I have been an LGBTQ+ activist in Halifax for over a decade, and I have never witnessed anything like what happened to our community at the Halifax Pride annual general meeting (AGM) on Oct. 5.
A resolution barring pro-Israel material at Halifax Pride events was defeated, while another resolution – one that I drafted – favouring free speech was passed. This means that there’s a place at Halifax Pride both for pro-Israel material and for protests against it. I worked hard to be an ally to the Jewish community on that point, at some cost to my relationship with other LGBTQ+ activists who passionately supported what they termed an anti-pinkwashing campaign.
That’s not the story I care about at the moment. I want to write about the allyship – or lack thereof – that the LGBTQ+ got back from the Jewish community that night.
Both sides of the free-speech/pinkwashing discussion worked to mobilize supporters to attend the AGM. For most of the attendees, it was their first and likely their last time attending a meeting for Halifax Pride, which has open membership rules. Of that group, the largest subset were from our Jewish community, whether directly mobilized by the Atlantic Jewish Council or otherwise. I won’t try to dissect who turned out from what community, but there’s no question in my mind that the decisions in that room were determined by supporters from the Jewish community who had no connection to the local LGBTQ+ movement – other than seeing themselves as allies to our cause.
That’s completely appropriate, to a point. There was an issue on the table that directly affected the local Jewish community, and it was important that local Jews be represented.
I became disillusioned, though, when that bloc of voters dominated on other issues where the interests did not intersect so neatly. An important resolution was proposed by the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP), our province’s leading LGBTQ+ rights group. It had some words in the preamble that referred to the pinkwashing issue and that would be a little tough for AJC to swallow. But the substance of the resolution – calling on the community to work together on guidelines for Pride participants, asking Pride to prioritize working for the LGBTQ+ community, and crucially, calling on us to recognize and begin to repair the exclusion of queer people of colour from Pride – was necessary.
Many of us spoke in favour of that resolution, including those of us who had worked hard to ensure that the interests of the Jewish community were protected. We passionately pleaded that anyone without a long-term interest in Pride – anyone who was in that room for their first and last Pride meeting – recognize what our community needed, and support the resolution, or abstain.
And yet, NSRAP’s resolution – sensible, necessary and rousingly supported by those of us who best understood our community’s needs – was defeated, because the room, including a huge bloc of voters who were there to protect the interests of the Jewish community, decided that the preamble wording about pinkwashing was too much to sacrifice for the long-term viability of Pride and our LGBTQ+ community.
It was frustrating. It hurt. Some of us personally put a lot on the line in acting as allies to the Jewish community on free speech here. I personally feel like I saw very little of that allyship reflected back.
The implications of this, the lessons to be learned, are more than I can express at the moment. My focus in the next little while will be on how I can possibly contribute to the process of healing and reconciliation that our LGBTQ+ community needs. I hope that our allies in the Jewish community – if they really want to deserve that title – are contemplating the same.
Kevin Kindred is a lawyer and activist in Halifax.