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Pride parade can't be 'everything to everyone'

Under the canopy of a leafy tree, away from the blazing sun beating down on Church Street revellers, two gay men discover they're not as united as they once thought.

The two friends, 63-year-olds Norm Galliford and Alek Nastajus, are asked about the controversial inclusion of the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in Sunday's annual pride parade.

"Dealing with that political issue has nothing to do with being gay," Mr. Galliford says. "You can't be everything to everyone all the time."

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Mr. Nastajus jumps in, pointing out that many heterosexuals supported gay rights when it wasn't popular. Now that lesbians and gays are empowered, they have a duty to speak for people who need a voice, he says. "You're obliged to help others who need it."

This is the burden of success for Canada's homosexual community: They can get legally married across the country and are well protected by anti-discrimination policies and laws. Battles pop up from time to time, but the war is slowly reaching its end. And as a result, the soldiers are splintering off in all sorts of directions.

Those cracks were on full display long before the parade began Sunday. Earlier in the week at a reception at a popular Toronto gay and lesbian community centre, police Chief Bill Blair had to squeeze through demonstrators - upset over the 1,000 arrests during the weekend of the G20 summit - and endure chants of "shame" in order to access the event. On Sunday, one of Canada's most outspoken advocates for gays and lesbians, said those protesters should be "embarrassed."

Reverend Brent Hawkes, the Toronto leader of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church, told his congregation, seated in a Church Street parking lot, that Chief Blair has been one of the community's greatest allies. "He deserved better," the reverend said.

In an interview, Mr. Hawkes explained that, for decades, it was easy for the community to coalesce because the goals of equality were so clear. "Now there are a lot more differences. In future, it may be about abortion, or a pro-Sri Lankan, or anti-Sri-Lankan cause ... You have issues coming to the front burner that used to be on the back burner."

He said the parade organizers need to set clear guidelines about what the pride parade is about, and what it isn't. And in order to do that without alienating people, there needs to be a "sophisticated and thoughtful" consultative process, he said.

Sunday's parade also put illustrated the many plus sides of empowerment. Well-known newcomers, such as Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, marched down Yonge and Gerrard streets. And in addition to the frequent romantic connections made throughout the day, there was an even more ubiquitous type of courting - vote wooing.

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Two of the largest contingents in the parade belonged to the mayoral campaigns of Rocco Rossi and George Smitherman, as well as smaller troupes promoting Joe Pantalone and Sarah Thomson. Even mayoral candidate Rob Ford, who had one brief, well-publicized clash with the gay and lesbian community in the past, had canvassers on Church Street. While all the politicians drew at least some cheers, others saw it as excessive.

"I don't do politics," said April Hurley, a 27-year-old Brampton woman taking part in her second parade.

It was difficult to avoid politics on Bloor Street, as the parade floats readied themselves for their strut through the city. Separated by a flatbed truck and five police officers on bicycles - as well as a fake cop wearing a sleeveless vest - there were the groups that had consumed most of the parade's attention over the past few weeks.

As the parade neared its start, Meir Weinstein, the national director of the Jewish Defence League, marched down the block to stand in front of the idle contingent from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. With a Bluetooth in his ear and a rainbow flag draped over his shoulder, he waved his Israeli flag at the group - who were only recently permitted to march after parade organizers lifted an earlier ban.

"This is a provocation," yelled one of the member of QuAIA. The two challenged each other about how many of their members of their respective groups were homosexual.

"You are like a fly in my ear," Mr. Weinstein replied.

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Away from the fracas, Josh Zelikovitz prepared to march with Kulanu, an association of gay and lesbian Jews not affiliated with Mr. Weinstein's defence league.

"I'm here to stand with the gay community and it's unfortunate that Middle East issues got dragged into this."

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About the Author
National reporter

Greg has been a reporter with The Globe since 2005. He has probed a wide variety of topics, including police malfeasance, corruption and international corporate bribery. He was written extensively about the Airbus affair, offshore tax evasion and, most recently, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his criminal ties. More

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