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What happened at the Halifax Pride AGM?

At the Halifax Pride Annual General Meeting last night, there was a lot of talk about creating a Pride that was inclusive for everyone. But that didn’t happen.

The Queer Arabs of Halifax (QAH) said that the presence of promotional materials at Halifax Pride from Size Doesn’t Matter, a Canadian campaign that celebrates Israel, makes them feel excluded. The Atlantic Jewish Council (AJC), said that the absence of those very same materials at Halifax Pride would make them feel excluded.

A resolution was put forward by QAH to ban these promotional materials and other similar ones from Halifax Pride. It was voted down by a score of 210 to 106, with five abstentions.

Instead of the Halifax Pride AGM being a venue for the LGBTQ2+ community of Halifax, it became a war of attrition: who could get more people out to vote and stay the longest?

The answer was the AJC. They mobilized around 100 members and allies of the Halifax Jewish community, a very impressive feat for such a small cohort. But in doing so, we (and I say we because I am a proud member of the Halifax Jewish community) appropriated a meeting for another organization and corrupted it to fit our own needs. After voting down the only resolution that specifically mentioned Size Doesn’t Matter in its operative clauses, we stayed at the meeting and continued to influence its ongoing proceedings for the worse.

I am not saying we were wrong to have voted down the first resolution. I am also not saying that we were right. I don’t know, and I won’t pretend to. I do know that many members of the LGBTQ2+ community were distressed that so many people who did not identify with their community came out to vote.

To that, I would say that if the groups were switched, if the AJC were to hold an open meeting that included a resolution that LGBTQ2+ people felt harmed by, it would be reasonable for them to attend the meeting and vote against it.

100 people do not show up anywhere on a whim. They show up because of strongly held beliefs and fears, valid ones that we must try to understand before we can make progress on this issue.

So I believe it was reasonable for us, the Jewish community, to come out and vote against this one resolution at the AGM, even if I did not feel harmed by it and did not vote against it.

However, I do not believe it was reasonable for us to vote on any of the other issues, aside from those Jewish individuals who also identify with the LGBTQ2+ community.

I do not believe that it was reasonable for us to commandeer the Pride AGM or to force the meeting to go on longer so that members of the LGBTQ2+ community had to leave before the Pride Executive Board elections, and then vote in those elections ourselves, for an organization that does not represent us.

I do not believe that it was reasonable to vote down a resolution to establish guidelines about what content and materials could be included in the Pride festival in order to put the needs of LGBTQ2+ organizations first. Halifax Pride and the LGBTQ2+ community pleaded with us to vote for this resolution that they said was necessary for Pride and had been for some time.

In the preamble to the material guidelines resolution, there is mention of the Size Doesn’t Matter materials as content that might not be allowed at subsequent festivals. However, the resolution to ban Size Doesn’t Matter materials had already been voted down. The subsequent resolutions would not have led to a reconsideration of the matter.

A representative of Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project said that the mention of Size Doesn’t Matter in the preamble was irrelevant to the operative clauses of the resolution and they were willing to strike it. The only reason they couldn’t is because the procedural rules that the AGM follows do not permit edits to the preamble, since it is not what is being voted on and irrelevant after the vote.

Unfortunately, many people were unable to look past the mention of Size Doesn’t Matter in the preamble and voted down the resolution.

In our short-sightedness, we voted down potential guidelines about deciding what materials could be included in Pride – we voted against our own potential interests!

If there had been a system of guidelines in place, it would not have been a carte blanche for the executive to ban whatever they pleased. It would have simply facilitated discussions between the executive and the community at large. But now, with no system in place, it will be much more difficult to argue against any materials that we might find harmful. What happens if someone comes next year with borderline anti-Semitic material to the Pride festival? How can we credibly come back and ask for it to be removed when we voted against the very process that would have facilitated its removal? How would that process even take place when we voted against it?

I would have been disappointed in the process even if I agreed with the results. The process created a divide between my Jewish community, which I have spent my entire life participating in and contributing to, and communities I care about, the LGBTQ2+ and Black, Indigenous and People of Colour communities, ones that share in our values and could use our support.

We as a community did not act in good faith last night. We assumed the worst about another community. We took over their meeting and turned a safe space into a hostile one – to all of our detriments.

We should have taken Halifax Pride at their word when a member of the LGBTQ2+ community asked us at the very beginning of the meeting to listen to each other. But we didn’t, and now we are all worse off for it.

Correction: In the Oct. 6 online publishing of this article, it said that there were 200 people from the AJC came to the meeting. We were informed that it was closer to 100. 


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