It’s Zero Hour for Pride Toronto — at least according to Toronto city councillor and mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti, who tried to reignite the debate over the parade’s inclusion of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) by issuing the Palestinian rights protest group an ultimatum that both QuAIA and Pride have now ignored.
“I’m giving them 24 hours,” Mammoliti told Xtra yesterday, “I’ll give ‘em till midnight tonight. If they [QuAIA] don’t withdraw from the parade, I’ll be drafting up a motion at the next city council meeting asking to get rid of the funding this year completely and any resources that are associated with it. If we’ve already given any money to the parade, we’ll be asking for it back.”
With the deadline now passed, Pride Toronto has not publicly responded to Mammoliti’s edict, which was announced as Mammoliti struggles to turn the page on a controversial plan to equip bylaw officers with firearms.
In March, Pride Toronto announced a plan to vet all signs at the parade through a “freedom of expression policy.” That was met with outrage from appalled artists and activists. They revoked the plan, and since then, Pride Toronto has remained largely silent on the issue, meeting behind closed doors with city officials. Given such tension, why did Mammoliti feel the need to rush a time limit?
“I’m a mayoral candidate and as a mayoral candidate, I need to be stepping up to the plate and giving my views as well,” he says, “I’m very uncomfortable with a group like this alienating Israelis in this city, and I don’t think the taxpayers should be funding any organization that promotes clear discrimination against any one group.”
In a press release yesterday, Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, commended the push to “deny funding to Pride unless it is willing to comply with the City’s anti-discrimination guidelines.”
Pride Toronto’s parade entry form already includes a promise to abide by the city’s anti-discrimination policy.
Mammoliti’s move was championed by fellow candidates Rocco Rossi, Sarah Thompson and Rob Ford.
Mammoliti admits he has never spoken to any member of Queers Against Israel Apartheid, but he says he has a good sense based on those who’ve contacted him.
“I have looked at every single email that has come my way from both sides,” and insists that “anti-Israeli sentiments have come out.”
Asked if he can provide Xtra with such emails, however, Mammoliti says, “You should talk to the Jewish community itself and recognize how they’re feeling right now. If you have, you’ll know they’re uncomfortable with this whole thing and are encouraging the city to do exactly what I’m suggesting.”
Tim McCaskell, educator, author and member of QuAIA, argues that “comfort” is not a valid reason for censoring legitimate political activism.
“Pride has always made some people uncomfortable,” he says. “If we allow bureaucrats and politicians to ban a group from Pride because it makes some people ‘uncomfortable,’ what’s to stop homophobes from complaining that the whole parade makes them uncomfortable? Will the City threaten funding to placate them too?”
Mammoliti rejects this “slippery slope” argument but, given the hypothetical example of an anti-Catholic group burning the pope in effigy, admits he might ban that group too.
“Possibly, yes, then I may be doing the same thing, but we’re talking about anti-Semitics right now. Anything that accepts city grants to spread this kind of message is wrong. The Pride parade is supposed to be about stopping the hatred. And I think [QuAIA’s presence] is encouraging it to some degree.”
However, McCaskell scoffs at Mammoliti’s zeal for fighting discrimination.
“I’ve been a gay activist long enough to remember when Mammoliti argued in Parliament against same-sex equality legislation on the grounds that our ‘body parts don’t fit together,’“ says McCaskell.
He’s referring to an infamous speech then-MPP Mammoliti made when the NDP-led Ontario government debated legislation for same-sex spousal benefits in 1994 — a paranoid rant conflating the adoption of children, polygamy, S&M and sex toys in a future society a century from now. His vision was met with heckling from his own caucus, leading him to weakly declare, “I am not a gay basher,” before crossing the floor to the Liberal party.
Now, he says, “I have learned from my past mistakes…what better voice than my voice to be saying this based on my past mistakes?”
“That’s a little rich,” says Rick Telfer, sociology grad student and creator of a Facebook page protesting Pride Toronto’s now-revoked expression policy. “To be apologizing for your homophobic past at the same time you’re sowing divisions within the lesbian, gay, bi and trans community? How can anybody take him seriously?”
McCaskell piles on, saying QuAIA “won’t be shaken by threats from a homophobe desperate for attention.”
Mammoliti shrugs it off.
“I’m not going to keep apologizing for what I did 20 years ago. I’ve already done that and if people can’t move on, so be it.”
Going into work at Metro Hall today, he says, “I’ll be writing up the resolution that will be going to council to withdraw the funding for this year, along with any resources… the police officers, the clean-up, all that stuff.”
City council doesn’t meet again until Tuesday, May 11.
If Pride Toronto ultimately loses its city funding, Mammoliti says don’t blame him.
“It’s the organizers. They’re the ones who have to make this decision. In fact, they don’t even have to — it could be the group itself, withdrawing from the parade. It’s all I’m asking.”
George Smitherman, for his part, issued a statement to Xtra late yesterday condemning QuAIA but stopping short of saying that the city should pull its funding.
“The idea that Pride should be a willing host for anyone to show up and project whatever they want is foolish,” writes Smitherman. “Let’s let Pride be about the lesbian, gay, bi and trans community and not stand by and let it be hijacked by this issue or that.”
The frequently used word in this debate sets Telfer off on a rant.
“Talk about hijacking!” he says. “It’s not that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid is hijacking the parade. One could easily use the same word to describe the level of corporate influence over the parade — not to mention the number of straight pundits and politicians trying to define for our community what Pride is about.”
–with files from Marcus McCann