Illustration by Brett Lamb/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
This was the thirtieth anniversary of Toronto’s Pride festival. Organizers chose “You Belong” as this year’s theme. International grand marshals were selected. An honour group was announced. Ten days of events celebrating diversity, acceptance, and solidarity were planned. The parade route was confirmed. An arsenal of water guns and skin-tight silver briefs were readied. Just as the 2010 version of Pride was shaping up to be the best one yet, faster than being whipped into submission with cat o’ nine tails, controversy—in the form of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA)—blew up.
When put to the test, it started to look like all Pride’s talk about diversity, acceptance, and solidarity was just that—talk. The main issue stymying this year’s Pride revolved around the term “Israeli apartheid,” the use of which city officials claimed went against the city’s own anti-discrimination policy. Sponsors threatened to pull out if QuAIA was permitted to march. Even though QuAIA had participated in past Pride parades, several Jewish advocacy groups were fuming over the presence of a pro-Palestinian organization marching in the parade. With Pride’s funding from the city at risk, organizers responded by giving QuAIA an ultimatum: drop “Israeli apartheid” from their name or get the boot. This was met (predictably) with even greater howls of protest: not only did both international grand marshals bail, Dr. Allan Li, the 2010 Grand Marshal appointee also declined the position. Twenty previous marshals returned their honours to Pride organizers.
The divisions ran deep. Side with QuAIA’s right to march and you were labeled anti-Israel, or worse. Side with those demanding QuAIA’s expulsion and you were viewed as caving to censorship and betraying Pride’s founding principle of inclusion.
All of a sudden, Pride wasn’t fun anymore. Angry protesters, name calling, and entrenched viewpoints never are.
The proverbial rain on the parade turned into a deluge when Pride flip-flopped and reinstated QuAIA, name and all. Now the upset was complete. By the time parade day rolled around the controversy had morphed into a disappointing (and peculiar) dust-up that saw the parade route marred by protesters protesting protesters. Worse, as former mayoral has-been George Smitherman stated succinctly when interviewed by the editorial board of Xtra, after all the hue and cry nothing had actually been resolved.
Witnessing such ugly dissension in relation to a festival based in no small part on unity is disheartening. We can grant that QuAIA is grappling with awfully contentious issues. Their right to participate in Pride shouldn’t be one of them.