Monday • 2015.07.20
Pride Toronto has Applied for Corporate Trademark Ownership of “Dyke March” and “Trans Pride”
An edited version of this article originally appeared in NOW Toronto Magazine.
Public records on the website for the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, which manages Canada’s Trademark registry, reveal that Pride Toronto has applied to take corporate ownership of the terms “Dyke March” and “Trans* Pride.” Records also show that Pride Toronto is the first organization that has ever tried to do this.
The two trademark applications, which were processed on July 8th, are currently in the “pre-formalized” stage, which means that Pride Toronto’s requests have been processed but not yet approved.
According to Trademark law in Canada, ownership of these Trademarks will give Pride Toronto the legal right to take civil court action against any group or organization attempting to organize a Dyke March or Trans Pride event without Pride Toronto’s involvement. This would include grassroots organizers, as well as other Pride organizations throughout Canada.
Civil court punishments for grassroots organizers or other Pride organizations, if they infringe on Pride Toronto’s trademarks by using the names “Dyke March” or “Trans Pride,” could include court injunctions ordering them to stop their activities, or even financial awards ordering them to pay large sums of money to Pride Toronto for the abuse of Pride Toronto’s “intellectual property.”
In their two applications, Pride Toronto claims to have originated the terms “Dyke March” and “Trans* Pride” in relation to goods and services in or around late June of 2011.
In actual fact, Toronto’s first Trans Pride occurred two years earlier, in 2009, and was initiated by a member of the Trans community outside Pride Toronto. Karah Mathiason remembers starting the city’s first Trans March: “I originally called it The Trans Pride March,” she says, so the name does not originate with Pride Toronto.
Dyke March’s origins date even further back in history. The first Dyke March in Toronto happened in October 1981, eight months after the 1981 bathhouse raids, before Pride Toronto even existed. Daily XTRA’s predecessor publication, The Body Politic, reported in a print edition 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) is also unhappy with Pride Toronto’s trademark application, since it could be used against her organization. “We are forced to view this as a wilful and overtly hostile attempt to silently register a trademark in order 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 to control, for a non-profit corporation like Pride Toronto. Each year, corporate sponsors (such as TD Bank, whose policies have been found to actively discriminate against Trans women) pay Pride Toronto in order to have their names and logos present in these marches— For example, on the t-shirts and polo shirts of volunteer marshals and team leads.
“Corporate presence (such as logos) in the Dyke March is the result of the co-optation of the March by Pride Toronto,” says Laura Krahn, who was a Team Leader for Dyke March under Pride Toronto for four years from 2011 to 2014.
By cementing legal control over the names Dyke March and Trans Pride, Pride Toronto will be able to block other groups from running similar events that would dilute the corporate brand identity Pride Toronto is known for: A celebratory party festival atmosphere, leaving behind 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.”
This attitude, and Pride’s recent behaviour towards activists in the Dyke and Trans communities, has prompted questions about the future of the organization.
“I question whether Pride Toronto deserves any more of our precious resources,” says Krahn. “They get too much of our time and attention; we could be organizing a rad(ical) queer festival of our own. Pride Toronto causes so much harm by monopolizing resources that other groups could be using to create actual change,” she says. “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.”
Pride Toronto’s effective control over the local Dyke and Trans Marches is an anomaly. In most other major cities with Pride organizations, the Dyke and Trans movements operate independently.
Danni Askini is the Executive Director of Gender Justice League, which runs Trans Pride Seattle, a large and well-respected U.S. Trans Pride organization. “No one owns the terms Trans Pride, Trans* Pride, or Dyke March. They are commonly used and easily understood terms,” Askini says, adding that they have seen the name Trans Pride “spontaneously emerge from multiple communities,” including Toronto, Western Massachusetts, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and elsewhere.
“I feel that Pride Toronto has no claim or right to trademark (those terms)… They are using a term invented by other people and attempting to capitalize or control the use of that generic term. It is both wrong and immoral,” continued Askini.
Toronto’s 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.”
She says misogyny may also be involved: “I think 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. ”
Concerned community members and other organizations still have a chance to stop Pride Toronto from gaining corporate ownership of Dyke March and Trans Pride. Interested parties have two months to file a Statement of Opposition to the two trademark filings. However, each of the two Statements of Opposition will carry a $750 fee.
“I think some response needs to happen… (but) the $750 fee is a huge barrier to contesting this disgusting display of corporatization,” says Fenway.
“There are fewer and fewer reasons to let Pride Toronto, an organization run by cis men, control the Dyke March,” agrees Laura Krahn.
Danni Askini says Trans Pride Seattle is currently investigating the possibility of cross-border legal action against Pride Toronto’s trademark claims, but admits it may not be legally possible because their group is not active in Canada. “We would fully support… any Trans organizations in Canada (who file) an opposition… Anything we can do to help. We will put together a fundraiser for the filing fee.”
Mateo at Vancouver Dyke March agrees. “Unless Pride Toronto withdraws this application, we will be pursuing all available options to fight this action.”
Pride Toronto’s Board of Directors were reached, but have “no comment at this time.”