Me & Harvey 3C: What’s Queer Got To Do With It?

The Pride TO committee has changed their mission and values statement to disassociate the organization and its activities from the political movement from which it has sprung. It reads, “Pride Toronto exists to celebrate the history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto’s LGBTTIQQ2SA* communities.” And there’s the rub. When Pride’s mission moved ‘to celebrate’ four aspects of our social life, it glossed over the inherent political blood pumping through Pride. This was done purposely, for a variety of reasons: most misguided and unrewarded. After the Feds gave Pride TO $400K last year, this year we got $O. Need we say more?

In pursuit of corporate and government support Pride TO has agreed that allowing the free expression of QuAIA’s point of view, in their signage, is equivalent to permitting hate or inflammatory speech. The former would be terrible, if true, the latter is nothing new. We are, by our nature, inflammatory. Hello? That’s why they like us!

But, as I was getting to in post 3B, this accusation (hate-speech and so on) neuters the seriousness, gravity and substance of what hate-speech actually is. It is the Karl Rovian twisting of language, in the pursuit of political gain, by purposing that one is avoiding the ‘political’, that minimizes the actual substantive seriousness and gravity inherent in words such as apartheid and hate-speech. Pride TO argues that, since they changed their mission and values statement, politics is no longer part of their game. Pride TO is now only celebration, celebration, celebration. Of course it is a celebration. But it is not only that. And they know now that the community they serve will not stand for it.

We celebrate to honour the pain, the suffering, the violence and the hate we have endured. The political struggle to carve out a place for us in a pool of precious resources. If politics is about the allocation of resources then every gay person and every gay parade knows the struggle for resources: attention, volunteers, money and skill.

I, and thousands of others, have been forced out of our countries, for goddsakes, because having our back is not politically expedient. We have been murdered and undefended because it’s not politically expedient to cover us in hate crime legislation or educate the broader population; we have been fired, we have been separated from our children – all thanks to political expediency. When will all of this not be political? No wave of the Pride TO committee wand is going to change this. The change in mission and values is disingenuous. We couldn’t divorce the organization and its activities from its politics if we wanted to.

Of course, there is room for people who just want to party. Come, come to Pride. We want you. We want straight allies to join us as we celebrate your efforts and our own. Because we are all human. Nobody’s going to force you to hold a candle to the past, as we did at the Harvey Milk Festival to honour Harvey, his life and work and our own.

You sip your martini. Knock yourself out. We’ll do the same but with a ferocity that matches the dignity of our lives. That’ll make the next cocktail we sip taste much, much sweeter.

The HMF, as I wrote earlier, is a moment when all of us can come together in support of Human Rights which includes, inherently, queer rights and Palestinian rights. These are rights agreed upon by the world community in the U.N. declaration of Human Rights which Eleanor Roosevelt fought so hard to make a reality in her last years. But while the U.N. was busy articulating the rights inherent to our lives together on this planet, it was also displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and other Arabs from their homes and into refugee camps. The displacement happened in May, the UN Declaration in December. And there the Palestinians have stayed for 62 years. My goodness, we were refugees for three years. I cannot imagine if my grandparents, my parents, my brothers and sisters and all of my family had been refugees – for more than six decades. Because of who they are they are demonized and accused of a variety of crimes. Sound familiar?

Palestinian crimes may not be perversion, sodomy, pedophilia, recruitment and all of the other things queers are accused of, but you can’t tell me that the principles of demonization are not the same. It’s used to keep Palestinian homeless and it’s used to keep me away from my home. You can’t tell me that this demonization is not used for political gain. Ask Ariel Sharon, ask Karl Rove, ask Dick Cheney. Ask Steven Harper. Like it or not, it’s all political.

At the tail end of a community consultation on these issues at the Gladstone Hotel, a commenter at the mic couldn’t understand what queer rights had to do with Palestinian rights. I was shocked. What don’t queer rights have to do with Palestinian rights? Harvey’s whole message was that queer rights are human rights: the right to marry who we want, work for whom we want, move freely…to pursue the fullest expression of ourselves that we can. These rights are denied to us because of who we are. I’m not making this stuff up, I’m connecting the dots. Check out the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights for a refresher.

