Thursday, April 2, 2009

El-Farouk Khaki — Pride 2009 Grand Marshall

Tonight, members of Toronto's gay community chose their Grand Marshall for this summer's Pride Parade.

Toronto immigration lawyer and sometime NDP candidate El-Farouk Khaki has been elected Grand Marshall for Toronto Pride 2009. Khaki, who arrived in Vancouver in 1974 with his parents, earned his law degree from the University of British Columbia. He has lived in Toronto since 1989. During the early 1990s' Khaki worked in the Ontario legislature as a political staffer before leaving in 1993 to establish his legal practice.

From what I saw at the meeting, and judging from the cheers of the 500 plus crowd in attendance at the Jarvis Collegiate Cafeteria, Khaki won the vote by a large margin. A total of 512 votes were cast.

Ken Popert, CEO of Pink Triangle Press, which publishes the Xtra! tabloids and The Guide travel magazine, was also in the running. Popert's long-time friend and fellow activist Gerald Hannon gave a nomination speech on Popert's behalf, which I found to be quite moving and touching. Hannon told me that he wrote it 10 minutes before the meeting — to me this proves Hannon's superior writing skills (in his daytime job he is a regular contributor to Toronto Life)

Though I did find it odd that Popert didn't speak for himself. I think perhaps it was a case of shyness on the media mogul's part. And he is admittedly not popular with some members of the community for various reasons which could take up a blog entry on their own. As Popert himself put it while the votes were being counted, he felt there were some, "axes being ground" in the room tonight.

The theme of this year's Pride celebration is, "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" which I think is a good choice given this year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. If the Grand Marshall's selection was awarded on the basis of lifetime achievement and chosen by a selection committee, then Popert would likely have won. His long years of work for Toronto's gay community are not something that should be trivialized or overlooked.

However, I feel that Khaki will make an excellent Grand Marshall. His inclusive politics (he twice ran for the NDP in Toronto Centre), socially progressive work as an immigration lawyer, and charming personality make him an excellent representative of Toronto's gay community. I hope he uses the honour as a means of drawing awareness to some of the causes he advocates for. (And he'll probably wear something amazing in the parade; he was wearing this great black velvet suit jacket and a smart tie with colourful circle patterns tonight)

I'll be in New York City for Toronto Pride this year. It being the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I've made plans with a friend to travel to the Big Apple to celebrate this crucially important moment in the history of the gay rights movement in North America. But after tonight, I wish I could be in two places at once. I'm sure Toronto will mark the occasion in a classy spectacle all its' own. Though I would like to see the city give greater prominence to the flag unveiling this year — no more hiding the event behind the concession booths of another event, which is what happened in 2008.

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