4 min

Splitsville: Queers launch alternatives to official Pride Toronto events

Sasha Van Bon Bon organizes event to directly compete with official Dyke March

The seams are beginning to unravel as queers — angry about Pride Toronto’s decision to ban the term “Israeli Apartheid” — begin to organize a parallel program of events.

Sasha Van Bon Bon, sex advice columnist and leader of burlesque group the Scandelles, and fellow activist Jess Dobkin are skipping the Dyke March on Saturday, July 3rd in favour of leading the Take Back the Dyke March. It’s a protest against Pride Toronto and its decision to censor the messaging in the parade of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

“I cannot do that Dyke March, nor can my colleagues,” says Van Bon Bon.

“I think a lot of people will be boycotting Pride the organization this year, and for good reason,” says queer/trans activist Ayden Scheim. “I think it’s important to instead support community-based, non-corporate events that are happening over the week.”

On Monday, June 7, the newly formed Pride Coalition for Free Speech will host a community meeting at the 519 Community Centre to discuss plans for alternatives to Toronto Pride’s lineup of events.

Meanwhile, the press release for Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s Queer Pride 2010 fest — billed as a community-driven “alternative to Pride” — appears to be a direct rebuke to Pride Toronto as it welcomes “communities who will not allow themselves to be censored.”

But that line, says marketing director Shawn Hitchins, “was actually done before the whole apartheid rigamarole.”

He says the reactions against Pride Toronto, like the Take Back the Dyke March, “are really two separate issues being compounded together. You have the Israel-Palestine issue and you have the corporate Pride issue.”

“I think a lot of people have felt for a long time that it’s no longer about gay pride but about vodka,” Hitchins says. “Remember 10 years ago, when you’d walk down the street on Pride Day and see tons of people in ridiculous, glamorous, queer costumes? Now you walk and see people with stickers on them featuring corporate logos in rainbow colours. Fuck that!”

Bryen Dunn is working on Pride Toronto’s Alterna-Queer program and laughs at how his event is now not alternative enough. He’s seen these kind of protests before.

“Way back when, we tried to do the Queer West stuff — it was all about grassroots, no sponsorship,” he says. “I think politics is essential to Pride — it’s where it came from — but I also see that over the last 10 years, it’s gone way to the other side, becoming just a big party like Caribana.”

Dunn says he chose to try and work within the system as a volunteer. Activists, he says, “are putting a lot of weight on Pride, like they’re expecting Pride to fight the city. I tell people who are angry that if they’re so adamant, they should hold their own Pride on the original weekend, during the G20. Have an alternative Pride the weekend before and just go for it.”

It’s happened before, notably Will Munro’s famous Vazaleen “Shame” parties. But this year, says Dunn, “might be the turning point.”

For a couple of months, Toronto activists have been toying with the idea of a gay march on June 27.

“I think it’s important to distinguish between Pride events and Pride Toronto events,” says Scheim. “They might own that name, but they don’t get to own a celebration that is bigger than the organization.”

He points to the July 1 party at The Beaver, held by Original Plumbing, a US magazine for FTM trans men, as an example but also encourages people to check out Pride Toronto’s Blockorama and Fruit Loopz — “events that aren’t money-makers for the organization and therefore get screwed.”

All this talk mystifies Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands.

“Nothing has changed with the Dyke March. A lot of this is based on misinformation,” Sandilands insists. “I was contacted by Jane Farrow yesterday with the question, ‘Is it true that the dykes are no longer allowed to march down Church St?’ The dykes haven’t marched down Church St for some years. The route this year is the same as it was in 2009 and 2008.”

“They haven’t asked to meet with us or contacted us in any way to tell us what their issues are with the Dyke March,” Sandilands says.

“For QuAIA to have a voice in the Pride parade and Dyke March is entirely dependent on there being a Pride parade and Dyke March,” says Sandilands. “We are not in a position to decide whether [QuAIA’s] argument or their cause is relevant or not. I’m sure it’s a very worthy cause, but our decision was not about the Israeli lobby or the Middle East crisis or freedom of expression; our decision was about saving Pride, to enable the festival to survive and continue in the way we are mandated to do.”

“If we hadn’t made the decision we made, there would not have been a march in which to have a voice,” Sandilands insists. “Without Pride, we have nothing. We don’t have a festival in which to have a voice about anything.”

“When did we ever need permission?” laughs Van Bon Bon. “We can do this on our own. We’re dykes! We don’t need money to be proud.”

The competing march has been easier to organize than a lesbian orgy, she says, and “it’s really made us realize that we don’t need all of that sponsorship stuff, and how it got there in the first place is the big question we need to ask ourselves. How did these people manage to take over our march, our parade? We don’t need them.”

Sandilands says she’d like to meet and show them otherwise, “but if they still feel after that that there’s a place and purpose to hold their own alternative march, then I wish them all the best and good luck with it.”