Gay Left Resurgence

Events in Greater Toronto Area (GTA) queer communities over the last year strongly suggest a resurgence in grassroots struggles and campaigns. Taking inspiration from the history of the earlier gay liberation movement, there is increasing resistance to the assimilationist and opportunist direction of the (largely self-appointed) LGBT ‘leadership’.

Resistance surfaced spectacularly during the run-up to Pride week (2010) last year, when Pride Toronto (PT) abjectly caved in to pro-Zionist attacks on the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in the annual Pride March. Initially, Pride bureaucrats tried to impose a process where signs and slogans would be vetted in advance.

This stance produced a storm of protest, including a large community meeting of around 400 which founded the Pride Coalition for Free Speech. This first attempt at censorship was discarded. But on May 26, citing attacks on city Pride funding by right wing media and politicians, PT held a press conference to announce that any reference to ‘Israeli Apartheid’ would be banned. Outside the PT office, 150 protesters organized by QuAIA loudly demonstrated. It was an impressive turnout on short notice, on a weekday. Following the demonstration, many present and past honorees of Pride publicly declined or returned their awards. PT eventually rescinded its decision. Large contingents from both QuAIA and the free speech coalition marched in the parade.

Following Pride 2010, PT set up a ‘community consultation’ process to deflect growing criticism of its bureaucratic and high-handed practices. True to form, the process was transparently skewed so that the result would not be too embarrassing. So much so that Queer Ontario (QO) decided to boycott the process, present its own recommendations and seek to meet directly with the PT board.

This year, QuAIA decided not to march, to avoid giving city hall reactionaries and pro-Zionists a pretext to cut Pride funding (and presumably, in the event that funding was cut, to blunt any smear campaign that it was all their fault.) QuAIA didn’t march, but did unfurl a large banner from the top of the Wellesley St. subway station: “Support Palestinian Queers/Boycott Israeli Tourism.” This act enraged right wing and homophobic city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, as did anti-apartheid signs and pro-Palestinian chants in the Dyke March the previous day. The Dyke procession is a separate event from the Pride Parade, organized by women independently. Given to clownish and demagogic stunts, Mammoliti videotaped the Dyke March, allegedly to collect ‘evidence’ to support his fund-cutting campaign!

More significantly, the previous weekend saw the first STONEWALL march, attended by at least 1000 participants. (See article in previous SA.) For years people fed up with the increasingly corporatised and bureaucratic official Pride had talked about creating an alternative event, more community-oriented and in the spirit of the original Stonewall rebellion. Since PT had vacated that weekend to move Pride to the first weekend in July, organizers seized the opportunity, drawing impressive numbers of younger people, women, transgendered people and minorities.

The most encouraging trend has been the growth and development of Queer Ontario. (Although centered in Toronto, it is a province-wide organization, and steps are planned to provide for more involvement by members across Ontario.) QO is the successor organization to the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO), which for 35 years waged a principled and militant struggle for queer rights, one of the major highlights being the amendment of the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1986 to include sexual orientation.

Thanks to membership growth, especially the addition of new and younger activists, QO has been able to move toward holding more public events and being more directly involved in immediate issues. One of the most important of those is support for Catholic high-school students in their struggle against the church hierarchy (and the Ministry of Education’s refusal to enforce its own policies) and in favour of the right to form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools. QO has been actively engaged in support of free speech at Pride and the push for community control. On August 28, 2011, the fortieth anniversary of the first gay demonstration on Parliament Hill, QO is organizing an updated repeat rally in Ottawa under the slogan “We (Still) Demand” (the original demonstration’s theme was “We Demand”.)

Queer Ontario to date has been, and is, everything operations like Pride Toronto are not — democratic, inclusive, independent, and with a liberationist perspective. Its independence is illustrated by its insistence on holding accountable the Ontario Liberal government’s Ministry of Education for refusal to enforce its own policies on GSAs, where others argue for the bankrupt ‘lesser-evil’ politics of taking a soft line on the Liberals lest the more right wing Conservatives win the next election. QO offers the kind of leadership needed to spark a renewal of queer liberation. 

> The article above was written by John Wilson.