Queer Ontario announced that it will boycott Pride Toronto’s (PT) planned community consultations, expected to kick off this fall.
“The group sees the process of constituting the panel as fundamentally flawed and inconsistent with the values and principles of community relations and community engagement,” Queer Ontario said in a statement released on Aug 30. The group will not attend any public meetings held by the panel and will communicate its concerns directly to PT.
The consultations are part of a deal brokered in the days before Pride by Metropolitan Community Church pastor Brent Hawkes, lawyer Doug Elliott and 519 Church St Community Centre executive director Maura Lawless.
Their proposal, approved by the board, first rescinded PT’s ban on the phrase “Israeli apartheid” and then called for a panel of “LGBTTIQQ2SA leaders and friends” to consult with the community and make recommendations on how Pride can support freedom of speech and reconcile with the broader community.
Hawkes has confirmed that he will serve as chair of the panel, but there have been no further announcements. In particular, Hawkes has not released the names of the other panellists.
Queer Ontario, positioned as a successor to the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario, launched in January. It has no office space, paid staff or long-term funding, but it has emerged as a vocal critic of PT through the censorship controversy. Nick Mulé, Queer Ontario’s founder, said that the group’s concerns with the consultation panel have been building since it was announced.
“I think they had a great opportunity, Pride Toronto, to work directly with the community and should have opened up the process and made it far more transparent,” says Mulé.
He asked why Hawkes was chosen to lead the process without more community input.
Hawkes could not be reached for comment, as he is currently on vacation. PT staff were not available to comment.
“I can’t speak on behalf of the rest of the group,” says Lawless, “but I think our hope would be that once people have all the information, they will see that the panel is representative and they will choose to participate.”
Until the panel members are announced, Lawless says, “criticism is a little early…. I hope that when people see who the panel are — and to be frank, I’m not even privy at this point as to who those people are — I hope the community will find it reflective of its diversity.”
In its statement, Queer Ontario asked, “Why did Lawless consult with the executive directors of an unnamed list of community organizations, effectively overlooking the numerous grassroots [lesbian, gay, bi and trans] groups and organizations without one?”
“We made a list of the organizations that are well-known in the community,” Lawless explains. “It’s not like the LGBT community is particularly massive; it’s an interconnected community where lots of people know each other.”
If the selection process seems slow and secretive, Lawless says, “it’s about respecting that the people considering this have a right to be asked and to consider the opportunity. Plus, we’re in the middle of summer. I know that’s impacted some folks’ availability. My hope is that folks allow the process to happen and get engaged when the opportunities present themselves to participate.”
Mulé isn’t holding out hope.
“This is a middle body that will be, in essence, doing the dirty work that Pride Toronto needs to be doing directly with the community,” he says. “If they’re trying to develop a relationship with the community, they need to be talking directly with the community.”
With files from Scott Dagostino