Censoring Queers Against Israeli Apartheid: It Ain’t Gonna Work

Try as I might, I couldn’t ultimately avoid the very public controversy over Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the Pride Parade.

Pride Toronto has refused to allow QAIA to march in the Parade.

I don’t love QAIA.  I particularly don’t love the words “Israeli apartheid”, for a lot of reasons.  I don’t like comparing one form of oppression with another.  Apartheid was its own horrendous thing.  So was the Holocaust.   So was slavery.   The occupation is its own thing, and in my own humble opinion, folks who want to protest it should be using language that reflects its unique character.   But, alas, that is not the point. The point, now, is that Pride Toronto has refused to allow them to march in the parade, because they are too controversial.  This is censorship – pure and simple. Pride Toronto is censoring a message because of its political content.  It is political censorship of the most basic type.

Lots of controversial groups have marched in Pride in the past.   It used to be controversial to let naked folks march.  Hey, it used to be controversial to be queer.

And now, Pride Toronto has walked right into the trap of censorship.  By censoring a group – any group – you turn them into martyrs.  You buy them more publicity, and more support, that they would ever have otherwise had.

Will we ever learn that censorship always backfires?

Here, by the way, is the letter that I have sent to Pride Toronto:

I am writing to you to express my concern over the decision of Pride Toronto to ban individuals and groups who wish to express their opposition to policies of the State of Israel during the Toronto Gay Pride Parade.

Gay Pride is, and has always been, a political event, expressing a multiplicity of controversial political views.  The inclusion of an organization like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, although certainly controversial, is in keeping with a long history of Gay Pride as not only a celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual identities and communities, but also an expression of political mobilization and contestation.  Over the years, many groups have marched that have been controversial.  QAIA is a queer-identified group, with an overtly political message that many in the LGBT community and the broader City of Toronto might find offensive.  But, being offensive cannot and should not be used as the dividing line between who is allowed to march and who is not.

The decision to ban this group from the Gay Pride Parade because of its criticism of the State of Israel– or critical of anything for that matter – is political censorship, and in my view, not only misdirected, but contrary to the Charter values of freedom of expression.

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