Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What is Pride Toronto so afraid of?

"I cannot be part of the silencing our communities. Our diversity is our strength; our struggles to end war, make peace, justice and freedom ring in every land. We as queers live, love and die in every land and I will not be silenced or stand in silent complicity while others are oppressed and silenced by those wanting corporate trinkets." Faith Nolan on returning her 2009 award to Pride Toronto.

The battle over free speech at Toronto's Gay Pride parade is heating up. Over 20 current and former honorees have returned their awards to Pride Toronto, along with an award of their own to the committee: the first ever Shame Award. And what was Pride Toronto's response? Well, they kept a low profile, as in their office was locked and they were nowhere to be found, although they did manage to call the police to say they were worried about acts of vandalism to their office. Oh please.

Why is Tracey Sandilands and the 4 members of Pride Toronto who supported censorship so afraid of the community they purport to represent? Why are they afraid of the very backbone of the community, the people who are largely responsible for the existence of Gay Pride? And why did they attempt to frame the symbolic gesture of returning the awards as something that could lead to violence?

I met a member of the committee at a party this past weekend. Because it was a social setting and because I was sure she'd had more than her fill of talking about this issue, I didn't bring it up. But when one of the honorees joined us, they soon got into it and for them the over-riding issue was that of censorship. Censorship has been fundamental to suppressing minorities since basically forever, and the fact that the Pride Toronto committee embraced it, without even putting up a fight was both chilling and extremely depressing to both. As it is to me.

Pride's executive director Tracey Sandilands has said that funding was in jeopardy putting the whole event in question. She's referring to a Toronto city council motion put forward by Giorgio Mammoliti to make the city's funding contingent on banning the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA). The motion was referred to executive committee. It has not even been adopted, and in fact there was a good likelihood that it would not have been. But Sandilands and other members of the board decided to take pre-emptive action, and in a 4-3 vote, they banned QuAIA and introduced censorship.

At a meeting prior to returning the honours, Jane Farrow said that all performers at Pride Toronto (notice how the word gay is not even part of the name anymore) must sign an agreement promising not to say anything offensive or political. I guess being queer is just a lifestyle choice now, and the decades of political struggle are something that needs to be shoved under the rug, or into the closet.

Below is a video of most of the meeting, or you can watch and read more at Xtra! who have been covering this issue in depth. QuAIA has a complete list of all the honorees who returned their awards, with statements from each. There are so many trailblazers there, so many who defied the homophobia of the times to get us to where we are today. It's a shame that where we are is in denial.

Watch live streaming video from xtraonline at


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  1. it's a flipping parade for "fun", not political crap.

    If it starts getting political instead of fun, time to cancel the whole thing altogether

    I'm not gay and I will not be silenced either. We need some lightheartedness in this miserable world right now.

    Give people a break

  2. Your opinions are not supported by me.
    I have marched with Aids Action Now and I have attended every Pride Day since 1988 (and even marched in some of them). I have written letters to my MP over LGBT issues and have donated to various LGBT charities. I do not support a group that is attempting to hi-jack Pride in the guise of free speech. In my opinion the Pride march is as much a celebration as is it a political statement. If this group was fighting for LGBT rights in Israel and Palestine I would stand with them 100%. This group would be better served marching on the U.S. and Israeli consolates.

  3. Dear Anonymous, the first
    As you are not gay I don't expect you to understand the political aspects of pride and its birth out of the systematic oppression of gays. But the fact is, it's not just a parade -- it's also a civil rights march.

    Dear Anonymous, the second
    I think if you dig deeper you'll find it's not QuAIA attempting to hi-jack Pride, but rather homophobic mayoralty candidate Giorgio Mammoliti trying to score points with his base by threatening to withhold funding, and Martin Gladstone who started the uproar because of his pro-Israel agenda. Instead of being content to have both pro-Israel AND pro-Palestinian groups, he took the route of shutting the other group out. It is Martin Goldstone and Giorgio Mammoliti who have made this a free speech issue.


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