6.10.2010

pride toronto vs free speech: reclaiming the radical roots

My friend Kim_in_TO has written a terrific personal perspective on Pride Toronto's censorship of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, and where it might lead.

Perhaps what began as a shockingly shameful attempt to muzzle political opinion will lead to a rejuvenation and reclamation of a movement. Or not. Whether or not the official Pride Toronto changes its tune is less important than the process of resistance itself. People are refusing to be silenced. They're remembering how their people were silenced for generations, and are forcefully pushing back. Only good things will stem from that.

Kim has also assembled a linkorama extraordinaire, including video of the recent town hall meeting on sanitizing Pride, Jane Farrow's rejection of the Honoured Dyke award, and the announcement that more than 20 past Pride honourees are returning their awards. (This story says 18, but the number of protesting past recipients has grown since then.)

For me the best link on Kim's page is my friend Christine Beckermann's excellent story on Rabble, "The Radical Roots of Pride". Christine offers a summary of the public fight for gay rights, and the Toronto flashpoint that galvanized the movement in Canada.
This summer will mark the 30th anniversary of the Pride Day celebrations in Toronto. For young people who may be heading out to their first Pride, it would be easy to think that the history of the struggle for LGBT rights has been an onward and upward advance of rational ideas over bigotry and hatred; that through reasoned argument, society and the state have come to accept the case for equal rights.

In fact, the struggle for queer rights has been a struggle with advances and setbacks, and the politics at the heart of the struggle at different periods have been critical.

. . . .

But the key event that brought the LGBT movement in Canada massively into the streets came in February 1981 when police raided four gay bathhouses in downtown Toronto, arresting nearly 268 men and charging them under the "bawdy house" section of the criminal code. It was the largest mass arrest in Canada since the October Crisis in 1970.

People who were arrested that night described the brutality and violence of the police. People were physically assaulted and verbally abused by homophobic cops. After a group of men had been corralled into the showers in one bathhouse, a cop remarked that it was too bad that the pipes in the shower room couldn't be hooked up with gas instead of water, harking back to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. George Hislop, a leader in the gay rights movement at the time, described the behaviour of the police as "gestapo-like" and the police destruction of the establishments was so bad that one of them never reopened.

The arrests had an immediate effect, politicizing and galvanizing the gay rights movement here. The night after the arrest, over 3,000 people joined in a protest on Yonge Street which marched down to 52 Division, chanting "Fuck You 52". The march then moved on to Queen's Park to protest the Conservative government's inaction on updating the Human Rights code to include sexual orientation.

Participants in the march described the anger and intensity of the crowd. When the police tried to block protestors from turning onto Dundas Street to march to 52 Division, protestors swarmed through. And when a streetcar tried to push through the march, protestors began pushing it and rocking it, breaking a window before the driver finally decided to stay put.

Two weeks later, another march was held, this time drawing 5,000 people. And on March 6, a Gay Freedom Rally was held, effectively becoming Toronto's first pride event.

The responses to the Stonewall and bathhouse raids reflected a movement and a community that had had enough, and that was no longer willing to sit back. People's anger and frustration poured into the streets, and into a new movement which would pave the way for many of the rights which we have today.

These rights have not come easily, and this history of ordinary people who were inspired by other groups fighting against oppression, and who saw their liberation as being part of a larger struggle, should not be lost or sanitized out of Pride.

If you are interested in history and the struggle for the equality of all people, I highly recommend reading both Kim's post and Christine's story.

2 comments:

Kim_in_TO said...

Thanks for posting, Laura. The extensive links on my blog are mostly from the amazing Rick Telfer (who I added on Facebook but haven't had the privilege of meeting in person).

L-girl said...

(who I added on Facebook but haven't had the privilege of meeting in person)

Same here. :)