It was welcome news for our Kulanu Toronto community when, at the end of February, we heard that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) had disbanded.
The gay Pride Parade was created 45 years ago as an inclusive event that would be welcoming and accepting of everyone. Since 2008, QuAIA has hovered like a dark cloud over the Pride Parade, turning the event from a celebration of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights into a vehicle to deliver anti-Israel propaganda. QuAIA’s hateful banners and signs demonizing Israel served to abandon Pride’s inclusive philosophy. They created divisiveness and tarnished the good reputation of the parade.
Since QuAIA’s arrival on the scene, many Kulanu Toronto members have felt excluded from Pride, fearing they would be harassed and singled out for supporting the State of Israel. Suddenly, Pride no longer felt safe or welcoming. Isn’t it ironic that Israel, the only democracy for LGBT people in an otherwise hostile Middle East, was singled out by QuAIA? They could have played a meaningful role if their members had focused their energies on speaking out against actual abuses against our LGBT community, such as in Iran, where people are executed for being gay.
From the start, QuAIA’s divisive mantra became a huge source of contention for members of the Jewish and LGBT communities. For six years, Kulanu Toronto and our allies worked diligently to further marginalize them at the parade. Each year, QuAIA members found themselves placed further and further back in the parade lineup. Last year at World Pride, they were one of the last groups to march. They were removed from the spotlight, and no one was paying attention to them. Their small contingent was met with silence.
As QuAIA’s presence at Pride shrunk and ultimately withered away, Kulanu Toronto has been standing up for Israel. We succeeded in galvanizing hundreds in the Jewish community – straight and gay – to march with us. In 2010, we had an overwhelming 500 people march in our contingent, including families and synagogue members from Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal and Ottawa. We marched together to demonstrate our unwavering support for Israel as the only gay-friendly, pluralistic democracy in the Middle East. We marched to ensure that anti-Semitism would not be tolerated. The support and good wishes from our community were incredible, and we thank everyone who has stood at our side over the years.
Kulanu Toronto is not at all surprised that QuAIA disbanded. They garnered far more attention than they ever deserved. Over time, they became irrelevant, and their hate was drowned out by messages of inclusivity and celebration.
We must be cautious, however, when celebrating the disbanding of QuAIA. Sadly, people so obsessed with hating Israel never really go away. We all know that these anti-Israel activists are this generation’s face of viral anti-Semitism and intolerance. No matter what your affiliation in the Jewish community or how you identify in the LGBT community, we all need to stand together in solidarity against them.
Unlike QuAIA, Kulanu Toronto is here to stay! Last year, at World Pride, we had 150 people in our delegation, including a group of LGBT Israelis. We danced to the beat of an Israeli DJ who played on our Tel Aviv beach-themed graffiti float. In the spirit of inclusivity and acceptance, we held Jewish and pro-Israel signs that said, “Israel: world leader in gay rights” and “Tel Aviv: gay capital of the Middle East.” Receptive spectators clapped and cheered as they read our Kulanu signs that said, “One in every minyan” and “I knished a girl and I liked it.”
We can’t wait to march at Pride Parade again on Sunday, June 28. We invite all of you – straight, gay, families and individuals – to join us as we stand up for diversity, respect and acceptance.
Justine Apple is executive director of Kulanu Toronto, kulanutoronto.org.