2 min

The politics of Pride

Pride in Toronto as we have come to know and love it — as the embodiment and celebration of a political movement — is suffering from an identity crisis, one that seems to get worse every year and one that the good people at Pride Toronto either can’t or won’t acknowledge.

On May 23 Pride grand marshal El-Farouk Khaki spoke at a Queers Against Israeli Apartheid event at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. That made a lot of Jewish people very angry and the National Post did a story on it.

“The grand marshal is not an official spokesperson,” Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands told the Post. “[Khaki] has committed to us that his sponsors for the parade are all organizations that have nothing to do with the Israeli issue, and that he will never under any circumstances speak on the Israeli issue from a Pride point of view.”

Never? Did Pride Toronto muzzle Khaki, its own grand marshal and the founder of Salaam forever? Did Khaki let it happen? (See 2009’s Grand Marshals & Honoured Groups for more on Khaki.)

Then Pride Toronto issued a strange press release. “The organization does not have any affiliations whatsoever to political entities or causes,” it reads. “It exists for the purpose of delivering the annual Pride festival.”

That, aside from being a rather large and steaming load of crap, seems to mean that Pride Toronto considers itself to be just a big, apolitical, gay party promoter. Okay, fair enough.

But then the press release continues: “Participants in the various events will be required to stringently adhere to the criteria stated on the application forms…. These criteria include… acceptance of the organization’s right to reject and remove entries that violate Canada’s hate crime laws or contravenes the organization’s antidiscrimination policy….”

Essentially that part about the “organization’s antidiscrimination policy” means that Pride Toronto reserves the right to reject any organization or message its management finds controversial or unsavoury (as apparently it did with Khaki). That is about as political a policy as I can think of. It’s creepily authoritarian too.

“I want to be very clear,” Sandilands subsequently told Xtra’s associate editor Julia Garro. “No one will be banned because of their messaging…. If they simply have a political position, [stopping them from participating] is not our decision to make. Pride has always been a political platform…. What we’re working for is human rights for queer people all over the world. We are in favour of that.”

But Khaki’s participation at the Buddies event implied some concern on his part for the human rights of queer Palestinians and essentially he got shut down for it, or rather he apparently agreed to keep quiet about it.

Why shouldn’t the grand marshal be free to speak his mind on whatever he likes? He was elected by gay and lesbian people in an open and popular vote largely on the merits of his political activism. The honour should be a bully pulpit for whoever holds it. Khaki is a politician. The Pride march is a political event. Pride Toronto, regardless of Sandilands’ dithering, is a political organization. The grand marshal should not be, like Mickey Mouse on parade at Disney World, a foam-headed caricature with a frozen smile and no voice.

Last year in this space I encouraged readers to celebrate Pride with a good healthy fuck. This Pride, as well some well-deserved, guiltless and responsible sexual pleasure, I hope you’ll take a moment to make an overtly political statement even — especially — if it rankles management at Pride Toronto.

It’s your day and your parade. Don’t let anybody tell you different.