A ‘human right’ means the rights are yours just because you are human. You do not have to earn them. Civil rights in various societies around the word derive their moral force from the concept of human rights. But, a bag of human rights without a State to defend them, won’t get you a darned thing, so argues Hannah Arendt.

Hannah Arendt

And let me tell you, from personal and bitterly sipped experience, she is right. If you don’t have a State willing to defend your rights, you have no rights. Ask the Jews, of which Arendt was one. God knows, queers all over the world know this.
We must encourage sincere, non-violent discourse. We ought to oppose hate-speech and the incitement of violence (not just immediate violence as in the States) at every turn. In this, I am in complete agreement with Pride TO.

But they are gravely mistaken to not oppose the willful neutering of apartheid, anti-semitism and hate-speech. With this move, all of us suffer and will continue to suffer. Because, if wearing a swastika with a line through it is equivalent to anti-semitism, then will we even notice (or care) when plain old swastikas begin appearing?

Language has a way of shaping our thinking. We must protect it and deploy it thoughtfully.

If Israel is so willing to trade the human rights of Palestinians, many of whom are Israeli citizens, then who is to say that Israeli or Arab queers aren’t next? When, let’s say, the military-industrial complex finds it expedient to keep the conflict going, what’s to prevent queers from becoming the political footballs we are in the States? God knows we may/not be easing out of almost 110 years of a gloves-off assault on human/queer rights in the States. The Harvey Milk Festival Sarasota celebrates the pursuit, achievement and defense of human rights for all of us.

I hope Pride TO can help us find our way to doing the same.

~ by Thom on May 27, 2010.

2 Responses to “Me & Harvey 3C: What’s Queer Got To Do With It?”

  1. As a Jew… I blame the Palestinian leaders for their problems… in 1948, they turned down statehood, and the neighboring Arab counties invaded Israel, and lost every war they started. And ever since that time… the Palestinians people have been used as pawns… and were kept in detention camps not by the Israelis, but their own leaders. It was the Arab leader that told them to leave, and they would be able to return, once they drive the Jews into the sea! Arafat stolen billions, as their spokesman… and he was offered peace… only to reject all agreements. The PLO and other factions have a 50 year record of sending missiles into Israel, often fired from school yards and hospital roof tops. So if you want to help the Palestinians… start with getting rid of their warlords, and stop teaching their children to hate Jews. People cried foul when Israel built their security fence,but there has not been a single suicide bomber since. Promise their martyrs 72 virgins… to kill… the reality is… Israel has turned a desert to bloom, they are a leader in hi-tech, they have won so many Nobel Prizes in medicine,and all kinds of fields. People seem to forget, when Jordan had the West Bank,
    they denied Jews to worship at their Holy sites… and destroyed other holy sites for 19 years until they lost it in the 6 Day War.
    More Palestinians have been killed by Jordan, that all the wars with Israel. There was no talk of statehood when Jordan controlled the West Bank, and Egypt the Gaza Strip. So stop blaming Israel for the Palestinians problems. Build them schools and hospitals instead of arming them… and maybe in our lifetime… there could be a Palestinian State.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Jerry. There is no question that both sides have committed atrocities. That is not the debate, I hope, into which these posts insert themselves. As I noted in the first or second one, saying who is right or wrong is not my place. Both sides also have justifications, framed as moral reasons, for the atrocities. And of course they are moral, even ethical. They are rooted in individual, social and cultural values – on both sides. The posts on American Refugee are an attempt , perhaps clumsy, to argue against censoring criticism of Israeli policy. I cannot imagine I would feel any different if Pride TO wanted to censor criticism of Hamas, or Arafat. These players have had periods, moments, of horrendous-ness. No question. But that doesn’t give Pride justification to ban the language – another focus of the posts – “Israeli Apartheid”. The effort to censor punches up just how potent words can be.

      I grew up in the Midwestern U.S. I remember in ’77 or ’78 when Jews marched and protested in defense of the Neo-Nazi’s and KKK’s right to march in Skokie, Ill. Perhaps, you remember the TV movie, Skokie, with Danny Kaye, as the Jewish lawyer, Max Feldman, who’d lost his family in the Holocaust, defending the Nazis?

      As a young boy, that movie made a deep impression on me. When I think of Pride TO’s decision today, I think of Max Feldman and those Skokie Jews then.

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