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Drawing battle lines: Pride, QuAIA and Toronto council


Drawing battle lines: Pride, QuAIA and Toronto council

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) marching in the 2010 Toronto Pride parade.Martin Gladstone released a documentary about QuAIA called Reclaiming Our Pride IMAGE 1 OF 3
Should Pride expect city funds?
With the future of Pride funding possibly on the line, one incoming city councillor says Pride Toronto (PT) needs to make a choice: either sever all ties with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) or risk losing city support.

James Pasternak, who won the seat in Ward 10 – York Centre, says the city-funded parade is being hijacked by QuAIA to promote violent solutions to conflict zones.

“The problem is QuAIA,” he tells Xtra. “There is a time and a place for everything and [the Pride parade] is not the place. It’s not the kind of discourse we need. Families and children attend the parade. There have been some pretty outrageous comments about Israel. Very un-Toronto.”

For that reason, Pasternak says, he plans to put pressure on his new council colleagues to persuade them to not give PT public funding when council resumes next month. He says he is protecting the community from “hate speech.”

While laws already exist in the Criminal Code to prevent hate speech, Pasternak says the city should take a hard-line approach and make funding contingent on QuAIA's non-participation.

“Free speech is a concept that is encouraged and respected, but there’s no such thing as unlimited and unfettered free speech,” he says. “It just doesn’t exist in this country. Hate speech is just not accepted here.”

But QuAIA member Tim McCaskell says Pasternak is part of a “frightening coalition” forming at council, people who would like to see the city scrap all cultural funding. It’s nothing less than a blatant attack on free speech, he says.

“If you decide that, just because you don’t like the politics of one group you exclude them, it’s a very slippery slope,” he says. “Where does it stop?”

Over the years, other groups participating in the Pride festivities have seen their causes become political footballs as well. McCaskell points to the controversy and hand-wringing surrounding Totally Naked Toronto (TNT) Men.

“I think it’s ironic that members of the Progressive Conservative party march in Pride,” he says. “Their party has the unenviable record of opposing every single pro-gay piece of legislation since, and including, decriminalization in 1969.

“If those groups are welcome at Pride, then a queer group operating in solidarity with queers in Palestine very much has a place.”

No one from PT was available for comment.

QuAIA’s history with Pride is actually quite short, McCaskell says. In 2008, when the group was in its infancy, QuAIA was invited by CUPE to join its contingent since the union had taken up a petition to support a boycott and sanctions on Israel. In 2009, QuAIA formed its own contingent.

Then in late October, the Ottawa Police’s gay liaison office unwittingly promoted a screening of the film Reclaiming Our Pride, Martin Gladstone’s agitprop documentary about QuAIA.

The film covers the participation of QuAIA in Toronto’s 2009 Pride parade. The film was denounced by gay and lesbian organizations in Toronto and Ottawa after it was used in a failed campaign to oust QuAIA from the Toronto Pride parade in the spring.

The controversy made a big splash in the media, both mainstream and gay press.

Then battle lines were drawn at Toronto city council.

Back in June, a motion by Toronto city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to defund Pride as punishment for its decision to rescind its ban on the words "Israeli apartheid" in the parade passed at city council after a 36-1 vote. But the motion was changed significantly before it came to a vote. The motion states that funding for PT be paid after the parade and be conditional upon PT requiring all registered participants to comply with the City of Toronto's Anti-Discrimination Policy.

Pasternak says he supports the motion.

“Many councillors felt betrayed when the group participated in the parade anyway,” Pasternak says. “The funding was conditional QuAIA doesn’t participate, which makes sense. We are bound by that motion unless it is overturned.”

But McCaskell says there can’t be one set of rules for one city-funded cultural event and a different set of rules for another.

“To try to micro-manage all the events is ridiculous,” he says. “What are they going to do, check Nuit Blanche to make sure that there isn’t an art piece that is critical of foreign policy of some country that [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper happens to be aligned with? They may, but that would be a very distressing thing.

“That’s blatant censorship.”

After the council vote on the motion, PT executive director Tracey Sandilands said that getting city funding after the parade is over in the future is a bit of an inconvenience, but that she's happy PT isn't on the hook for interpreting the city's antidiscrimination policy. She said she believes PT was always in compliance with city policy.

