Pride should not be a soapbox for activists

Activists are rarely reasonable when told to take a hike, writes Adam Goldenberg


Adam Goldenberg is a Kirby-Simon Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law
School. He was chief speechwriter to Michael Ignatieff and a senior
aide in the McGuinty government.

Every summer, as Toronto Pride approaches, Queers Against Israeli
Apartheid (QuAIA) makes its customary cameo in the headlines. Theirs
is an important public service; without their yearly effort to rain on
the parade, Pride might end up utterly without controversy—and then
where would we be? Nothing, not even Rob Ford’s Canada Day cottaging,
creates quite the kerfuffle that QuAIA does.

QuAIA has a problem with Israel. Israel’s supporters have a problem
with QuAIA. And the people who plan Pride? They just have a problem.
Exclude QuAIA, and they get tagged for censorship. Include them, and
they are politicizing a parade.

Both are bogus. Pride is supposed to be political, it always has been.
And it has never been a venue for unlimited free speech; if the
being-gay-is-a-choice crowd were to lobby for a parade spot, one
suspects that they would not succeed.

But nuance never works well on a flyer, and activists are rarely
reasonable when told to take a hike. And so here we go again, a mess
of queer tempers, stuck in the middle with Jews.

The problem with QuAIA is not that they are political—though they
are—or that their message is ignorant, offensive, and wrong—though, in
my view, it is. The problem is that their presence at Pride has
nothing to do with, well, pride. That alone should be grounds for

On the Sunday of the parade, every other participant will be marching
in support of the LGBT community. Police and firefighters, soldiers
and teachers, friends and allies, gay bars and TV stars, all will be
singing the same tune—except QuAIA. Their placards may preach
“solidarity with Palestinian queers,” but that message is, at best,
peripheral; to QuAIA, the Palestinian part matters most. After all,
when we are talking about the oppression of LGBT people in the Middle
East, Israel is hardly a villain.

Yes, plenty of parade-goers will be pushing partisan agendas. But
there is a critical difference between a political party’s
parading—“vote Liberal because we love gays!”—and QuAIA’s—“Israel is
an illegitimate Apartheid state! And, uh, we love gays!” The
difference is one of emphasis; if QuAIA were to rebrand itself as
Palestinian Queers for Gay Rights, say, or Arab LGBT Pride, its
participation would not be an issue.

If QuAIA can march for the rights of queer Palestinians, would a group
called Queers for Life be invited to march for the rights of the queer
unborn? They may not volunteer for the Pride organizing committee, but
plenty of LGBT people oppose abortion. And while many Canadians would
question whether a fetus has the same rights as a refugee, who are we
to judge? The claim that Israel is guilty of Apartheid, a crime
against humanity, is no less controversial.

What about Queer Students for Catholic Schools? Will they be permitted
to promote their right to a publicly funded religious education, as
enshrined in Section 93 of our Constitution? This spring, as Queen’s
Park debated the McGuinty government’s anti-bullying bill, some LGBT
opponents of separate schools tried to co-opt the campaign for
gay-straight alliances (GSAs) to call for a single public system.
Students wanted GSAs in their Catholic schools. Activists wanted to
get rid of their schools altogether. Would the bishops’ gay backers
get a bully pulpit at Pride?

How about Gays for Gun Rights? Queers for Conscience Rights? Sure,
some hypotheticals are more hypothetical than others. But the point
remains: if Pride permits QuAIA, then either the floodgates are open,
or else not all rights are created equal. With choices like that, who
wants the right to choose?

Pride should be about Pride—about LGBT rights and the LGBT community.
It should not be a soapbox for activists and interest groups of all
sorts. Yes, queer rights are human rights, but unless we are ready to
retire the rainbow flag and replace Pride with some sort of human
rights smorgasbord, a bit of focus is in order. The last thing Toronto
needs is an omnibus parade.

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Pride should not be a soapbox for activists

  1. God, Adam – all the years women and gay rights activists were told to take their agenda elsewhere and now you want other rights activists to STFU?

    • Only when it comes to Israel, right Goldberg(lol)…wake up people…

  2. As long as it isn’t breaking human rights laws there’s nothing wrong with a parade organizer using a case by case basis to exclude or include whatever groups its organizing committee votes for. Don’t like Israel’s human rights violations and also don’t like guns but do like the right to have an abortion, that’s ok. I am surprised the author and his pdeudo-thin paper distinction didn’t pick up on this instead of spilling so much ink over straw men.

    Never thought I’d write this, but could we please bring back Jordan Owens?

