How to distract from your cause -

How to distract from your cause

For the UTSU, support for Pride Parade is more about exposure for the university


When the video of Neda Agha-Soltan dying on the streets of Tehran surfaced during the 2009 Iranian election protests, it quickly became an international symbol of the iconic struggle against the Iranian regime. The 40-second YouTube clip was seen by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, many of whom decided to tint their Twitter avatars green in solidarity with the Iranian demonstrators. The green overlay was a way for over 160,000 Twitter users worldwide to show their support for democracy in Iran.

The gesture, of course, was symbolic. The new green hue to your smiling pic wouldn’t stick a pin in Ahmadinejad’s side, nor would it motivate Iranian officials to open the floodgates to foreign media. But the idea was to offer ideological solidarity—a sometimes-powerful motivator to those pressing for change.

Now, as far as I can understand, fervent Tweeters weren’t looking to score a dark forest green over the default shade to demonstrate heightened support for the protesters. Nor did individuals race to go green before the herd, or boast they had convinced the greatest number of followers to adopt the tint. The idea was simply to offer solidarity; not to self-reflexively boast that one was doing so. That’s the attitude to take with these sorts of things, right?

Wrong. And here’s where I segue to the student movement. It seems to Adam Awad, student union president at the University of Toronto, showing support is about being seen and receiving proper recognition. Reflecting on Toronto’s recent Pride Parade in an interview with The Varsity, Awad said he hopes U of T will be featured more prominently in future years’ marches.

“As some of the most active members in the community and given the role that we have historically played, it would have been nice to be closer to the front of the parade, rather than the back, which is where we have been for several years,” Awad said. (He also erroneously said that the UTSU was one of the founders of the Pride Parade. The quote was subsequently deleted from the online edition. Here is cache version of the original story.)

The UTSU wants the prime real estate for next year’s parade—definitely an issue worth digressing from the cause. (Remember? The parade is about celebrating the LGBTQ community. Write it on your hand if you forget.) Offering support, demonstrating ideological alignment, exhibiting solidarity—it all means nothing if you can’t land a spot behind the Grand Marshall. Apparently, student unions are exceptional supporters and thus shouldn’t be shafted to the back of the bus.

Unfortunately, not only does UTSU’s naval-gazing distract from the greater issue, it sullies the genuineness of its support altogether. Are students there to march in solidarity, or there to be seen marching in solidarity? How much focus is being paid to the actual cause?

If nothing else, Awad’s comments do nothing to shake students of that dirty “me generation” reputation. But sorry, that’s just my egoism talking.


How to distract from your cause

  1. I cannot adequately express how common this attitude is within student unions. It is a somewhat valid concern, as there are investments both of money and of more precious social capital involved in bringing out people to ride in a parade. There is a perilous spectrum here, though. Whenever any group undertakes to do something like this, there is at least, at the back of their mind, the thought that “this will raise our profile” or “this will earn us members” or something. If there’s a legitimate feeling that the parade organizers don’t respect your support, then it may be reasonable to scale back that support. Mr. Awad’s up-front discussion if this callow utilitarian question was very, very tactless. It was very gently worded slap in the face to the pride parade, but a tantrum none the less. He could have said he wanted the UTSU to step up it’s engagement on LGBT issues and, as part of that, have a bigger presence at the parade, btu instead he gave the impression that he feels UTSU isn’t getting their volunteer’s worth.
    The allure of this attitude is a dangerous pitfall for student union directors. It is all too easy to spur legitimate concerns such as yours. “How much focus is being paid to the actual cause?” Probably a great deal, a probably Mr. Awad just wasn’t thinking about what he was saying. There’s more to being a member of a community than being “active” in it. One must maintain one’s humility as much as possible unless there are real problems. “I’m not at the front of the parade” is not a real problem.

  2. Wow this is journalism? Responding to a question that no one asked and going after someone I presume you have a beef with. Great job, I’m sure your mom will be proud of this article, Robyn.

  3. A key fact is that is missing and could help refocus this piece is that UofT marched (and has marched) as one big group. Professors, staff, administration, students, TAs, alumni. UofT has for many years been a vocal supporter, participant and sponsored of PRIDE.

    UofT’s presence this year was about renewing their loud support.

    Now re-read Adam Awad’s comments in this context, understanding the interview was about UofT, not the students’ union. Makes more sense now doesn’t it?

    What an embarrassing misread by Urback, to write an editorial on the basis centered on the student’s union when the original piece was really a perspective on a campus debate regarding the role that UofT as an institution should play at PRIDE.

  4. My bet is also that Robyn didn’t bother to do any research on Adam himself. He’s the first out queer president of the U of T Students’ Union – in the history of the students union! Let me repeat that agains for you. First. out. gay. students’ union. president.

    Now I understand that Robyn may be queer, but I also find it strange that she feels it appropriate to assume the motivation of Adam and UTSU based on a completely decontextualized quote in a student paper. Other posters have done well enough to discuss that.

    UTSU, along with other students unions in Toronto and at U of T, have long been supporters, activists, and participants in Pride and the queer community in Toronto.

  5. From my understanding, the students’ unions usually use this opportunity to launch education campaigns around lgbtq issues.

    As I have seen, not all the floats are political or out there to educate and spread a message about the activism that their organization participates in.

    So in fact, students’ unions, by wanting to be at the forefront are trying to BUILD solidarity by making people more aware of issues like the banning of Israeli Apartheid at Pride, queer student issues, and other political issues that are related or connected to pride.

    That’s definitely one way to look at it, and I really don’t blame him for wanting to be closer to the front, as it helps to expose people to what the student movement is doing, and hopefully builds allies for student issues.

  6. The UTSU playing politics. Why would they do such a thing Robyn?

  7. “(He also erroneously said that the UTSU was one of the founders of the Pride Parade. The quote was subsequently deleted from the online edition. Here is cache version of the original story.)”

    Newspapers don’t usually delete things because the interviewee was incorrect. They usually delete things when their own fact-gathering, note-taking or interview recording was incorrect.

  8. Rule #1 of journalistic integrity: Don’t embellish stories with falsities. If you ever get a real job writing words for a living, this will expose you to libel and slander lawsuits. Yay!

  9. “(He also erroneously said that the UTSU was one of the founders of the Pride Parade. The quote was subsequently deleted from the online edition. Here is cache version of the original story.)”

    This raised some major red flags for me also. As Bryce pointed out, there’s a pretty good chance that it was the news source that got it wrong, and saying that Awad stated this erroneously is borderline libel.