Public records on the website for the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, which manages Canada’s Trademark registry, reveal that two trademark applications dated July 8 are currently in the “pre-formalized” stage.
Pride Toronto board directors reached late last week offered no comment “at this time.” On Sunday, however, the organization issued a statement saying it was “forced” to apply for the trademarks after what it describes as a threat from an unnamed individual “to personally trademark both of these grassroots events and political demonstrations, to have total control over the events that have always been organized by the community.”
The statement goes on to say that Pride Toronto “will work with lawyers to remove the applications for trademarks by Pride Toronto, and to further explore options to ensure these events and names remain free from any kind of ownership by individuals or organizations.”
Trademarks would give Pride Toronto the legal right to demand licensing fees for the sale of merchandise or to take civil action against any group or organization that attempts to use the terms without Pride Toronto’s permission. This would include grassroots organizers, as well as other Pride organizations throughout Canada. Civil court punishments could include court injunctions or financial awards for the infringement of Pride Toronto’s “intellectual property.”
In their applications, Pride Toronto claims to have originated the terms “Dyke March” and “Trans* Pride” in or around late June of 2011.
But Karah Mathiason remembers organizing the city’s first Trans March in 2009: “I originally called it The Trans Pride March,” she says.
Dyke March’s origins date even further back.
The first Dyke March in Toronto happened in October 1981, eight months after the infamous bathhouse raids, before Pride Toronto even existed.
Daily XTRA’s predecessor publication, The Body Politic, reported in 1981 that the first Dyke March was conducted by an organization called Lesbians Against the Right.
Catherine Mateo, President of the Vancouver Dyke March (which is not affiliated with Pride Toronto) describes Pride Toronto’s application as “a wilful and overtly hostile attempt to demand licensing fees from Dyke Marches around the country for the ‘privilege’ of selling merchandise with their organization’s name on them.”
Dyke March and Trans Pride are potentially valuable properties for Pride Toronto.
Each year, corporate sponsors such as TD Bank, pay Pride Toronto in order to have their names and logos present on the Tshirts and polo shirts of volunteer marshals and team leads at Dyke March and Trans Pride events, notes Laura Krahn, who was a Team Leader for Dyke March under Pride Toronto from 2011 to 2014.
By cementing legal control over the names Dyke March and Trans Pride, critics say Pride Toronto will dilute Pride’s grassroots history of politicized battle for queer liberation.
In a recent interview, Pride Toronto’s Executive Director Mathieu Chantelois told CBC “The biggest danger for us is to try to do the same thing we were doing in 1981. As an organization, as a movement, every year it’s important for us to reinvent ourselves, to see how we’re going to stay relevant.”
Pride’s move has prompted concerns about the future direction of the organization.
Says Krahn: “Pride Toronto has monopolized the gay and lesbian liberation movement in Toronto and so now they sit on all the resources as well. The flip side is (that) lack of community engagement allows Pride Toronto to tell us that their support is needed to run a Dyke March in the first place. We could be organizing a rad(ical) queer festival of our own.”
Meg Fenway, another former Team Leader for Dyke March at Pride Toronto, agrees. “Dykes own Dyke March, and Trans folks own Trans Pride. Period. Pride Toronto has no right to trademark them. They don’t belong to Pride. This is a disgusting co-optation of grassroots movements. How the hell does an organization predominantly directed by men feel they can swoop in and put a trademark on Dyke March? They don’t own this. They never will. This really speaks to the corporatization of Pride, and essentially confirms everything that activists have been saying about Pride Toronto Inc. for years. “
Pride Toronto’s effective control over the local Dyke March and Trans March is an anomaly. In most other major cities with Pride organizations, the Dyke and Trans movements operate independently.
Danni Askini, Executive Director of Gender Justice League, which runs Trans Pride Seattle, a large and well-respected U.S. Trans Pride organization, says “No one owns the terms Trans Pride, Trans* Pride, or Dyke March. They are commonly used and easily understood terms.” Askini says they have seen the name Trans Pride “spontaneously emerge from multiple communities,” including in Toronto, Massachusetts, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and elsewhere.
“Pride Toronto has no claim or right to trademark. They are using terms invented by other people and attempting to capitalize or control the use of that generic term.”
“SomeÊ response needs to happen,” says Fenway.
“There are fewer and fewer reasons to let Pride Toronto, control the Dyke March,” adds Krahn.
Askini says Trans Pride Seattle is currently investigating the possibility of cross-border legal action, but admits it may not be possible because their group is not active in Canada.
Mateo at Vancouver Dyke March saysÊ “we will be pursuing all available options to fight this action.”
Christin Scarlett Milloy is an activist and former volunteer Team Lead for Trans Pride at Pride Toronto