The Community Advisory Panel is an independent group of advisors that has spent the last months canvassing feedback from “the community” about Pride Toronto. I’ve attended two of the in-person consultations and have read a great deal of commentary online and in print. I have yet to encounter a point made during this process that was completely new to me. Here, however, I raise an issue that will probably be new to you: Ending separatism at Pride Toronto.
That separatism takes two forms:
There’s an actual Pride Day march or parade, but if you’re a dyke or a tranny, you get your own separate marches (sponsored by Pride Toronto) in addition to the real one.
Pride Toronto employs “male and female co-chairs.”
Pride Toronto’s signature event is the Pride Day march or parade. It’s intended as a celebration of the legitimately constituted gay and lesbian community, but is open to everyone. It is a unifying event.
Pride Toronto should hire on merit.
One march or two?
The Dyke March, for most of its history, barred the participation of men, who could cheer along from the sidelines in true second-class-citizen fashion. Now men are allowed, presumably in part to resolve the definitional predicament of FTMs who previously were, and might still be, lesbians. (In fact, Pride Toronto claims the “march” is for “women and trans people,” i.e., everyone but men.)
There was never a viable reason for Pride Toronto to sponsor a discriminatory and exclusive march, whether for lesbians or otherwise. Dykes just aren’t special enough to merit discriminatory and exclusive treatment; dykes are not first among equals, nor, as is often insinuated, are they last. If the philosophical underpinning of the Dyke March is to make dykes feel good one day a year in compensation for the sexism and economic discrimination they suffer the rest of the year, then I don’t see how the putative remedy actually addresses the issue.
You can’t escape the message that gay men (who, it seems, are always a problem) have hindered or thwarted lesbians. “Proof” of this contention usually takes the form of how many men’s bars are in operation compared to women’s. This trifling comparison makes a mockery of its own argument and is not even a remotely credible basis upon which to organize a march or parade that excludes an entire group.
There is no issue of economic disadvantage specific to lesbians. I have all the facts, because I read all the research and you didn’t. On average, lesbians earn more than straight women and, on average, lesbian and gay-male incomes are similar. Women earn, on average, less than men, but that is not the claimed ideological basis for the Dyke March.
After Pride Toronto tried to censor Pride parade participants last year, a grassroots movement emerged to operate its own dyke march. Take Back the Dyke did exactly what it set out to do. As the Pride Coalition for Free Speech noted on the Facebook on 2010.12.27, “Take Back the Dyke went off beautifully, with around 1,500 people coming out to march without barricades, gawping recreational photographers, corporate logos or state-approved security.” Even its own beneficiaries don’t like the Dyke March, evidence shows.
But Take Back the Dyke organizers probably do not understand that their event nullified any argument for a Pride Toronto–sponsored Dyke March. Take Back the Dyke proved that such sponsorship was unnecessary; dykes don’t need Pride Toronto’s imprimatur to march. True to form, Take Back the Dyke expressly discriminated against those who weren’t “queer women and transfolks,” and also expressly relegated everyone not in those categories to “the sidelines.”
The kind of dykes who defend the Dyke March and Take Back the Dyke are mostly white and are the quickest to shout racism at the tiniest perceived insult to nonwhites, yet they are blind to their own unethical and discriminatory behaviour. There’s a word for these people: Hypocrites.
Sponsored segregation is illegal.
A grassroots community event thrown together by volunteers might or might not be subject to human-rights laws the first time it happens, but an event put on by an incorporated body that receives government and other funding definitely is subject to them.
Pride Toronto’s actions are certainly not saved by §14(1) of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which permits “a special program designed to relieve hardship or economic disadvantage or to assist disadvantaged persons or groups to achieve or attempt to achieve equal opportunity” because lesbians are not economically disadvantaged and, moreover, are not disadvantaged in the opportunity to march. Pride Toronto runs the real march on Pride Day and dykes, like everyone else, are fully welcome to join in there.
On any legal or ethical basis, then, there is no justification for Pride Toronto to sponsor a Dyke March, even one where men are begrudgingly allowed. Take Back the Dyke blew out of the water any justification for a Pride Toronto–sponsored dyke march.
This will probably come as a shock to them; confronted with an untenable logical position, Take Back the Dyke supporters may undergo a Damascene conversion to the most strident defenders of the Dyke March. Then again, I already suspected they were hypocrites.
A trans march makes even less sense since transgendered persons, according to reliable research, are barely ever gay or lesbian. Rainbow Health Ontario’s Trans-Pulse project (PDF) surveyed “433 trans people age 16 or over who live, work or receive health care in Ontario” and found that only 25% considered themselves gay or lesbian. (The bisexual category is reported as “bisexual or pansexual,” which clouds the issue, and was chosen by 30% of respondents.) 51% of respondents deemed themselves straight or heterosexual, unsure, or asexual.