For QuAIA, the strategy to challenge the motion has still yet to be developed, McCaskell says. Before bringing out the big guns, the group would like to meet with city officials and try to find an amicable solution, if at all possible.

QuAIA currently has a complaint filed with the city ombudsman, McCaskell says.

“The city met with unregistered lobbyists, people from the Israel lobby, who told them all sorts of fanciful stories of QuAIA being a neo-Nazi group,” he says. “Pride itself, I think, could take the city to court over this. They treat no other organization that receives funding from the city like this. Why the gay one? Why is our funding contingent on something?”

Another councillor-elect, Josh Matlow, takes a more moderate view of the issue than his colleague Pasternak. When Pride funding resurfaces at council, Matlow plans to cast his vote “based on the merits of the arguments.”

While he acknowledges the enormous impact Pride has on the city, economically, socially and culturally, he sits on the fence when it comes to the city’s ultimatum.

“The issue of QuAIA and their participation in Pride merits a serious discussion in council,” he says. “My personal view is Pride should be about Pride. There’s always room for thoughtful discussion on Middle East politics, but using terms and language that knowingly offends a group of people in the city has no place in city-funded events.

“It’s the word 'apartheid.' It offends the Jewish community, both gay and straight. Many see it as an anti-Semitic attack. I don’t see restricting hateful language from city-funded events as restricting free speech. This is about protecting our community from hateful language.”

Rather than completely supporting the motion as it’s written, as Pasternak does, Matlow wants to first sit down with all the players, QuAIA included, and discuss the issue rationally, he says.

“It’s a complicated issue,” he admits. “I’ve heard both sides to the argument, and there’s merit to both sides.”

If an “amicable resolution” cannot be found, Matlow says, an ultimatum on funding will be considered.

Jane Walsh, from the Pride Coalition for Free Speech, who also works on PT’s human rights committee, says it’s too soon to know what will happen. She’s hopeful that new Ward 27 councillor-elect Kristyn Wong-Tam and her allies will fight the motion.

A big problem, she says, is this issue is not fully understood within the broader community. These are complex discussions that don’t easily fit into a 20-second sound bite.

“I’m confident employees of the city, particularly those who work with Tourism Toronto, will explain to the new regime how insane this is,” she says. “Pride brings a huge amount of tourism dollars into the city. So I feel more hopeful that some of the rhetoric during the election was just that, and cooler heads will prevail.

“We’re already talking about the next steps, where Pride should be putting their energy. So I’m hopeful, but also strategizing. We will be moving on this very soon.”

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Toronto, ball's in your court
I really hope Jane Walsh's suggested 'benefits of tourism' approach doesn't prevail. I don't wish anything about Pride to be fought on the supposed $$$ benefits of the festival alone, especially as a way of sidestepping other issues that have been raised. Both 'sides' deserve an honest and unequivocal answer if for no other reason than to guide future participants with unpoplar causes (and most causes are unpopular at the outset) and something to say. Either "Israeli apartheid" is a hate phrase or it is not as per the city's anti-discrimination charter. Let's have the city decide which, and stop it with the threatdown. We also don't need outsiders telling us what Pride should focus on - that's our file, not theirs. What we do need from the city isn't advice, it's clarity about what violates the city's anti-discrimination charter, and what does not. We can then decide whether we wish to continue taking their money if we believe their definition of discrimination is too strict. Let us not forget that 'people like us' wished things like anti-discrimination charters into existence, so let's not argue that they should be ignored if there's a compelling economic reason, such as tourism. Deal with the central issue - is "Israeli apartheid" discriminatory? (And why can't QuAIA make the decision about that, and face the consequences if there are to be any, rather than Pride?) Once we have an answer on that, we can govern ourselves accordingly. If we don't mind being dictated to by the city, we'll take their money. If we value expression over everything, and the city makes too many onerous demands, we won't take their money. The city needs to decide which it is, and not apply the city's A-D charter argument ad hominem to causes which are merely unpopular in some quarters and in an ad hominem and capricious manner as has been done so far. The city is the biggest culprit in this ongoing psychodrama. They need to shit or get off the pot.

To pretend that PT can elect a membership and decide who particpates in pride without consideration to the outside players and their stake in pride is naive. The LGBTetc community lost control of pride years ago when it became reliant on corporate funding to function. To assume corporate funders such as TD will just put up the money and stay silent and not attempt to exert influence is not reasonable. If corporate funding is withdrawn and because of controversy and pride attempts to go ahead with a stripped down version, will the city issue the permits? In the current climate probably not.