  3. I don’t understand what’s wrong with a human rights smorgasbord? From a Human Rights Fellow, this is a bizarre argument to make. From a Liberal who celebrates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, why wouldn’t we celebrate all human rights. Some of us may fit into more than one box (see my name). We should be able to acknowledge and celebrate all of who we are.

  4. You lost me at the your headline “Pride should not be a soap box for activists”. Obviously you have no concept of Pride or have ever been to a Pride parade, at least not in Toronto, which is the one you’re writing about after all. Pride most definitely is a soap box for all activists and it has always had queer groups supporting or protesting against issues that are not directly related to LGBT equality. What about the queer environmentalists? the queer anti-fur people? queers against animal experimentation? Some of the same people involved in QuAIA also protested in the Pride parade, and outside it as well, against South African Apartheid despite queer S. Africans being much better off in the white communities than in the black communities. But no one ever complained about queers protesting or supporting issues not directly related to LGBT rights until QuAIA showed up.

    Adam has a problem with QuAIA protesting against israeli policies but no problem with Kulanu promoting their support of Israeli policies. If it were truly about being against activism for non-LGBT equality issues he’d be opposed to both but nope. This article is nothing more than another attempt to silence criticism of Israeli policies. If it were actually about being against activism at Pride, which by its very nature is an activist event, he would have also been opposed to all the other queer groups involved in activism outside the LGBT equality box. But nope, he’s just critical of QuAIA, and left wing activism in general, after all the right wing in Canada has done so much to support LGBT equality (yes that’s sarcasm) if anyone can come up with just one positive thing the right wing has ever done for LGBT people in Canada I’ll be amazed.

    What a pathetic human rights program Yale Law School must have if they willingly made Adam a fellow. Adam writes about Pride and human rights as if he learned everything he knows about the subjects from a paper place mat from some cheap queer restaurant instead of any sort of educational institution. No wonder Igantieff was such a failure with Adam writing his speeches and is it any surprise he has a role in McGuinty’s flailing gov’t? The same McGuinty gov’t who refused to enforce its own legislation protecting LGBT students in all public schools, including Catholic ones, for so many years when they had a majority. If it weren’t for McGuinty now having a minority and the pressure from the NDP Catholic public schools would still be able to get away with denying the Charter rights of their LGBT students and keeping them hidden and out of sight to “help” them understand the shame they’re supposed to feel for being LGBT. McGuinty has been a failure when it comes to protecting the equality rights of LGBT students when he had a majority, so I guess not surprising the author of this article is one of his senior aides.

  5. Two comments in the last paragraph deserve response: “It [Toronto Pride] should
    not be a soapbox for activists and interest groups of all sorts”, and “The last
    thing Toronto needs is an omnibus parade.”

    How narrow the world appears from the soapbox of a Liberal ‘senior

    From its birth in 1972, Toronto pride has always provided “a
    soapbox for activists.” How else could we
    have made ourselves heard? Politicians didn’t
    create the gay liberation movement, activists did – our lives depended on it. Politicians didn’t shed their brutal indifference
    to HIV and AIDS until forced by public opinion – thanks to activists. Politicians signed the documents to end apartheid
    in South Africa, but without years of organizing and agitation by activists, it
    would still be in place. Everything we’ve
    gained – most recently human rights protection for trans people – has been wrestled
    from unwilling politicians by activists.

    We’re not done yet, far from it. Absurd as it may seem, some of us actually
    believe that so long as any one is not free, no one is free.

    Which of course includes Palestinians, and countless other
    people(s) still subject to unjust rule. We
    know something about unjust rule. Left
    to their own devices, Canadian politicians would continue to enable Israel’s
    erasure of Palestine from the map and the mind of the world. But thanks to thousands of Palestinian
    activists – not politicians but activists – and their counterparts in Israel
    and around the world, a sane, decent outcome is still possible in
    Israel-Palestine. When that happens, of
    course it will be politicians who hog the cameras, but as always it is activists
    – individuals and organizations like QuAIA – who will have won the change.

    Adam Goldenberg concludes: “The last thing Toronto needs is
    an omnibus parade.” But why? What is it about an omnibus that scares him so
    much? (I assume the term is familiar to
    Goldenberg from the dangerously overstuffed bundles of legislation currently favoured
    by his government.) What is an omnibus, really? A big bus, with room for everyone. Can that really be so awful?

    Come down from your soapbox, Adam, and try out the bus. It may be a bit crowded, but the company is fabulous.

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