It’s impossible to deduce the true figures for sexual orientation from this survey because respondents could choose multiple responses, but this credible research project showed that only a minority of surveyed transgender people in Ontario are definitionally gay or lesbian. (I have requested the raw data.) Since the physical or legal sex of a transgendered person may be in dispute, it follows that terms like heterosexuality and homosexuality (and “opposite” sex) become difficult to define in those cases.
A segment of the legitimately constituted gay and lesbian community, one that I believe is large, does not agree that transgendered persons are part of its community. But that was simply declared as a fait accompli in the ’90s and those who declared it demanded unflinching agreement. The best argument that proponents can muster is that drag queens threw their heels at cops at a riot in a foreign country 40 years ago, and that legitimate gay males and lesbians are, perhaps unbeknownst to them, waging the same war against gender orthodoxy that transgenderists are. (Gay is really just a subset of transgender, they allege; transgender is really the fullest expression of Gay. If they try hard enough, gays and lesbians might someday become as gay as a transgendered person automatically is.)
The former claim is historically interesting but irrelevant to 21st-century Canada, while the latter claim is not theirs to make. If legitimate gay men and lesbians aren’t allowed to speak for transgenderists, they aren’t allowed to speak for us, either. But this entire discussion revolves around one segment of a community making decisions for another segment. In this case, transgenderists and their supporters decided they were part of the gay community and that’s that. If you disagree, the message is you need to keep your mouth shut. (Somebody might file a human-rights complaint against you. At the very least, you’ll be pilloried in comment sections on blogs.)
The fact that gay men are, in my observed experience, most of the people who object to the insistence that transgendered people are “gay” or are part of the gay community is held as proof of how wrong that belief is. Gay men are a problem to be solved, according to the kinds of dyke and trans activists who demand their own marches. The fact that it’s mostly gay males who believe trans does not equal gay is proof of how wrong they are. Of course gay men would think that; they’re the least enlightened segment of our diverse LGBT2SQQQBLMORMORSS&SY communities and the most in need of re-education, the message says.
As someone with 30 years’ experience in disability activism, I fail to understand why transgender groups have not availed themselves of the principled arguments that have succeeded for people with disabilities – that a variation in body configuration or ability is a basis for a distinct identity but no reason for discriminatory treatment. We’re different and we’re our own group, disability rights argues. Why do transgendered people argue they are the same as gay and lesbian people and part of that same group? Why, as a partial consequence of this error of argumentation, should Pride Toronto sponsor a march just for them? There’s already a sponsored march they can and do attend.
Given that transsexuals have, in the Community Advisory Panel process, gone so far as to publish a list of “grievances,” I doubt there’s anything we can do to appease this group. They’ll always ask for more. Nonetheless, one action Pride Toronto has taken is “to support the Toronto Trans March.” While the event does not ban what transgenderists insist on calling “cisgendered” people, its existence as a Pride Toronto–sponsored event is unethical and discriminatory. Transgendered persons already have a march available to them. Pride Toronto runs the real march on Pride Day and transgendered people, like everyone else, are fully welcome to join in there.
Related question: Who are our “allies”?
At a Community Advisory Panel meeting and at a meeting of candidates for the Pride board of directors, I heard it stated more than once that Pride should not be designated as a day for “allies.” (That means straight people.) Allies can show up, but they shouldn’t be invited, according to this view. At both events, these statements received a round of applause.
An accepted position in Toronto’s gay community holds that we can refuse to invite “allies” to our events. But if we can exclude allies because they don’t fit an agreed-upon definition, we can exclude transgendered people because they don’t fit another agreed-upon definition. Large numbers of gay males, and presumably others, agree that transgendered people are by definition not gay, and that position is backed up by research. In short, you’re part of our community if we say you are, not if you say you are.
The activists most rabidly in favour of retaining Pride Toronto–sponsored dyke and trans marches are the same activists most in favour of eliminating invitations to straight allies. There’s a word for these people, and it’s the same word I used before: Hypocrites.
Who suffers discrimination as a result of these marches?
Anyone not designated as welcome. In practice this means gay men.
Dykes get a Pride Toronto–sponsored dyke march and the real march on Pride Day. That’s two marches (three if you count the independent Take Back the Dyke).
Transgenderists get a Pride Toronto–sponsored trans march and the real march on Pride Day. That’s two marches.
Everyone else gets just the Pride Day march. That’s one march.
