Archive for April, 2010

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Queers Against Israeli Apartheid – standing proud in the face of threats and intimidation

April 30, 2010

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) is a Toronto-based organization that was formed to work in solidarity with queers in Palestine and Palestinian resistance movements around the world. We support the 2005 Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law. As queers, we recognize that homophobia exists in Israel, Palestine, and across all borders, but queer Palestinians face the additional challenge of living under occupation, subject to Israeli state violence and control. We also recognize that as part of its Rebranding Campaign, Israel is cultivating an image of itself as an oasis of gay tolerance in the Middle East. QuAIA works to out this ‘pinkwashing’ of Israeli apartheid.

For the past two years, QuAIA has marched in Toronto’s Pride Parade despite attempts by Israel lobby groups to have us banned. In 2009, over 200 people marched under the QuAIA banner at the Pride Parade. The success of QuAIA is seen as a threat to supporters of Israeli apartheid, who have renewed their smear campaign against the group. Israel lobby groups are pressing private sponsors and all levels of government to pull funding from Pride Toronto if QuAIA is allowed to march.

In response to this pressure, in March 2010, Pride Toronto implemented a policy that required all groups to have their slogans pre-approved before marching in the parade. Community outrage forced Pride to remove this condition, but the attacks on QuAIA continue. In April 2010, City of Toronto staff warned Pride Toronto to ban QuAIA from the parade or they could face cuts to its City funding. Mayoral candidates have started to make similar threats to Pride. At this point it is not clear whether Pride will give in to these demands, but QuAIA is prepared to fight any ban that may be imposed. The tremendous outpouring of support we have already received from our allies tells us that we will not be alone in this fight.

The attack on QuAIA takes place in a broader context of attempts by all levels of government to suppress criticism of Israel in Canada. In just over a year, we have seen cuts to the funding of the Canadian Arab Federation, KAIROS and UNRWA, the banning of George Galloway, and a motion in the Ontario legislature condemning Israeli Apartheid Week. These attacks prove that BDS is an increasing threat to Israeli apartheid and have only strengthened our resolve.

QuAIA will not back down in the face of threats and intimidation – we are proud of our commitment to BDS and our solidarity with Palestinians, queer-identified and straight. We will march in Pride Toronto 2010 because we are proud of our politics.

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City’s Threat to Pride Toronto Condemned Internationally

April 26, 2010

Letters of support for the inclusion of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in Toronto’s gay pride parade have poured in from prominent groups and activists locally and abroad, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Queer Ontario, and LGBT organizations in Palestine and Israel.

City of Toronto staff were quoted in the Toronto Star on April 18 suggesting that future city funding for Pride Toronto may be jeopardized if the activist group is allowed to march in this year’s parade.

“We are appalled by attempts made at the City of Toronto to use censorship measures against the pride parade’s participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid,” reads an April 25 letter of support from Israeli Queers for Palestine. “We wish to pledge our support to QuAIA in this time of unjust political persecution for their courageous standing for Palestinian rights and against any form of oppression.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote a letter to mayor David Miller on April 20 objecting to the threat to Pride funding. “In activities such as parades, art exhibitions and theatre performances, points of view on controversial subjects may be expressed that may make individuals from specific communities uncomfortable. Freedom of expression is central to such activities, however, and these considerations alone should not preclude public funding.”

“We believe that as queers, one of the most disadvantaged and oppressed minorities in human societies, we should protest against all forms of oppression and struggle together,” says a joint letter from Palestinian queer organizations al-Qaws and Aswat. “As Palestinian queers, our struggle relates to social injustices caused by the discrimination that is deeply rooted in Israel’s policies and practices against the Palestinian people, straight and gay alike.”

On April 24, Queer Ontario issued a statement denouncing the threat from city staff. “We are particularly concerned about how the word ‘apartheid’ is being interpreted as ‘hate’ and the implications of such on free speech. We are disturbed that such a warning was issued based upon mere reports from ‘some’ city councilors and unspecified members of ‘the public’, without proper research being conducted first.”

Co-founder of the U.S.-based Lesbian Avengers Sarah Schulman wrote to Pride Toronto on April 20 to express her gratitude that the censorship attempts have so far proven unsuccessful. She wrote: “I would be happy to do whatever I can to show support for the continuation of Pride as a day that we all share together.”

“We salute QuAIA for their courageous and moral stance against Israeli apartheid and Israel’s blatant disregard of international law,” said an April 23 statement issued by the group Palestinian Queers for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions. “We support QuAIA for their outstanding solidarity actions, including the refusal to be silenced by the decision of the City of Toronto.”

STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT:

Israeli Queers for Palestine
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
al-Qaws and Aswat
Queer Ontario
Sarah Schulman
Palestinian Queers for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions
Seriously Free Speech Committee (Vancouver)
Independent Jewish Voices
United Jewish People’s Order

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LGBT Community Condemns Sponsor Interference in Pride Toronto

April 20, 2010

THREATS TO FUNDING FOLLOW PRESSURE FROM ISRAEL LOBBYISTS

Prominent activists from Toronto’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) communities joined together today to condemn moves by some sponsors of the city’s annual Pride festival to dictate who will be allowed to participate in the Pride parade.

“We don’t need corporate sponsors, government funders, or external lobby groups telling our community what we can talk about in our own parade,” says Tim McCaskell, an organizer of the protests against bathhouse raids which sparked the creation of Pride Toronto in 1981.

An April 18, 2010 feature story in the Toronto Star revealed that City of Toronto staff warned Pride Toronto to ban activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) from the parade or face repercussions to its city funding. Earlier this month, a leaked e-mail from TD Bank Financial Group revealed that the premier corporate sponsor was requesting a meeting with the Pride Toronto board of directors to discuss the inclusion of QuAIA in the parade.

“Our community has successfully resisted censorship for decades, and we aren’t going to stop now,” says Anna Willats, a former Honoured Dyke of Pride Toronto. “City bureaucrats and corporate sponsors have no business attaching strings to their financial support that would take the politics out of Pride.”

City of Toronto staff claim that the participation of QuAIA in last year’s parade violated the city’s anti-discrimination guidelines. This conclusion was reached without any public process. No charges have been laid, and no complaints made to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The decision was made by bureaucrats behind closed doors, based on false information propagated by pro-Israel lobbyist Martin Gladstone, and city staff admitted that they had not conducted a full investigation.

“The City of Toronto is saying that criticizing the Israeli government is a violation of their anti-discrimination guidelines,” says Ayden Scheim, a Jewish queer/trans activist. “Invoking human rights to suppress political speech is offensive to those of us who actually care about legitimate human rights issues.”

“In the 1980s, I marched in the Pride parade as part of a queer group organized against South African apartheid,” says queer filmmaker Richard Fung. “Why should queer activists expressing solidarity on international human rights issues be censored from Pride today?”

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Queers Against Israeli Apartheid via e-mail.