To read Elle Flanders's story Healing the gay-Jewish divide in Canada, published simultaneously, please click here.
Pride Toronto has reversed its original decision to ban the words Israel Apartheid (and hence the group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid), after an enormous community backlash from Free Speechers; old time politicos; interest groups that have felt marginalized by Pride for some time; and a young generation that doesn't jibe with Pride's corporate drag.
Against the backdrop of this decision is a city council which pressured Pride, under the leadership of Kyle Rae, who for some unknown reason, felt that QuAIA no longer met his "requirements" for what constitutes an appropriate message for Pride (last year he said the complete opposite, that QuAIA most definitely had a place in Pride, but, well, that's a politician for you). Add to this: extensive pressure from right-wing Jewish lobby groups; a man named Martin Gladstone who has been distributing propaganda videos about QuAIA to every city councillor and sponsor over the past year; the ongoing threat of city councillors who have been trying to defund Pride and various other cultural events that the city supports; and a right-wing pro-Israel homophobic federal government that defunded Pride as a result of said homophobia. What all this adds up to, is that the very clear delineations occurring between right and left in Canada, are now mirrored in our LGBT community.
I remember the days of Ontario Premier Mike Harris, whose extreme conservative efforts slashed cultural, health, education, housing, daycare, and just about every social service that existed in Ontario. These cuts resulted in massive demonstrations called the Metro Days of Action, in which hundreds of thousands of people shut down Canada's largest city. But to date, the outcry against similar and in certain ways more frightening, measures of the Harper government have not manifested. Even with this week's G20, we have not seen that kind of mobilizing. The Tories, who were stomping all over cultural, educational and social institutions, were understood to be target.
So what would stop the Pride from protesting the bullying they were experiencing at the hands of right-wing lobby groups and right-wing city councillors? When the Harper government cut $400,000 from Pride Toronto's budget, would it not have made more sense for them to publicly condemn and organize a protest against the conservative government's choice to defund Pride? What could possibly have allowed instead, a homo-come-lately named Martin Gladstone, to divide a community because he didn't like one group's political position? Wouldn't the Conservatives have been the logical target of Pride? Why instead the choice to focus on the inclusion of a political rights organization?
The answer lies in a complacency and a lack of awareness that our rights, gay and straight, are slowly being eroded by an extreme right-wing government, the full effects of which have not fully materialized but can be evidenced in last weekend's G8, G20 summit meetings.
As Pride Toronto has been sliding into a neoliberal daze of rights and equality, effectively declaring the end to politics and its concomitant replacement -- party-on --it has been roused back this past month by a group of concerned citizens who have suggested otherwise. But while Doug Elliot, (one of our proud Gay rights defenders) declared that those of us who opposed Pride's ban were simply "nostalgic for a political past," many of us have in fact toiled tirelessly to get Pride's attention not because we are wistful for a time-gone by, but because as political creatures we are deeply aware of the many crises we still face regularly as minorities -- not only white gay minorities -- but as women, as people of colour, as trans-folk, as illegal queers seeking a safe haven, anon.
Most of us who have alerted Pride to their slippage into a corporate entity with little political navigation have been long-time activists who fought for the basic rights queers celebrate today. Even more heartening, there has been a surge from a young diverse group of queers who have connected to politics of change, who despite those hard-won rights, recognize that much more work needs to be done. They are the face of the future of queer politics, the ones who know that we must go beyond our gay rights to fight for a world in peril, whether it be climate change, the decentering of globalization, or just a general shift in consciousness away from a society of excess. In the last month, these young activists have proven to be my heroes and have restored my faith that our politicking of the past was not in vain.
Pride needed a wake-up call from the community and, in turn, the community needs a wake-up call as well. We cannot be dancing away our futures, which are in the hands of one of the most right-wing, homophobic governments Canada has seen to date. While Martin Gladstone and cohorts would like you to believe that the strife that emerged was anti-Semitic, that it was the cause of one group and their political message, the roots here are in fact much scarier and much deeper. QuAIA indeed represents a political challenge to a right-wing military state that has nothing to do with anti-Semitism but everything to do with an analysis of the connections queers have to global struggles.
On the other side, Gladstone has allied himself with the likes of the B'nai Brith who are in bed with the likes of Charles McVety, a notorious right-wing homophobe Christian evangelist, who also happens to be a good friend of Stephen Harper. McVety and B'nai Brith's director, Frank Diamant, just so happened to be on a panel of like-minded extreme right-wingers at this week's G20, headlined by Carl Rove.
Angered by the reversal of the ban against QuAIA, Gladstone and cohorts are on the warpath. Again, an alliance with the right is ferreting out his true motivations -- to bring down Pride for their egregious decision to defend free speech, the tenet upon which the community is founded. For a man who claimed that he simply wanted to restore Pride to the celebration he felt it should be, he seems to be doing just the opposite. Gladstone has said he will resume his lobby efforts on all sponsor of Pride, which makes one question: Just exactly where are his allegiances? Should the whole Pride parade come crashing down because they don't support his position on Israel? Again, in a curious right alliance, Gladstone buddies up again with right-wing homophobe Girogio Mamolitti, who has called for the complete defunding of Pride from the city -- retroactively -- adding up to millions of dollars.
I certainly hope the community and Pride Toronto now understand the motivations of this man and his so-called allies. It is not about Pride, it is not about community, it is certainly not about making Pride more inclusive. It is about a single agenda for Martin and anyone who will support that -- even if his allies spit on the ground we all have the legal right to walk on.
The lessons to be learned here are numerous but none as strong as why politics do matter, why we can never rest on our laurels and think that while some of us have achieved equal rights, the battles are over. We are all connected to one another, the right knows this well, and until the community understands this lesson, we are vulnerable to a dismantling whether it be from indifference or the mistaken misadventure with the Christian right that leads our current government. They would only be too happy to watch us unravel.
Elle Flanders is a Canadian filmmaker and a driving force behind Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. The Toronto Pride parade takes place this Sunday, July 4. For more information, click here.