Forward Thinking

Anti-Israel Gay Group Stirs Toronto Controversy

By Lorne Opler

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They’re back! And just in time for Toronto’s Gay Pride parade on Sunday, June 30.

Who’s back? None other than Canada’s most high profile anti-Zionist gay organization — Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

Formed by Toronto LGBT activists on the platform that Israel exists as an apartheid state and oppresses Palestinians — including LGBT Palestinians — QuAIA has fomented controversy every year since 2008 when it first announced its intent to participate in Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade. Despite pleas from the Jewish community to stop QuAIA from marching, and despite efforts by some city councillors to withhold grant money to Pride Toronto organizers unless they keep the agitators out, QuAIA has managed to participate in the city’s Pride Parade four out of the last five years. Pending any extraordinary and highly unlikely intervention from Toronto City Hall, they’ll be marching again on June 30.

Ongoing efforts by QuAIA opponents to halt the group’s inclusion on the basis that the term “Israeli apartheid” violates Toronto’s human rights policy and Ontario’s Human Rights Code, have been unsuccessful.

And a recent statement by Toronto’s chief lawyer which acknowledges that the words “Israeli Apartheid” violate neither the city’s human rights policy, nor appear to violate the province’s human rights policy, all but guarantees that QuAIA will again be part of the festivities.

Opponents of QuAIA, like myself, are not pleased. Its supporters, however, certainly are. Tony Souza, a member of QuAIA, was quoted in the May 27 Toronto Star saying, “Every single report that comes out says we don’t violate any hate laws…. we certainly don’t ‘hate’ anybody. We just want justice in Palestine.”

The place to start building for LGBT justice in the Middle East, is not at a civic gay pride celebration in Toronto, but by speaking to explicitly repressive states and non-state organization like Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. Tell them you want justice served for LGBT people in Palestine where they live in constant fear of being caught, beaten or murdered by their families. Tell them you want justice served in Iran, and in Iraq, in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan where homosexuals can be put to death by their own governments.

In September of 2011, three men were hanged in Iran on charges related to homosexuality, “for acts against Sharia law” as reported in the semi-official Iranian news agency Isna. The following year, death squads began targeting gay men in Iraq, according to Reuters News Service. Fourteen young men, either known to be gay or perceived as such were killed in Baghdad, during the first few weeks of 2012 alone. How about demanding justice in these cases?

Here’s an option. After four years of grandstanding, Torontonians are tired of QuAIA’s shrill. Why not take their message to a venue that’s centrally concerned with civil rights in the Middle East? If only you could join the Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad Pride Parade in Gaza City. There would be marchers from Queers Against Israeli French Fries, Queers Against Israeli Neck Ties, Queers Against Israeli Fruit Pies and my favorite, Queers Against Israeli Butterflies. QuAIA could even carry their banner, “Boycott Jewish Insects! They are occupying Palestinian land too!” Did I mention that the theme of this year’s parade is “Fantasy?”

Social justice is one of the noblest causes we as humans can engage in. But when QuAIA singles out Israel to the exclusion of other countries which perpetrate far worse offenses towards homosexuals, this is no longer social justice pursued, but rather old fashioned anti-Semitism differently cloaked. And for a community that shares with the Jewish people a painful history of discrimination, marginalization and vilification, I expect better.


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