Toronto Pride Reverses Itself, Will Let Anti-Israeli Group March

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday June 24, 2010

Toronto's July 4 Pride parade will now include a group by the provocative name Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, following a reversal of an earlier decision to bar the group from participating.

Pride Toronto had initially decided not to allow the group to march, after city officials and Jewish groups, reported the Toronto Star on June 23.

Toronto Pride has been beset by a number of controversies, including a denial of government funds earmarked for cultural events around the country in a bid to boost Canadian tourism. Last year, Montreal's Divers/Cité festival was denied grant money from a Marquis Tourism Events Program purse, following a controversy in which former tourism minister Diane Ablonczy handed a check from the stimulus fund for more than $350,000 to Toronto Pride.

Ablonczy subsequently lost the post of tourism minister, with a fellow lawmaker, Industry Minister Tony Clement, taking over the job--and the grant's purse strings. This year, Toronto Pride was denied further funds from the Marquis Tourism program, with the government saying that it wanted to share the wealth among the country's cultural events.

City funding for Toronto Pride was also threatened, due to last year's involvement by the anti-Israel group. Toronto city councilor Giorgio Mammoliti said in April that if Queers Against Israel Apartheid were allowed to march again in 2010, he would seek a return of money that Toronto had provided for the event. Mammoliti, who is also a candidate for the office of mayor of Toronto, proceeded to submit a motion to revoke city funds from the event on May 11 and 12, according to an official city council document.

"Councilor Mammoliti, seconded by Councilor Shiner, recommends that: 1. City Council direct the City Clerk to advise the Pride organizers that the City of Toronto's 2010 funding and support will be revoked if Pride Toronto does not invoke the City of Toronto's anti-discriminating policies and if Queers Against Israel Apartheid participates in this year's Pride Parade," read the Notice of Motion.

"Over the last number of years, Pride's organizers have allowed a controversial anti-Israel group calling itself Queers Against Israel Apartheid (QuAIA) to march in the Pride Parade," the Notice text reads elsewhere in the document. "A video, Reclaiming Our Pride, recently created by Lawyer Martin Gladstone shows footage from the 2009 parade where QuAIA marchers carried signs condemning Israel with their members chanting the slogan, "Fist by Fist, Blow by Blow, Apartheid State, Has Got to Go."

Adult filmmaker Michael Lucas, who made the erotic film Men of Israel, wrote an op-ed for on Oct. 5, 2009, in which he questioned gays standing up for Palestine. "If you are queer and for Palestine it means that you are for the stoning of gay people," wrote Lucas. It means that you are for the torturing and disfigurement of gay people. You are for the brutal harassment and "honor killings" of gay people--because these are the things that Palestinians do to us."

Lucas, whose op-ed commented on another group called Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT), went on to say, "What makes QUIT and their slogan 'Queers for Palestine' such foolish rhetoric is that these gay people's affinity for Palestine is clearly unrequited. If these 'queers' want to march around with their delusional banners for Palestine then they are free to make that irrational mistake. But do they think Palestine is for them? Queers for Palestine = laughable. Palestine for queers = horrendous torture and death."

Reversal Follows Outcry

Pride Toronto had initially indicated that it would accede to demands to ban the group, but that decision unleashed a torrent of criticism. The Star said that over twenty people whom the organization had honored handed those honors back again in protest. Seeking a compromise, Toronto Pride reversed itself and allowed Queers Against Israeli Apartheid permission to participate in the 2010 march, but required all participants to agree to Toronto's non-discrimination policy. Queers Against Israeli Apartheid acceded to this requirement eagerly.

"We've never had any problems with the city policy and we haven't done anything to contravene city policy," said Queers Against Israeli Apartheid's Tim McCaskell.

Avi Benlolo, president of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, disagreed with the reversal, saying, "We feel that Pride Toronto is no longer a representative of gay rights, but has now been unfortunately hijacked and has become a vehicle for anti-Israel bashing and agitation."

The issue spilled over into a larger controversy that saw anti-gay Christians taking aim at the Pride celebration. Canadian GLBT news site Xtra! reported on June 23 that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid's "hateful messaging and anti-Semitism" had been denounced by Frank Dimant, of B'nai Brith Canada.

Dimant also argued that, "The goal of Pride Toronto is clearly to promote human rights and diversity, values Canadians hold dear," and lamented, "Regretfully, this goal is in danger of being subverted in the worst way" by the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid--but, Xtra! noted, Dimant himself is scheduled as a speaker at a June 25-27 event organized by an anti-gay activist named Charles McVety.

More: another scheduled speaker at the event, which is titled G20 Summit for Faith and Business Leaders, is Michael Coren, a columnist for Canadian newspaper the Toronto Sun, who lambasted Toronto Pride as "an event where there is illegal public nudity and simulated sex, where men dress up as nuns and abuse the church and where morbidly obese lesbians pull other women around on chains.

"Surely it doesn't matter very much if a gang of activists try to provoke mom and dad yet again by telling everybody how nasty the Jews are," Coren wrote.

The configuration of Dimant and Coren both speaking at an event put together by an influential anti-gay leader was in itself a source of controversy. Said GLBT equality advocate Justin Stayshyn, "The problem at the core of all this is that there's no understanding or recognition at all of homophobia," with B'nai Brith and several anti-gay groups coordinating their efforts while "McVety speak(s) to issues of anti-Semitism when he is clearly a homophobe."

B'nai Brith Canada communications officer Dan Rabkin told the media that Dimant "is the head of a department at Canada Christian College. He teaches there on Judaism, and he and Charles have had a long relationship. They're both outspoken Zionists, and that's where they come together on issues, but in terms of all of Charles' other advocacy on social issues--gay issues, abortion, etc.--we have nothing to do with any of that."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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