It was more like a queer party than a mid-morning press conference at the 519 Community Centre.

Inside the auditorium, over 100 people gathered as former Pride grand marshals, honoured dykes and award recipients returned their accolades after Pride Toronto banned the term “Israeli apartheid” from its 2010 events.

The audience burst into thunderous applause and rose from their chairs for a standing ovation that lasted almost a minute when Elle Flanders introduced “The 21 Refuseniks” on Tuesday.

“We hope that Pride Toronto can hear you all the way to their offices,” said Flanders, a filmmaker, former Pride Toronto board member and spokesperson for Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

After the introductions, Flanders unveiled The 2010 Shame Award that was presented to Pride Toronto “for banning a queer human rights group from marching in the Pride parade” and later dropped outside the Pride Toronto offices along with their awards.

“We will accept our awards back only when Pride Toronto rescinds the ban and returns Pride Toronto to the free speech tradition upon which it was founded,” said Zhara Dhanani, Honoured Dyke, 2006.

One by one “The 21 Refuseniks” made their way to the podium to make individual statements which are now posted on the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid website.

A contingent of queer activists and their supporters crossed the street with the 2010 Shame Award and marched to the Pride Toronto office on Dundonald Street following the press conference.

Led by Rachel Epstein, Honoured Dyke 2007 and Zahra Dhanani, the group crossed Church Street chanting “Whose Pride, Our Pride” and arrived at the Pride Toronto office, but nobody was home.

So they entered the courtyard, walked up the steps and left the cardboard, poster sized diploma outside the front door with their awards.

“Having human rights on paper as opposed to being able to manifest those rights, clearly there’s a gap even here,” said El-Farouk Khaki, Grand Marshall 2009, in a media scrum on the front steps.

“As we continue to face censorship and marginalization in larger society, our struggle for social acceptance is not over.

Jane Farrow turned down this year’s Honoured Dyke title and wants the Pride committee to sit down with the queer community.

“This is no way to defend Pride,” she said. “This is a disgrace.”

Click here to see photos from the press conference and march.

John Bonnar

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