Already, the World Pride Queer Convergence planned for next year in Jerusalem is having reverberations in gay communities around the world, Canada's included.
Certainly, the August 6 to 12 World Pride in the Holy City is a risky endeavour both for the organizers and for attendees who have to worry about personal safety as well as many political danger zones .
And now add another one. Airfare to Jerusalem from here costs well over a grand, a definite attendance downer. So what should the attitude of local activists be to a plan quietly being hatched by the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) offering a free junket to the crème de la crème of Canada's queer activists?
A sugar daddy could be irresistible to cash-strapped World Pride revellers, but are activists grasping the full implications of accepting this kind of freebie? At a meeting at the 519 Church Community Centre a few weeks back to hear a report from a Jerusalem-based World Pride rep, the answer is far from clear.
It's Laurie Arron, director of advocacy for Egale Canada, the main queer lobby group, who raises the issue. Ears perk up when Arron tells the gathering of 20 that his organization has had discussions with the CIC, which wants to ensure that a contingent of gay leaders gets to the Holy City.
The CIC, Arron reports, has found through its polling that most Canadians don't distinguish between Israel and the rest of the Middle East. Nor do Canadians realize the respect for human rights in Israel, including gay rights. "The CIC is big on promoting the fact that Israel is gay-positive," he says.
But the rep from Jerusalem, Noa Sattah, whose mission tonight is to ramp up support for World Pride, isn't exactly rejoicing. She pauses, then says, "This brings us to sensitive questions about the Middle East. World Pride isn't about supporting Israel," she warns.
Sattah is well aware of the complexities and nuances of a Pride gathering in what is not only a political tinderbox but also the heartland of three patriarchal religions. When Jerusalem queers had their own Pride Day celebration earlier this year, a homophobic party-pooper stabbed one of the participants.
And it's hard to see the emotional temperature going anywhere but up, judging by what religious opponents have been saying in Israeli newspapers, declaring that this is the "Holy Land, not the homo land" and likening the event to the "spiritual rape' of Jerusalem.
"We can't provide a 100 per cent guarantee of personal security," she candidly acknowledges.
Then there's the political tightrope organizers are walking. On the one hand, she tells me, they're trying to persuade Israel's tourist bureau to provide support such as hotel discounts, but on the other, they're struggling to avoid any impression that World Pride is associated with the Israeli government.
It most certainly is not, she insists, and she welcomes visitors to World Pride who will protest against the occupation of Palestinian lands and the construction of the Wall. "We as Jerusalem Open House [the local LGBT community centre] don't take a position on these questions," she says, although the agency has experienced first-hand the effects of the Wall because some Palestinian visitors from the West Bank are cut off and can no longer attend.
Certain factions of the LGBT community in the U.S. have already called for a boycott of the event, arguing that cavorting with Israeli queers will play into the hands of an Israeli government desperate to polish its image internationally.
But the boycott initiative hasn't really taken off in Canada. Even those prominent in the gay Muslim community haven't ruled out a visit to Jerusalem. El-Farouk Khaki of Salaam, previously in the boycott camp, now says he'll consider attending "in support of the wonderful work that Jerusalem Open House does in bringing together Palestinians and Israelis."
As for the CIC's participation in World Pride, the org's Paul Michaels says, "We think it's important to support expressions of tolerance and pluralism." While he says financial plans have yet to be finalized, the CIC is putting together a "map of the [gay and lesbian] leadership," in order to figure out who should get on the guest list.
If the project comes to pass, the entourage would be led by Ed Morgan, the lawyer who represented several liberal rabbis on the yea side of a same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court of Canada last year. Morgan also is also a U of T law professor and president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the organization that functions as the voice of Jewry in Canada.
Morgan says he is happy to share his own knowledge of Israel with newbie visitors. "It makes sense for us all to go together," he says, adding that the delegation will not have official status. He also says he can introduce the visitors to their Israeli gay activist counterparts and, barring any deterioration in the on-the-ground security situation, take them to the West Bank.
A gracious offer, to be sure, but there are LGBT activists who worry that discussion of the propriety and practical implications of taking CIC freebies hasn't got the airtime it deserves. In the concerned camp is Kim Vance of Arc International, a Canadian NGO that promotes queer rights at the UN and elsewhere on the global scene.
Vance herself is certain she'll be in Jerusalem next August, but she's not sure if it will be on the CIC's dime. On the one hand, she says her group takes money all the time from governments with which it doesn't agree and whose policies it opposes, the prime example being Canada.
But in the case of the CIC, she wonders why all of a sudden a group that heretofore has expressed little interest in gay causes is suddenly so enthusiastic about World Pride.
The only reason there hasn't been more debate about the travel plan is that most people don't know about it, she says.
"But when they find out," she predicts, "this will blow."