On Wednesday, Oct. 5, a motion went before Halifax PRIDE to end pinkwashing and create guidelines for entry into Halifax PRIDE events. What followed was a disaster in allyship. A critical component of allyship is that as soon as black, indigenous, and people of colour (usually referred to as the BIPOC) communities decide that the space has become violent, everyone needs to stop talking and stand still. People with privilege, because of your skin, because of your gender, because of your wealth, need to step back and acknowledge there is a problem.
We have to stick to the basic facts of this event before it all gets lost in the narrative of a point of view. Queer Arabs of Halifax (QAH) came, not last Wednesday, but months ago and first voiced their concerns about the systemic marginalization from within Halifax PRIDE; that tourist materials at PRIDE erased the actions of Israel and the struggle of the Palestinian people, causing them to be excluded and their marginalization increased. This is the first fact that needs to be held in mind when trying to understand the events of last Wednesday. This was supposed to be a conversation WITHIN the two-spirited, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning, plus (2SLGBTQ+, the acronym used by the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Coalition) community and its racialized members, instead it was the hostile takeover of a space that was supposed to be a sanctuary for marginalized and oppressed peoples.
The PRIDE general meeting became a space that no longer was safe for BIPOC identifying people within the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and everyone should take a hard look at their opinions when they hear that. I personally witnessed violent misgendering of non-binary people in the room by cis-voices. Voices of female-presenting people of colour were literally and repeatedly silenced by the hands of cis- white men shoved in their faces. 2SLGBTQ+ People of colour were told that as Canadians they were ‘free’ and ‘safe’ from the perceived homophobic violence of their assumed home countries.
The Arab community was told that violence in the Middle East was not relevant to their experience in Canada. Pinkwashing was dismissed by arguments that the occupation of Palestine is a foreign issue that deserved no space at PRIDE, but that tourist materials for Israel were an integral part of Jewish identity and needed to be showcased. Indigenous community members pointed out that occupation is far more close to home than previous speakers implied; after all, we do still refer to this location as Halifax. Needing a card and a number to have an identity before a government with unlimited power is still the policy of this country. The BIPOC community, faced with such intense violence, largely abandoned the room, perhaps for good.
I went there to support Queer Arabs of Halifax, I came as a 2SLGBTQ+ community member, and I brought no one else with me. But because of my cis, white, Jewish, male, skin I couldn’t even understand in the moment how the problem-solving mechanisms of this meeting were broken. The ideas that all problems should be dealt with by the general community, that anyone can and should be allowed to become a member, that free speech is an infallible right, the logic of democracy, procedure, and rights were stretched and pushed beyond their breaking points. Because of my white-settler skin I couldn’t understand that the tools of Robert’s Rules of Order were ‘white-people violence’. I’m sorry because I couldn’t see that the mechanisms of meeting itself had become a tool of marginalization, and I encouraged people to stay and endure this violence so that they could try and not be democratically outvoted.
Finally, what happened in Wednesday’s general meeting was pinkwashing in action. It used the 2SLGBTQ+ community to wash over the growing apartheid conditions of Israeli society. This was the worst case scenario for a liberal, inclusive, progressive organization. Tel Aviv Pride threatened to cancel their festivities this year because the Israeli government was spending more money advertising them internationally than supporting all 2SLGBTQ+ groups in Israel combined. Halifax PRIDE was flooded by people, spearheaded by the Atlantic Jewish Council (AJC), who did not understand allyship, and who did not understand that this was an internal dialogue within a private 2SLGBTQ+ space.
The Atlantic Jewish Council and Hillel Atlantic were willing to compromise the integrity of Halifax PRIDE rather than watch how the community voted and then act accordingly; they decided to hijack the process. The AJC didn’t trust the 2SLGBTQ+ community, even its Jewish members, to identify anti-Semitism, because they advocate the extreme right-wing position where any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. They argued for the ultimate fusion of a state with a nation, and suggests that the state of Israel requires unqualified support regardless of its actions. The AJC and Hillel Atlantic have proven themselves reactionary and conservative organizations, and they need to be recognized as such. Now this is ok, they are allowed to be right-wing, but they better not do it in my name.
It is also imperative that the AJC and Hillel did this because they felt they were fighting the seeds of antisemitism. The Jewish community of Halifax, the people of Israel, and the 2SLGBTQ+ community of Israel are fully deserving of support and solidarity in that fight. Anti-Semitism is real, and cannot be ignored. But the Israeli government is not Judaism, and this does not preclude support for the struggles of the Palestinian people. State policies are not the same thing as people. The tragedy of the practice of pinkwashing is the complication of that support, of the breaking of solidarity, between otherwise likeminded and natural allies. We must remind ourselves that it is possible to fight the apartheid policies of a government regime AND stand in solidarity with the Jewish, Arab, and 2SLGBTQ+ communities.
These events must serve as a lesson for all who have been watching. We must remember that free speech is designed to create space in dialogue for the marginalized, not act as a megaphone for the already privileged. When this is combined with voting numbers, it can become majority rule. We must remember that inclusivity does not mean non-political, that reconciling free speech with safe spaces is not automatic, and that majority rule does not mean justice. Now more than ever the BIPOC and Palestinian communities need the support of all people who might call themselves allies, but allies need to challenge themselves to complicate these basic ideas, so we can listen when BIPOC identifying- people speak. So that we can listen to Queer Arabs of Halifax and accept that any material that excludes their voices should not have a place at PRIDE.