I was among a small group of gay and lesbian people who gathered at Toronto City Hall on June 14 to speak against the motion to deny funding to Pride Toronto if it didn’t effectively censor the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA). The motion was declared redundant and withdrawn before any of us had a chance to speak on it. You can read many of the deputations here. Below is an excerpt of what I planned to say to the executive committee that day had I had the chance.
How did it come to this? How did we get here?
I think you were duped. Martin Gladstone, Carol Pasternak and Avi Benlolo of the Friends of the Simon Weisenthal Center came to visit. Their supporters wrote to you echoing their sentiments. Cumulatively, they convinced some of you that sinister, dangerous, potentially violent – even terrorist – forces were seeping into the Pride parade. They said that by funding Pride Toronto, the city could be held complicit in the court of public opinion for fanning the flames of anti-Semitic hatred.
An entirely new and ill-equipped management team at Pride Toronto, with little institutional knowledge of Pride’s relationship with the city, and with virtually no connection to Toronto’s local gay and lesbian communities, was similarly duped. The organization twisted itself into all kinds of rhetorical and procedural knots in a misguided effort to reconcile mutually exclusive goals. Ultimately, management at Pride Toronto chose to alienate its core constituency of gay and lesbian people, partly because it believed the city would otherwise withdraw its support.
A seed, cultivated by city officials, germinated into a polarizing, fear-fuelled monster. But city councillors and staff, seeing the gathering clouds of controversy, retreated to the back room, leaving Pride Toronto to twist alone in the wind. The deal is a stinker. In effect, Pride Toronto secures its 2010 city funding by agreeing to limit the free expression of gay and lesbian people. It’s an assault on the very foundational root of the sexual liberation movement.
Xtra has followed QuAIA and Pride Toronto on this for more than two years. I travelled to Israel last year about this time, specifically to better my understanding of these issues. I attended the Pride festival in Tel Aviv (a celebration bankrolled entirely by the municipality there).
Xtra was there at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre last spring, at the QuAIA event for which the 2009 grand marshal — former grand marshal — El-Farouk Khaki, took such heat. Xtra reporters interviewed QuAIA members as they marched in the 2009 parade. And Xtra writers and editors, myself included, have come to know them.
In my experience, this is a community — QuAIA — that includes clear-eyed, respected, illustrious gay and lesbian activists, some with decades of experience. There are also passionate undergraduates, some of whom are only just learning to exercise their prerogative for dissent. There are Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists and others. There are Israelis and Palestinians. Cumulatively, these people have a cogent, valid — though controversial and polarizing — position. And in my estimation, there is not a violent or dangerous impulse among them. They are gay and lesbian human rights activists for goodness’ sake.
You have the option to demonstrate just and fair leadership today. You can effect positive change in this matter right now. I urge you to declare that QuAIA’s presence in the Pride parade does not violate the City of Toronto’s anti-discrimination policy.
It is your policy after all, and it’s the right thing to do.