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If You Don't Stand for Something....

... you'll fall for anything.

Okay, so not all of these posts are going to be short and non-controversial.

I shot this photo last year ago at the Trans March on Church Street during Toronto Pride. I first saw the term "Israeli Apartheid" during TIFF 2 years ago, and it made me angry. I could not express my anger properly so I let it stew for a while. My main thought was "why are you using an Afrikaans word for an Israeli issue?". At the time, I researched the group and found their website severely lacking in information - especially their understanding of what "apartheid" meant and what their mandate was. If I was to drop the word "Holocaust" into my group name, I'd be pretty damn sure of the implications of using such a word before I used it.

I've gone to hear the group talk a few times over the past few months - mostly because I could not figure out what they were all about. What they stood for. Why they had been branded as a "hate group". I'm not generally a stupid person and am usually up to date with current socio-political events. I found it absurd that I could not easily figure out what they were about.

The biggest event I attended was a BENT panel at the Gladstone on which a QuAIA representation sat beside several reps from Pride Toronto and the Toronto queer community. The QuAIA rep was surprisingly well-spoken - but incredibly vague about what the group stood for. The moderator tried to get her to just state their mandate -to no avail. The moderator (and audience) grew increasingly frustrated by the vague answers - even attempting to paraphrase what was being said in order to give the frustrated audience something tangible.

The QuAIA contingent in the crowd was hostile and shouted at panel members. If they'd been able to intelligently and calmly state their position - they could have left that evening with some new supporters - or at least fewer opponents. Instead they left a sour impression on all of us. But I still could not figure out what they were about. I could not understand if the vagueness was due to them not knowing what they were about or not wanting to express it because they would ostracize too many people.

After more research I finally concluded that they were for Palestinian rights. Anti-oppression. Okay, that's cool. I can support that - but why does your group name not say anything about what your group is about? Why is your website so vague? Why could a reasonably intelligent person not figure that out right away?

I support free speech. I do not support discriminatory speech. Period.

In such a public venue and within such a huge event - you'd better damn well make sure your speech is clear and intelligent - if you want support. Otherwise why do it?

The group had refused to remove the "apartheid" word from their group name in order to get into the Pride parade this year. The City had threatened to withdraw funding for Pride if QuAIA was let in with it's current name - because their politics and speech had been deemed discriminatory. Judging by the way they handled themselves at that panel - I can see how they'd be interpreted that way. They were mostly shouting kids who would not let people talk - let alone listen to anyone else. They did not seem to think that Free Speech applies to anyone except them.

While I think it was absolutely crappy for the City of Toronto to force Pride Toronto's hand by making them choose between losing funding or banning the phrase "Israeli Apartheid" - I still don't understand why QuAIA refuse to remove Apartheid from their name when their name says nothing about what they're about - unless they're simply putting that word in there to get attention. Pride Toronto are not a bunch of idiots who don't care about the event - they do what they do and put in all the hours they do because they care. They were just trying to save pride. All those award-returners should be returning awards from the City of Toronto, not those received from Pride.

June Farrow, the first selected Pride Marshall for this year and many others turned down her awards as a protest against QuAIA being excluded under their current name. People have said that the words used to frame an argument are not as important as the argument. I'm sorry - the words are important. Poor language is what got QuAIA into this whole mess in the first place. It is what got them branded as a hate group. Their poor wording has left them open to anti-QuAIA protests from the other Queer Israeli group in Toronto - who are going on about what a great place Israel is for Queers.

But that has never been QuAIA's mandate (as best as I can figure out). They are anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian rights. They are not about Gay rights. Repeat - they are Not about Gay Rights. They have adopted the words "Queer" and "Apartheid" for no other reason than to get publicity and hijack events.

They could have marched any other time they want, Toronto is good like that. They protest outside the Israeli Consulate and tie up traffic outside the ROM on a regular basis. But contrary to their shouting - the group had not been banned from Pride - they had been banned from expressing hateful, discriminatory messages during a public event.

Queers for the Tamil Tigers, God Hates Fags, Queers for China's occupation of Tibet. Would groups with these names get the support of the Free Speech Award Returners? While I don't think they are a hate group - I do think that the words they use and the people in the group are full of hate and anger.

The words matter.

If you are supporting their right for free speech simply for the sake of free speech -and have not yet gone to hear them talk or talked to them one on one - do that first. Then make up your own mind on what to support and what not to. You can still support free speech while not supporting hate speech.

They have since been allowed back in the Parade on July 4th with their current name after Pride secured a vital $130K in funding from the City. While they are hiding their hatred under the protective veil of "free speech" and seem to have amassed a wealth of supporters - I doubt many of those supporters actually know what QuAIA stands for. I doubt many in QuAIA know what they stand for. Letting them in and making all groups sign an "anti-discriminatory" contract puts everyone on even ground with equal consequences - it also takes all the steam out of QuAIA.

I'm looking forward to seeing them in the parade and seeing if they change their message and tactics for the event. But whatever they decide to scream - I just hope they at least try to make some sense.


I'm not the only one who feels this way..

1 Response to "If You Don't Stand for Something...."

marissa Says:

well-written. you captured it exactly.

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