Freedom of speech has been trumped by politics this year at Toronto’s Pride Festival.
Thanks, or no thanks, to certain politicians and Zionist lobbyists and defamatory editorials and columns by a national newspaper that has never championed queer rights, Pride’s raison d’etre has been corrupted.
To them, Pride should be about nothing more than partying. They believe we should ignore the hard-won rights for which those who have come before us fought, rights that were earned after centuries of oppression.
All of this over a group which marches under the banner Queers Against Israel Apartheid.
Now the group, which includes many Jewish-Canadian lesbians and gays who disagree with Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, policies which ultimately result in the persecution of queers in Gaza and the occupied territories, has effectively been silenced.
Just for using a word.
“We wish to commend Pride Toronto for taking the correct and courageous step of censoring the hateful messaging of QuIAI,” said Frank Dimant, B’nai Brith Canada’s executive vice-president, in a press release.
How did this happen?
First, there was lobbying by gay lawyer Martin Gladstone, who appealed to both The National Post and The Toronto Sun, with a misleading and sensationalist documentary about last year’s Pride parade.
He, along with Toronto mayoral hopeful Georgio Mamolitti, gay city councillor Kyle Rae and, among others, the Simon Weisenthal Centre, have painted last year’s peaceful festivities as threatening and hate-filled.
They also have claimed that there’s no place for politics in Pride, although Pride is all about politics.
These censors also claim that criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism.
But the idea that criticizing certain policies of any country makes one a hater of its citizens is the sort of thing one expects from North Korea, not from a country that represents itself as a civilized democracy.
Apparently the only country in which apartheid is a hate term is Canada.
Pride’s celebration of DIVERSITY, one of the most important mandates according to their own definition of the festival, doesn’t seem to apply to diversity of opinion.
It has also been claimed that the A-word makes certain Jewish members of the Pride festivities feel “threatened and unsafe.” But the best way to deal with a serious accusation is to refute it with facts and arguments, not by censorship.
It’s important to remember that, when these parades started, there were thousands of straight people who called for them to be shut down because what we were doing was a threat to the traditional family. Pride made them feel “threatened and unsafe.” But most of the rights lesbians and gays enjoy today are a direct result of daring to show our faces and numbers publicly, despite the possibility of attack or arrest.
Over the last 30 years the queer community has used Pride to speak out about the rights and roles of all women, against apartheid in South Africa, against the Catholic Church and against Mike Harris’s Conservative government by carrying his head through the streets on a platter. Never before have we been censored. Never before have we been accused of hate.
Now The National Post, which has run no less than two editorials and several opinion columns denouncing Pride for allowing QUAIA to march, has advised our community to hold a non-controversial celebration without the “Leather and drag fringe elements.”
One of the most positive and important points of Pride is, and always has been, that there will be something to offend everybody. What Pride is or isn’t shouldn’t be decided by a few pundits, politicians and lobbyists with agendas unrelated to queer rights.
So I suggest, regardless of what Pride Toronto, the various governments and the media say, that we, the right thinking, free speech supporting, democratic believing queers and friends of queers ignore the edicts of those who presume to dictate what pride should be.
We should take back our parade with our own signs, our own protests and our own concerns, return to our roots, get back in touch with our ACT UP impulses and display a little of the civil disobedience we used to change things so radically over the last 30 years.
The battle for worldwide equality, queer or otherwise, is far from over.
Advances we’ve made in Canada must be demanded for the rest of the world — and that’s not going to happen unless we force people to look at the issues and open up the debate.
This Pride, let’s fight for the right to speak out. Not to censor.
And for those who do want a polite, homogeneous, family-friendly parade with neither controversy nor conflict I say go to Disneyland. They have one like that every day.
Brad Fraser is an award-winning playwright and all-too-frequently-called-upon defender of freedom of speech.