The Second Pride War

"I've got these queers right where I want 'em..."

Just over a year ago, I wrote a piece called “Why Pride” in which I argued 2 points related to the 2010 Pride celebrations in Toronto. In brief, they were:

  1. Pride should distance itself from aggressive political messages that are not its own, specifically the messages related to Israeli/Palestinian relations promoted by QuAIA.
  2. Pride should make better use of their its platform by de-emphasizing the naked, gyrating party and trying to put more media spotlight on their core messages of acceptance and openness.

On one of those two points, the one dealing with Queers against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), I feel somewhat validated by the events of the past few months. Pride did distance themselves slightly from QuAIA which was enough (at the time) to get the wolves at City Hall to back off their bull-headed pledge to pull Pride’s funding. But more than that, it put the focus of this year’s parade back squarely where it belongs, on the continuing day-to-day struggles of LGBTQ peoples in Toronto. Even the flap over the absence of Mayor Rob Ford from the parade was at least centred on the idea that a leader of the people of Toronto should represent all the people of Toronto, especially those who have been marginalized.

On the second point, concerning the emphasis on crazy fun over strong political messaging, I was quite wrong. I failed to grasp the power of an event where people can be themselves, even if only for an afternoon. I can see now that Pride allows those who perhaps spend much of the year couching their real feelings and personality to break free. In that way, the parade is both precious and beautiful and the way in which it creates spaces where people can feel completely comfortable IS the broader political message. I’d overlooked that in the past and I’m relieved to have seen the error in my thinking.

With that mea culpa humbly managed, we must return to the business of the day, which again is centred on QuAIA and the continued funding of Pride by the City of Toronto.

On the July 4th edition of the John Oakley show, we were treated to an incomprehensible exchange between city Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti and XTRA writer Andrea Houston. After the dust settled on the largely comical endeavour, we were left with a clear signal that the right-wing faction on Council would be renewing its quest to defund Pride and that they’d once again be using QuAIA as a wedge.

Sadly,  Houston mishandled her opportunity, spent far too much of the interview calling Mammoiliti names and worse, she confused the messaging about whether or not QuAIA had actually marched in either the main Sunday parade or the Dyke March. So intent was Houston on making hay out of Mammoliti’s silly videotaping stunt that she allowed him and his accomplice, John Oakley, to frame the conversation entirely around defunding Pride on the grounds that the festival had somehow broken a promise to sideline QuAIA.

Only near the end did Houston clearly state that QuAIA had not marched in the Dyke March or the Sunday parade, but by that time the damage was done. Mammoliti had successfully re-launched his campaign to defund Pride and the pro-Pride contingent was left looking both petty and incapable of providing a compelling argument against defunding.

This morning’s AM radio spectacle was the opening salvo in the war to kill Pride. It was the Fort Sumpter of what’s sure to be a long and painful struggle against the forces of the ignorance and fear. Do not for a second underestimate the importance of what transpired on this morning. Mammoliti used a friendly forum to firmly established his message and the Pro-Pride contingent came off as though they weren’t taking any of this seriously.

So let’s stop fucking around, ‘cause this is serious. And while it might be good Twitter fun to take pot shots at Mammoliti for his perceived pervy behaviour, it’ll get you exactly nowhere with the AM radio crowd. And guess what, you need the AM radio crowd. Sorry.

If an effective defense of Pride is to be mounted in the coming months, it must, in my opinion, accept the following 3 statements:

  1. There has never been a persuasive argument for defunding Pride. If ever you are presented with an argument, it will be a bad one. If ever you encounter a person making such an argument, they will not be able to back it up. The whole notion that the city should not fund public festivals is weak and easily attacked. But knowing one is righteousness does not assure victory. In fact, it often guarantees the opposite.
  2. If Pride is to survive it must distance itself from QuAIA and by extension, it must also concede that arguing for Pride in the context of Freedom of Expression is not an effective method of convincing Mayor Ford’s base of Pride’s benefits. They don’t care. They should, it’s horrific that they don’t, but they don’t. That was proven this year and last in reference to QuAIA and Pride and it was really fucking proven at the G20. Please, I get how horrible this statement is and what it says about Canada in the 21st century. But you to deal with reality of reality’s terms. And today, these are the fucking terms.
  3. Pride and its supporters must set the terms of the debate with the anti-Pride contingent, they must be willing to focus on issues that might appeal to that contingent and they must strongly resist the efforts of the Mayor and his cohorts to engage them in a debate about QuAIA or any related topic.

Pride meets all the requirements of the Respect for Taxpayers model. It provides good return on investment, it’s pro-business, it provides a service to a segment of Toronto’s population and it’s a shining example of a Public Private Partnership. These are our weapons. They’re clear, they apply to all public festivals and they focus on issues of economic development over social politics. In short, they’re coffee shop topics. That’s why they’ll work.

If the numbers I’m hearing are correct, the 2011 Pride celebrations have generated $13 million for business owners in the City of Toronto. That’s a 100x return on the City’s investment. Supporters of Pride should be publically thanking the City for their wise economic investment in Toronto business owners and for their continued focus on the economic development of the city in these tough times.

That’s not enough, you say? Alright, well how about citing Pride as an example of a PPP. No one loves PPP more than the Mayor and his cohorts. Hell, that’s how we’re going to pay for the whole city, right? Private businesses chip in their share of the Parade funding and they get advertising and naming rights in return. No one is asking the City to fund the parade all on their own, just to maintain their share of a successful PPP.

And as to these claims that Pride should be self-supporting; well economic stimulus is a lost leader. If Ford and Co. don’t believe that, just cite their pals in Ottawa who’ve given away millions of dollars to boost small business owners. The city’s just keeping in step with their ideological brethren and for a fraction of the federal sum. Again, Pride supporters would do well to praise the City at every opportunity.

Finally, Pride and its supporters should follow Mammoliti’s argument and frame this as a debate about the funding of festivals in general. Show the people of this city how their modest investment of tax dollars is paid back to small business a hundred-fold. Show them how big festivals like Pride, Luminato, Caribana and Nuit Blanche are key economic drivers and important sources of stimulus in depressed economic times.

Yes, I understand that the debate about Pride isn’t about the money for Ford, Mammoliti and any of the other scared, bigoted people who currently inhabit the halls of power in Toronto. For them, it’s about not wanting to fund a gay event. But tragic as it may be, that doesn’t matter. Ford wasn’t elected by passion and he can’t be defeated by passion. He was elected with consistent messaging. You need to convince Ford’s base in order to get his support. The methods for motivating his base aren’t a secret, so use them.

There is absolutely no benefit derived from launching personal attacks on the very people who control the purse strings to which Pride is desperately beholden.

“Hey, you’re a dirty homophobe…now see the error of your ways and give me some money.”

This is flawed logic, based in fantasy and only those blinded by self-righteousness would bother to use it. Make no mistake; this is going to be a war. And if the supporters of Pride continue to fight it indignantly, they will lose. Pride is too vital for its defense to be left to those who think shouting down the other side is an effective debating technique.

We have to do better and be better; that’s the only way it’ll get better. This isn’t about appeasement; it’s about fighting the enemy using their own weapons against them. It’s strategy over passion, reason over emotion and finally, Pride over prejudice. This isn’t a battle the forces of good can afford to lose. The death of Pride would be the social equivalent of dropping a bomb on the city. All of the hard-won advancements in universal rights would be wiped out and worse, it would give the purveyors of fear all the momentum they’d need to start chipping away at the rights of other minorities and eventually, everyone.

This is the time for mind over heart. So get your head into the game.

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