Toronto's gay Pride Parade is in danger of losing the nearly $200,000 it receives annually from the city because it cannot bring itself to impose any standards whatever on the groups that enter floats and demonstrations. Specifically, it cannot even bring itself to ban hateful symbols that offend community standards and may even violate the Criminal Code.
That the parade and the week-long events that surround it have become mainstream can be seen in the crowds it attracts -- nearly half a million annually, including tens of thousands of families -- and in the fact that it has been named the country's top festival three times by the Canadian event industry, most recently in 2009.
What was once a ramshackle collection of flamboyant gays and lesbians marching almost unnoticed through downtown Toronto has become one of North America's largest (and slickest) street parties -- so large and slick, in fact, that corporate sponsors now line up to partner with the organizing committee. The chaps and jockstraps, feather boas and transvestite costumes have been almost overwhelmed by unremarkable, middle-class gays, lesbians and transgendered persons, plus straight supporters of all three.
However, last year, the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), chose to sport tshirts with swastikas while they ambled down the street chanting "Fist by Fist, Blow by Blow, Apartheid State, Has Got to Go."
Leaders of QuAIA insist their members' shirts featured the Nazi symbol superimposed by a circle with a line through it -- a sometimes anti-Nazi symbol. The video evidence is inconclusive; if there were circles with lines, they were fainter than the swastikas they were meant to cover, which leaves reasonable people to conclude the hateful sign of genocide was what the crowd was truly intended to see.
But the larger point is why is there any need to protest Israel's treatment of Palestinians, at all, at a taxpayer-funded celebration of inclusion and rights for gays? Certainly, hatred of Israel cannot have anything to do with a legitimate campaign for gay rights: Israel stands out as the only country in the Middle East where gay rights are respected on a par with other Western nations. Gay Pride rallies, for instance, are common in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities -- while the staging of such events in the Palestinian territories or any other part of the Arab world would almost certainly end in a bloodbath of dead gay paraders. If organizers cannot bring themselves to ensure participants keep their displays "on message," why should municipal, provincial or federal taxpayers have an obligation to foot the bill?
Last year Pride Toronto received $175,000 from Toronto City Council, not including $85,000 for extra police and $81,000 to have civic workers clean up the streets afterwards.
Toronto has stringent anti-hate rules for groups seeking city grants. In order to keep its event within those guidelines, parade organizers last month announced that all symbols and signage from participants would henceforth have to pass muster with an ethics committee.
That seemed sensible: If groups at multicultural festivals or floats in local rodeo parades suddenly began sporting swastikas or bed sheets with eyeholes, their funding would quickly dry up and rightly so.
After an uproar from the city's queer community, though, organizers backed down and withdrew their new vetting policy. Still it is not clear whether city council will be taking away the funding they would quickly remove from most other organizations under similar circumstances. So why the kid-glove treatment for Toronto's gay community?
Let participants in the parade say whatever they wish. But if they insist on saying or doing hateful things, let them do it on their own dime.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Will Toronto stand up to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid?
In an editorial in today's paper, The National Post wonders if the City of Toronto will actually cut the $200 000 it donates annually to the city's Gay Pride Parade organizers if they do not ban groups like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid: