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.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.