Pride Toronto Censorship – From Bad to Worse

So, PrideToronto might have been forgiven if they just didn’t realize what a fiasco they were creating by censoring Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from marching in the Pride Parade.  But, now they should know better.  They have seen their Grand Marshalls and Most important Lesbian (no…that’s not its title but) refuse the honors.  Then they have seen dozens line up to give theirs back.  And then, they saw a community meeting with hundreds of leaders in the LGBT community denouncing the censorship.   Most recently, a former Executive  Director is telling them to learn from their mistakes.

But, they aren’t learning from their mistakes.  They have dug in their heels.  They are refusing to let QAIA march because last year, QAIA made some people feel “unsafe”.  I am not sure what “unsafe” means in this context.  Like, fearing for their physical safety ? Or maybe just unsafe in the sense of uncomfortable?  Well, guess what?  Lots of folks feel uncomfortable around queers.  And lots of folks feel  uncomfortable around lots of the constituencies that march in the Parada, from corporate Canada to naked gay men.  Uncomfortable isn’t the test.

Now, Pride is unraveling.  Group after group is withdrawing, and making alternative plans.   Pride Toronto has made censorship the issue.  And Censorship is a big issue in the LBGT community, since as Pride Toronto seems to have conveniently forgotten, we were the ones who were long censored.

Not only are they refusing to change their mind.  They are circling the proverbial wagons.    Mark Singh, one of the Directors of Pride Toronto, has circulated a letter seeking support.  Its says, amongst other things:

Participation in our parade, market place and Gala & Awards are down as a result of recent negative attention – it’s late in the game and our festival is rapidly approaching. Our only chance to try to recoup some of the losses we are incurring is to bring in commercial Parade entries and to sell tickets for our Gala. I’d like to ask for your help in promoting both of these participation options to your database.

“Our only chance”? No, your only chance is to change your mind, and face down the City on censorship.  And if the City actually withdrew the funding, then the City would have a good old fashion queer riot on their hands.

I have written to the Directors of Pride, urging them to change their minds.  Here is the letter:

I am writing to you as a member of the Board of Directors of Pride Toronto to urge you to change your decision 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 very essence of LGBT political organizing.

It is not too late to listen to the outcry from the LGBT communities, and to allow QuAIA to march in the Parade.

And here is my first response:

Dear Brenda,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns.

 While many on the Board (including myself) agree with criticisms of the policies of the state of Israel, it is our fiduciary duty to protect the organization and the festival. We determined, through an incredibly long and exhaustive debate and consultative process, that allowing criticisms using the term “Israeli Apartheid” presented an untenable risk to the organization and the festival. In one – very real – scenario, the festival could have been cancelled. In our perspective, allowing this to happen would have gone against our duties as Directors.

 To clarify, the organization does not have a position on the Israel/Palestine/Middle-East conflict.

 Yours truly,

 Mark Singh, Director

Co-Chair, WorldPride 2014 Working Group

I know that they don’t have a position on the Middle East conflict.   I don’t have a position on the Middle East conflict.  At least, not one that would fit on a placard.  And I am not in this to support the message of QAIA.  I am here, because censorship sucks.  And we shouldn’t do it.

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