KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The presence of a booth promoting Tel Aviv tourism at the Halifax Pride community fair is ostracizing queer Arabs in Halifax, says Emily Davidson, co-chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP).
NSRAP and various other queer organizations co-signed a letter to Halifax Pride written by the group Queer Arabs of Halifax, requesting that the Tel Aviv group be barred.
“The letter explained how and why Tel Aviv Tourism and similar organizations alienate and re-traumatize queer Arab people who have experienced displacement or harm at the hands of the Israeli government,” Davidson says.
“It makes them feel that Pride is not welcoming them but rather prioritizes Tel Aviv tourism, whose main aim is to promote Israel as a LQBTQ vacation mecca,” she says.
South House, the theatre group BIPOcalypse, the Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia, the Halifax Bi, Pan and Multisexual Connection and various other organizations signed off on the letter as well, says Davidson.
It’s not a new issue. In 2014 queer activist Gary Kinsman argued that the the very same Tel Aviv booth at the Halifax Pride community fair violated the global call for a boycott by Palestinian civil society.
At the time Ramona Westgate, the then board chair of Halifax Pride, told this reporter that it would revisit its policies.
That follow-up never really happened, says Willem Blois, the current chair of Halifax Pride Board of Directors.
“We had a post festival community meeting where that issue was featured quite prominently, lots of people voiced their opinion, but at the end the community was not really able to come to an agreement on how to move forward,” says Blois.
Blois did meet with the Queer Arabs of Halifax group late last week. As a board chair he didn’t feel comfortable making the decision to bar the Tel Aviv group without consulting with the community, he says.
“The best way to address this is to have a resolution at the AGM, rather than ask the Board. The Board could have made that decision (to bar the Tel Aviv group), but the next board could have gone back on that and let them back in,” says Blois.
What is different from 2014 is that through the presence of the Queer Arabs of Halifax group there now is a clear representation from that community, says Blois.
“We will create opportunities for them to educate the community. We’re open and happy to create that conversation,” says Blois.
“I can say with confidence that this year we have made a lot of progress reaching out and trying to repair relations with people in the community who have been marginalized by the Pride movement,” Blois adds. “I make no qualms about it, many member of the community have been marginalized and glossed over by the Pride movement.”
For Davidson this is not good enough.
“This decision alienates members of Queer Arabs of Halifax and other people of colour who now feel unable to participate. To defer the decision to next year is such a harsh dismissal,” says Davidson.
“NSRAP stands in solidarity with Queer Arabs of Halifax. We know that because of Pride’s refusal our allies in those groups will not be able to be present. Because we want to make a difference on these issues we want to be quite loud,” she says
“Pride is such a beautiful and exciting celebration for so many people, but who is left behind is vitally important to our movement,” she says. “Now is the time to drop Tel Aviv Tourism and to make a real commitment to the queer Arab community. Now is the time to make the space safe and more welcoming in real and concrete ways.”