It should have been a wake up call to the LBGTetc community when people like Giorgio Mammoliti and the Toronto Sun started telling the LBGTetc community what pride should and should not be. Pride is not ours anymore. It is a corporate money maker and revenue source for businesses in the core.
Ed's note
Hi Darren: Thanks for your comment. You put your finger on an interesting point. The matter of PT membership is one of the keys to this kerfuffle. How does one become a member of PT, or rather how does management at PT influence the membership and its voting patterns? These are good questions. Check out Five hot button issues and What happened at the AGM...
Part of the issue is that it seems quite difficult for those with dissenting views to become members.
Let the community decide
Pride is supposed to be "by the community, for the community". Hence, community elected board of directors, the willingness to engage in a process of discussion etc...

The plus side from all this is that the queer (or whatever label you chose to identify with) community is finally engaging in an important discussion around Pride. What's missing here is the realization that to have a Pride festival/weekend larger than a pot luck in the park, requires funding.

I think that Pride should pass clear and direct policies around what constitutes a community group able to participate, and have it voted on by the members. Those queers who don't bother to show up or become a member forfeit their right to bitch. If the majority pass a definition that includes controversial groups such as QuAIA, then Pride should allow it, and simply chop the festival down to size which fits within the reduced funding - and make it known that the cuts are because the city (or other sponsors) withdrew funding.

In other words, Pride needs to follow the mandate and policies outlined by its membership, and the membership needs to accept responsibility for creating/approving those policies as funders (incl. the city) either continue their support or go elsewhere.
Stay out of politics
Matt, Xtra plays an important role in the gay community because it's the only organization claiming to report the news of interest to gay people. All gay people, not the very small number who live within a stone's throw of the 519 and actually show an active interest in gay politics. If Xtra wants to be taken seriously as a credible news source, it has to be objective. As for the whole QuAIA fiasco, this had nothing to do with gay issues and everything to do with leftist political views. I suggest that this was a watershed moment in Toronto's gay history (confirming the shattering of the unity of the gay community in this city) and Xtra failed to take a neutral position. All of a sudden "queers" turned on the "Jews". This reliance on "freedom of expression" to attack a largely pro-gay community was and is disturbing and off-putting. Pro-gay yes; but that's as far as it should go. Stay out of politics. Gay people deserve an objective news source but we don't seem to have it in this country.
Ed's note
Hi Jim, I think gay life may be a little more rich than you suggest. I agree that this controversey is a bit of a drag. If in 2008 you had told me of the events of spring and summer 2010, I wouldn't have believed you. Nevertheless, here we are. I'm not sure about your last line -- and I don't think you can be either -- but I can tell you with some certainty that people in Toronto have been engaged, very very interested, in this story all year. You're quite a prolific commenter on it, for example. You don't seem at all disinterested.
Alienating, marginalized, extremist
Gay life is mostly about getting laid and having fun. And making sure our basic rights are protected. Some of you have turned it all into such a...drag. You're alienated from your own community and perceived as marginal and extremist by the rest of the city. Most of us are not interested in this politics of alienation, marginalization and extremism.
What the fu#k is “cisgender-friendly Pride?
Sav, What the fu#k is “cisgender-friendly version of Pride”? Are you now inventing words, that no one understands, to legitimize the phony mixed-gender fantasy life that you have created? I understand your need to be validated as a living being. But your version of reality does remotely seem to correspond to anyone else's. Here's a good place to start unravelling it all. Genetics rules. Everything else is artificially constructed and maintained with effort. Some with less effort, some with too much effort to be worth it. Too much effort can cause catastrophic mistakes and depletes energy reserves. Adaptation leads to better success.
if all you can argue your point with is an article in the Jerusalem Post citing James "king of the world" Cameron, you're not going to win. No one was calling for a boycott at TIFF. I was there. You maybe were at the megaplex in outer whoville in line for some mind numbing hollywood drek, but that's just me thinking out loud and I shouldn't be so mean. Use whatever you have to to in order to support your flimsy arguement....anger and fear sometimes makes one unmoveable, n'est pas?
I love you “Vagina Dendata.”
I love you “Vagina Dendata.” I sense who you really are...my twin sister... But I would hug you if I knew who you were :-)


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