Thank you so much for your offer of the privilege of being Pride Toronto's 2010 Honoured Dyke. While I did accept this accolade last week while away on vacation, I have returned home and have now caught up on recent events. I see that your board has voted to disallow the words 'Israeli apartheid' from being used at this year's Pride festivities. In light of these developments, I have reconsidered your well-intentioned offer and feel that I must decline Pride Toronto’s offer of the Honoured Dyke title. (I do understand that some of your print deadlines have passed and it is too late to reflect these changes in all your published materials.)
As a long time cultural producer, journalist and community organizer, the practice and ideals of free speech are very dear to me. I also value and celebrate the political essence of my queer identity. Queers have rightfully insisted that the personal is political, so when more than a few of us get together in one place, political terrain is created. To me, queer gatherings of any sort – parades, demos, cultural events, sporting clubs and disco dance parties – are and always will be implicitly political events. It's little wonder then that a wide variety of political groups and voices seek to be heard at pride festivities.
These public events provide important, even crucial, public spaces for the exploration not just of our sexual identities and interests, but also ideas and political discourse. I am proud of the vast array of voices, causes and organizations that come out to be seen and heard at our events. This is not to say that I have never been offended by political policy in action, as well as speech and discourse that I have witnessed and been affected by at these events. But I've always known that if I wanted to I could (and did) engage with groups or individuals and air my disagreements and differences. I am grateful to live in a democracy where I have a constitutionally protected right to do so.
A discourse of 'safety' and 'inclusion' has been put forward to justify censorship at Pride 2010. I feel this is unfortunate and wrong-headed. I, like many people, do not feel 'safer' or 'included' by any decision to limit political speech. Quite the opposite. As history shows, suppressing people's right to express and explore political difference leads to some very dark and dangerous places.To translate for those who have difficulty wading through the verbosity (well, she is the Word Lady) and figuring out exactly why she declined: if Queers Against Israeli Apartheid aren't allowed to "speak freely" and smear the Jewish state with their Big Lie (because, hey, isn't that what "celebrating diversity" is all about?) well then, she cannot in "good" conscience accept the honour.
Pride emerged out of the impulse to simply take up public space and declare our right to exist in spite of our fear, even panic at doing so. Not everyone believed that being queer in the streets was something to be proud of, but we did it anyway. It was the right thing to do. I believe this is the beating heart, beauty and brilliance of EVERYTHING that calls itself queer. And so for me, the issue at hand is not one of left or right, corporate or anti-corporate, or even who’s politically right or wrong in the Middle East. It simply comes down to protecting the right to free speech – fiercely, as it were.
The offer of Honourary Dyke was very much a welcome honour and accolade originally but I am sorry to say that I cannot accept it now. I stand with a growing number of community members and observers who are advocating for a queer pride party that truly celebrates diversity, and invites us all to take part in open, democratic discourse about politics, sexuality and community.
I encourage you to rethink and rescind your decision to limit free speech at Pride 2010.
There's a word for the "Word Lady". Two words, in fact: Useful. Idiot.