Straight people are permitted at the Pride Day march as long as they are supporters of Gay in some manner. PFLAG were an “honoured group” in 2010, for example. But it seems to have escaped attention that gay men are permitted in only one march, the one held on Pride Day. Gay males are strongly discouraged from attending the Dyke March (and are banned from Take Back the Dyke), and by any rational reading of the rules of the Trans March aren’t permitted there, either.
The solution is halfway here already: The Charter guarantees freedom of association and assembly. Anyone can hold a peaceful demonstration for any reason and at any time. Take Back the Dyke made use of that right in 2010, albeit in an exclusionary way. Pride Toronto has no justification for sponsoring Dyke and Trans Marches while also operating the main, and real, march on Pride Day – the march that includes everyone.
Dykes and trannies can march all they want. Pride Toronto shouldn’t sponsor such marches. Apart from redressing Pride’s unethical and illegal behaviour, it would save money.
Male and female co-chairs
Pride Toronto hires not one but two “co-chairs,” one of either sex. (Note the number of sexes there: Two.) Pride Toronto’s bylaws (PDF) specifically discuss “Co-Chairs” plural, with the sole singular case pertaining to electing a replacement when one seat is vacant. The bylaws do not require the election of one from either gender, but that is how they are referred to elsewhere in those bylaws and that is the practice.
At previous events many years ago, I heard that the female co-chair position exists to make sure men don’t take over the organization. This was never going to happen, but the cure is worse than the disease. Requiring male and female co-chairs tells the public that men are dangerous and need to be chaperoned by a civilizing female force. But it also tells the public that a woman can’t chair Pride Toronto without an escort. It’s an insult to both sexes.
At any rate, experience, and econometric surveys, show that males with the kind of managerial skills applicable to an organization like Pride Toronto will choose to deploy those skills in private enterprise. Lesbians choose managerial work in nonprofits, activist groups, and queer organizations more often than gay males do.
Again: Even economists have noted this trend, which we see all around us. I observe that gay men who are good managers duke it out with straight guys in for-profit business; lesbians love to debate minutiæ in the nonprofit echo chamber.
Over a period of time, hiring Pride chairs according to merit will ensure a mixture of male and female candidates, but mostly females. The claimed affirmative-action measure was never needed. It manages the unlikely feat of perpetuating two of the pernicious myths we tell about each other, lesbian man-hating and gay-male misogyny. And it’s illegal under the Human Rights Code.
Solution: Hire any desired number of chairs, including just one, solely on merit.
I have now made a legal and ethical case for the elimination of Pride Toronto sponsorship of dyke and trans marches and for the elimination of designated male and female co-chairs. If you disagree with me, what legal and ethical case can you make to prove your point?
Is there one? Had you ever thought about this before?
Do you really believe that lesbians are so disenfranchised from the legitimately constituted gay and lesbian community that they need to be invited to not one but two or three marches, two of them sponsored by Pride Toronto?
Do you really believe that transgendered persons are part of the legitimately constituted gay and lesbian community and need to be invited to two marches sponsored by Pride Toronto?
Given that Take Back the Dyke proved it was possible, can you make a legal and ethical argument that dyke and trans marches should not be independently organized and must and must always be sponsored by Pride Toronto?
Can you make a tenable argument for the exclusion of any group, including gay males, from Pride Toronto’s Dyke March or Trans March?
Can you convincingly argue that offering dykes and transgendered people two sponsored marches each, but everyone else exactly one march, is not discriminatory?
Can you argue that the main Pride Day march or parade is not a unifying event or that you are truly excluded from it?
If someone from a group you approve of – a lesbian, an FTM, a gay male who passes your ideological purity test – made the same points I’m making, would you agree then? Do you disagree with the case I’m making because I’m the one making it? What’s your counterargument then?
Does your argument run along the lines of Jane Farrow’s at the meeting of candidates for the Pride board – that you “still think” lesbians need their own parade? (Do you “still think” the earth is flat?)
Expected antipathy from Community Advisory Panel
I’m under no illusions here. While I have noted the dispassionate and even-handed way Community Advisory Panel members have comported themselves in meetings, they were hardly nominated for their iconoclastic thinking. They may or may not be willing to take a stand on free speech at Pride, because that issue has at least has been part of the accepted discourse thus far. What I’m proposing here comes out of the blue and slays a whole herd of cows that gay leaders consider sacred.
Even though I strongly doubt that anyone will be able to mount a legal or ethical counterargument to my points here, something else I doubt is receiving a fair hearing from the Community Advisory Panel. Even though I have a solid case, the last thing I expect is a recommendation to discontinue Pride Toronto’s sponsorship of Dyke and Trans Marches. I doubt the courage of their convictions.
No matter how ethical that declaration might be, it would have the appearance of catering to gay-male interests and, I reiterate, gay males are viewed as a problem to be solved. I think unethical and illegal policies are the problems to be solved.