can still work with you to fight for whatever you need, so let them. And for those of you that are too tired, step aside with our gratitude for shouldering the burden so far, and let those in the community that have the capacity and ability, fight the rest of the battle for you.
As you go into your 30th Anniversary, I challenge you to take a long hard look at your own mission statement and remember exactly what it is that you are supposed to be celebrating and the covenant you made with your community: “Pride Toronto exists to celebrate the history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto’s LGBTTIQQ2SA communities". I can think of no better way for you to truly honour and celebrate the history and courage of our community than to emulate it by facing up to your own mistake and reversing this decision.
Former Executive Director of Pride Toronto (2005 – 2008)
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