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article imageOp-Ed: Pride Toronto - Dissent, Decision, Division and...Delight? Special

By Bryen Dunn     Jun 9, 2010 in Politics
Toronto - Pride Toronto is making worldwide headlines this year, and not for the fact that legendary 80’s icon and LGBT supporter Cyndi Lauper is performing a free concert, but more for the community angst generated by the Board’s decision to ban two words.
One of Toronto’s biggest parties of the summer has suddenly become a point of dissent for many members of the local queer community. What began last year as a somewhat small contentious issue has spiraled into a divide amongst members of the LGBT community, as well as political leaders, sponsors and the general population.
Last month the Pride Board voted to ban the words “Israel Apartheid” from being displayed in the annual parade happening on Sunday July 4th this year. The group Queers Against Israel Apartheid had marched last year and it was reported that some individuals were offended by their inclusion in the Pride festivities, as they felt uncomfortable with their presence, stating their message didn’t fall within the context of what Pride was all about.
Earlier this year, both sponsors and the City of Toronto questioned the role of this group within Pride and threatened the possibility of retracting funding. The City stated the group may contravene anti-discrimination laws, and the likes of TD Canada Trust were somewhat confused and caught off guard by the whole controversy. Over the years Pride has grown both in attendance numbers, and overall scope. For the first time this year Pride will be presenting part of their festivities at Queen’s Park, far removed from the traditional gay village confines of the Church and Wellesly area. Some say this maybe a trial run for the upcoming World Pride celebrations taking place in the City in 2014, while others are calling it segregation.
Taking the brunt of all this is Executive Director Tracey Sandilands, who took over the reins of Pride last year, after emigrating here from South Africa. It is somewhat ironic that she is now embattled in a censorship controversy that began with the word apartheid, something that she is well aware of from her youth. “I was rebelling against apartheid rules since I was a teenager, holding meetings and social functions with mixed races”, she states.
To be caught between sides is definitely a challenge she wasn’t expecting, but one that she has to contend with. Many of the activists are looking to Pride to challenge the City, should they move forward with the threat of pulling back their funding, a decision that will come to light on Monday June 14th when councillors vote one way or the other. Having this issue lingering until two weeks prior to the Festival only adds to the stress of finalizing the overall details.
Several prominent community members have moved forward to show support for non-censorship of Pride, with many participants scheduled to perform now declining their offers. Again, added stress to find replacements. On the other hand, there have been numerous letters of support for Pride’s decision from international organizations and local citizens. It’s certainly become a divided Pride, but definitely not unique to Toronto. Montreal went through something similar a few years back, and Austin underwent similar dissent in their city this year. In fact, Mississauga even has a fringe queer event called QXposure, outside of the traditional Peel Pride.
Montreal is doubly excited about their LGBT celebrations again this year, with Célébrations de la Fierté (Pride) and Divers/Cité happening at different times of the year, both with a different focus. Suzanne Girard, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Divers/Cité, points out that their event is entirely free, open to all, and completely community oriented. Girard alludes to the fact that this event is more about the party, with politics a given just for the very reason the event is happening. “Just the fact that we have a gay label is political, as all funded events in Canada have some form of politics”, she states.
Pride Montreal was created early in 2007 when Divers/Cité publicly announced that they decided to change their mandate, mission and focus. They became a cultural festival and dropped the Pride portion of the event. Éric Pineault, President of Célébrations de la Fierté / Pride Montreal, thinks that “it’s equal party and politics.” The two day event is comprised of Community Day attracting over 100 community organizations, and the Parade which takes on a new expanded route this year. The event will also have an international significance, with the Grand Marshal’s being from Riga, Lettonia.
A third more radical group called Pervers/Cité has been throwing alternative parties and political demonstrations for several years. There is a key group of organizers who hold events around the same dates as Divers/Cité, sprung from the notion that the other mainstream events were growing less accountable to the history it represents and there was a need for a community response to the depoliticization of Pride.
South of the border Austin had two queer celebrations this year, one official and one alternative. The Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation held their traditional celebrations on June 5th, while a splinter group of activists held QueerBomb on June 4th, a result of their feeling of not being represented by the “family-friendly” environment the Foundation was offering. They accused the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce of being "non-inclusive, capitalist, heteronormative, safe and unchallenging", and sought to provide an edgier alternative to the mainstream programming. Both events were considered a success on their own accord, each validating their goals and values. Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell even declared June 4 QueerBomb Day. Here's an article posted by Austinist that gives a great overall perspective on the situation.
This is where Toronto might be at this point. There is much contention and discussion happening within the community and some of it is reflecting in a negative manner. In a city of this size and diversity, there is room for more than one type of queer celebration. With elections coming up in October, this may be an opportune time to approach our future Mayoral candidates to gather support for Toronto’s alternative Pride celebrations, whatever, whenever, and wherever they maybe.
Pride Toronto's 68-page Pride Guide covering events from June 1 to July 4 is a supplement in Now Magazines's June 10th issue.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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