We Spoke to the Activist Who Helped Ban MRAs from Toronto Pride
"If you scratch the surface and look past the veneer of equality, they're scary people with scary ideas," said the pseudonymous activist Emma R.
A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
The past 14 months have been a rather spectacular disappointment for Canada's men's right's activists. In the span of just over a year, MRAs have planned a failed music festival, given a disastrous interview to a local podcast, erected a hilariously wrong billboard, and, most recently, were told to stay the hell away from Toronto's Pride Parade scheduled for the end of June.
Last week, thousands of people let out a collective sigh of relief when Pride's dispute resolution committee officially banned the men's rights group Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) from its 2015 parade. The group, composed mostly of the kind of men who habitually antagonize women on the internet, has strong affiliations with American men's rights group A Voice for Men and was banned from last year's Parade in a controversial last-minute decision.
This year, the decision to ban CAFE from all Pride activities was made after the organization received numerous complaints regarding the group's application to march in the parade. Dispute resolution arbitrator Paul Bent gave the following justification in a statement released by Pride Toronto last Wednesday:
My decision is based on balancing of interests: I considered CAFE's response that inclusion, diversity, and equality are values the organization shares with Pride versus the numerous complaints filed against CAFE's participation arguing that CAFE, as an organization and through its affiliation with men's rights groups, contravenes Pride Toronto's vision to, "create a safe space to engage communities in the celebration of their sexuality."
I must give the complaints of members of the LGBTTIQQ2SA community precedence when they indicate the participation of CAFE could directly undermine the participation of queer, lesbian, and trans women in the Pride Parade.
It can sometimes be difficult to trace the origins of anti-MRA activism since many individuals operate anonymously to protect themselves from the inevitable harassment that comes with criticizing the movement.
VICE spoke to a Toronto woman who goes by the pseudonym Emma R and was responsible for mobilizing the largest response against CAFE's 2015 inclusion bid. It all began when she started a Facebook event urging people to speak up after realizing that there was a very real possibility CAFE could be permitted to march in this year's Pride parade.
"I created the Facebook event right before I went to bed and when I woke up in the morning, over 1,000 people had joined and confirmed that they'd submitted complaints to Toronto Pride's executive director Mathieu Chantelois," Emma said.
Less than 12 hours after the event was created, Pride announced that given the heavy influx of concern from the community, the board would be activating its formal Dispute Resolution Process. Two weeks after the Facebook event was launched, the Pride board of directors announced that CAFE would be banned from not only the 2015 parade, but all future Pride Toronto events.
"My motivation for spearheading this was around comfort," Emma explained. "As a gay person, I'm lucky to live in Toronto in 2015 and it's pretty safe to be queer and out and about, but even then I've received—for something as benign as holding someone's hand and walking down the street—I've had comments and questions and invitations for threesomes from shitty guys and threats in some cases. For a lot of queer and trans people, Pride is literally the only time all year you are guaranteed comfort. So to have a group that has such a demonstrated history of making people feel uncomfortable, [it] is just asinine to me that they would want to take part."
To someone unfamiliar with the men's rights movement, it may seem peculiar that Pride Toronto—a group whose main mission is purportedly inclusion—would ban an organization simply because some people find their views controversial and unpalatable. After all, there are LGTBQ people across many political constituencies, ethnic groups, and religions.
But the sincerity of CAFE's commitment to the LGBTQ community is questionable at best. The group claimed to be strong advocates of LGBTQ issues in a statement made last year, but there is no mention of queer initiatives or programming on their site. More troublingly, when the group applied for charitable status with the Canadian Revenue Agency last year, they falsely cited a partnership with gay rights organization Egale Canada, which later confirmed suspicions that the two organizations in fact had no relationship at all.
I asked Emma about the small number of self-identified queer MRAs. If what many claim is true—that queer advocacy and men's rights advocates are ideological opponents—where do their interests fit into this equation?
"Maybe you're a gay queer man and maybe you're worried about the same issues that are part of the men's rights platform," she said. "That's totally OK. I think men have it really hard in a number of areas. Men's sexual assault isn't taken seriously; society has the expectations of hyper-masculinity that men need to adhere to. All of that is fair. But I think instead of addressing these problems, the men's rights movement is scapegoating feminism and scapegoating women as the cause of their problems.
"The struggles of women and the queer community may not be exactly the same, but they overlap. Feminism is a queer issue."
And while Emma's campaign was successful, it was not without risk to her. After less than 24 hours, she began to receive concerned emails from other feminists warning her of the risk she undertook by attaching her name to such a public anti-MRA initiative.
"I canceled the public event and created a private one after about 24 hours. I felt cowardly, but the thing is that the men's rights movement isn't just about a crazy opinion, they're people with a demonstrated history of doxing women and perpetuating violence."
Emma's fears about potential harassment and even physical violence are not unfounded. In April 2014, Queen's University student Danielle d'Entremont was assaulted outside her home the night before a men's rights lecture was scheduled at the university. The lecture, which was partially organized by CAFE, had drawn criticism from students concerned about its misogynistic undertones and denial of a sexual assault problem across campuses. D'Entremont had been a vocal opponent of the talk and was said to have received many threats prior to the assault which left her bruised and battered. The assailant is said to have been waiting for her outside of her home and knew her first and last name.
Naturally, the official stance of men's rights groups across the board is to condemn violence and harassment toward women. But the true sentiment of the Canadian men's rights movement doesn't lie within the seemingly reasonable rhetoric of CAFE's leader Justin Trottier or any of its other spokespeople. It lies deep within the angry forums, subreddits and YouTube comments where an unsettling hatred for women is ever-present and insidious.
The call to ban CAFE from Toronto Pride may not seem like a landmark decision—some will point out that it is only one event—but it represents a growing mainstream understanding that through its vitriolic tactics and misogyny, the men's rights movement fails the very men it claims to support.
"If you scratch the surface and look past the veneer of equality, they're scary people with scary ideas," said Emma. "I think an appropriate queer ally who digs a little deeper into these guys will realize they're not a group you want to align yourself with. The men's rights movement does nothing for queer people."
Follow Neha Chandrachud on Twitter.