Over 100 protesters showed up at a Toronto Pride press conference Tuesday to voice their displeasure after the Board of Directors voted last week to forbid the use of the term ‘Israeli Apartheid’ at this year’s Pride Parade.

“We feel that’s a huge step back for pride,” said Tim McCaskell, an organizer with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA). “We’ve never had groups censored at Pride before. The term ‘Israeli Apartheid’ conveys a message which is enormously important for the queer community to understand.”

Queer activist Amy Gottlieb believes the decision was based on fear and goes against the spirit of Pride that has always allowed activists to freely express their social and political views.

“It’s deeply distressing because you have people making decisions that they really know nothing about,” said Elle Flanders, long time activist, filmmaker and QuAIA spokesperson. “And Israel-Palestine is an extremely complicated issue.”

Police managed to keep the protesters on the other side of the street until the press conference started when QuAIA delivered their Pride application on a pink, poster sized sign.

“Whose pride, our pride,” chanted the crowd as they surrounded the Pride Toronto office at 14 Dundonald Street just north of Wellesley.

Pride Toronto co-chair Genevieve D’Iorio was met with a chorus of cheers when she began her remarks about messages with the term including ‘Israeli Apartheid’ having appeared at Pride since 2007.

But the cheers quickly turned to jeers when D’Iorio said that certain interest groups have complained to Pride about “exclusionary and discriminatory messaging.”

“Lies,” yelled the crowd, carrying ‘Free Speech’ signs, some wearing tape across their mouths.

“The issue has escalated to a point where Pride Toronto’s festival is in a state of operational crisis,” she said. So last Friday, the Board voted to “disallow the use of ‘Israeli Apartheid’ at the Pride festival.

“Shame, shame,” chanted the crowd. The rest of D’Iorio’s speech was drowned out by heckling and taunts directed towards her and the Board.

She carried on anyway, noting that the use of the term ‘Israeli Apartheid’ may contravene the City of Toronto’s anti-discrimination policy. But the crowd wasn’t buying it. As far as they were concerned it’s censorship, plain and simple.

Free speech proponent Brad Fraser accused the Board of caving to pressure, fearing that the City may shut down Pride.

“Nothing has been passed,” said Fraser, who doesn’t believe that the City would ever shut down a festival that brings millions of dollars into the economy and risk being labeled “the City that censors its queers.”

“It’s just been a threat.”

Keli Bellaire, a QuAIA organizer, said the group will be organizing around this issue for the next month and urged everyone to get involved.

“We’re gonna be at Pride whatever they say,” said Bellaire.

Click here to see photos from the action.

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.