Toronto Gay Pride bans anti-Israel group

By Ron Csillag, June 8, 2010
A Gay Pride event in Tel Aviv

A Gay Pride event in Tel Aviv

Toronto’s annual Gay Pride parade, considered a major event on Canada’s cultural calendar, is threatening to devolve into confrontation — and not between gays and straights.

Event organisers, responding to complaints from Jewish organisations, among others, have forbidden the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) from marching in the parade under that name.

More accurately, Pride Toronto is “disallowing” use of the phrase “Israeli Apartheid” in the 2010 parade.

Organisers of the July 4 event say QAIA could march under the name “Queers in Favour of a Free Palestine,” for example. But those in the QAIA camp have refused to comply and vow they will take part under their original banner, setting up a potential confrontation on the day of the event.

But whether the event will take place at all is now unclear, because the municipal council of the City of Toronto recently introduced a resolution to pull funding to the parade because participation by QAIA could contravene the city’s anti-discrimination policy.

The motion, which calls for some $120,000 in funding and in-kind contributions to be revoked if the issue is not resolved by Monday, has been referred to the city’s executive committee. If the city’s funding is withdrawn, streets would not to be kept open for the parade, effectively shutting it down.

Another blow to QAIA came last month when the staunchly pro-Israel federal government cut funding to the parade by dropping it from a tourism stimulus package.

“It’s important to understand that Pride Toronto does not take a position on the conflict in the Middle East,” event official Margaret Ngai stated on the group’s website.

“We are obliged to respect and follow City policies in addition to legislations of all levels of government when considering freedom of expression.”

There has been some backlash against the moves. Pride Toronto’s choice for Grand Marshal of the 2010 parade refused his appointment, citing the organisation’s “censorship” of QAIA.

A local woman rejected Pride’s appointment as “Honoured Dyke” for the same reason, and this week, two dozen Gay Pride award recipients gathered at a press conference to renounce their honours, in protest against the ban of the term "Israeli Apartheid" at the Gay Pride Parade.

Martin Gladstone, a Toronto Jewish lawyer and gay rights advocate who has led the campaign against QAIA, said the group’s participation “clearly violates” the discrimination rules and creates “an exclusionary, poisonous environment”.

QAIA has “nothing to do with gay pride,” Gladstone added.

Elle Flanders, spokeswomen for QAIA, said that “our voices will not be silenced”. Ms Flanders, founder of the Jewish Feminist Anti-Fascist League, said her group has “been discriminated against as it relates to political affiliation... If we changed our name, we would condone censorship and the right to critique governments.”

Last updated: 11:50am, June 8 2010