QuAIA pulls out of Pride Parade, critics pleased but cautious

TORONTO – In response to the surprise announcement Friday morning that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) decided not to march at this year’s annual Pride parade on July 3, prominent gay-rights activist and lawyer Martin Gladstone told the Jewish Tribune: “Like the city, the greater Jewish and gay communities and the many sponsors, we are all tired of playing chess with this group and hope they take their false and hateful message out of our gay pride celebration.

“I spent last week at the Tel Aviv gay community centre and QuAIA hurts the work they do to help gay Arabs who have escaped persecution and honour killings. Let’s hope they don’t deceive City Council. We saw what happened last year,” he said, referring to Pride Toronto’s original promise last year to refrain from allowing use of the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ at the parade and doing an about-face upon receiving the city grant before the event.

B’nai Brith Canada, too, while pleased with the news, called for vigilance. CEO Frank Dimant said: “We welcome the announcement with a sense of relief; however, we also move forward with a great sense of caution. 

“The hateful term of ‘Israeli apartheid’ has no place in any of Pride’s events, which were designed to promote and celebrate diversity. Last year’s turn of events after the board of directors of Pride Toronto banned the term suggests that the city should not take QUAIA at its word. Pride Toronto must itself guarantee that the group and the term are banned from all its events, and City Hall must make it clear that any funding is contingent on such guarantees coming through.” 

Councillor James Pasternak issued a press release expressing “cautious relief” and calling for guarantees that QuAIA will keep its promise. “We must revisit the city’s Anti-Discrimination Policy. If it cannot stop groups like QuAIA, then it needs to be tightened up.”

Indeed, according to  QuAIA’s web site: “Following this week’s report from City of Toronto staff concluding that the term ‘Israeli apartheid’ does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid is announcing new plans for Pride 2011 that will pose a challenge for Mayor Rob Ford.”

Ford has been adamant that Pride Toronto should not receive city funding if it continues to promote ‘Israeli apartheid,’ while the province raised its contribution to Pride Toronto by $100,000 with no conditions attached. 

Before QuAIA’s latest announcement, City of Toronto Manager Joe Pennachetti, in a report to City Council’s executive committee, said: “City staff have determined that the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ in and of itself does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy.” His statement outraged Jewish organizations and several community leaders, politicians and lay people.

According to QuAIA spokesperson Tim McCaskell, “Last year’s struggle was around censorship and our right to march in our community’s Pride parade. With the city report settling that debate, now is the time for us to move beyond the parade to build our community’s response to Israeli apartheid.”

The QuAIA statement continues: “Instead of marching as a contingent in the parade this year, QuAIA will focus its Pride Week activities on hosting a community event to raise awareness of Israeli apartheid, and how LGBTQ communities can pressure the Israeli government to comply with international law through the campaign for boycotts, divestments and sanctions. QuAIA will also continue to contest Israel’s ‘pinkwashing’ campaign, which attempts to use LGBTQ human rights to obscure Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.
“QuAIA’s new plans will pose a challenge for Mayor Rob Ford, who announced that he would cut more than $100,000 in city tourism funding for Pride Toronto if QuAIA continued to march.”

“Rob Ford wants to use us as an excuse to cut Pride funding, even though he has always opposed funding the parade, long before we showed up,” said Elle Flanders of QuAIA. “By holding our Pride events outside of the parade, we are forcing him to make a choice: fund Pride or have your real homophobic, right-wing agenda exposed.”

A couple of weeks ago, Gladstone, who had called Pride’s new dispute resolution process a “sham,” was one of the organizers of a demonstration that brought close to 100 people in the pouring rain to protest at the Lawrence and Bathurst branch of TD-Canada Trust, Pride’s main corporate sponsor.

As well, the little-known Toronto International Queer West Arts and Culture Festival, which is promoting programming from Aug. 13-18 as an alternative to Pride Week, posted on its web site.

“No need to worry about Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA)…they rejected an offer to join us, saying ‘You’re not political enough for our cause.’ No great loss considering their anti-Israeli stance…. We tell how we spent your money.”

 “We remain steadfast in our view that there is absolutely no place in the parade for hateful, discriminatory messaging,” declared Kulanu Toronto Executive Director Justine Apple. “We look forward to getting the parade back to what it once was, namely, a parade that is safe, welcoming, inclusive and open to everyone who wants to march with pride and with gay-positive messaging.

“We continue to believe that Pride must not be hijacked by anti-Israel propaganda. There is no room in the parade for inflammatory, hateful, divisive messaging.

“We invite the community to come and join Kulanu Toronto to celebrate with us at this year’s parade. We look forward to having everyone with us.”


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