The growth and spread of Pride across Canada: From protest to celebration

| August 3, 2012
An image from Salt Spring Island's very first Pride parade in 2008.

Pride season is synonymous with summer here in Canada, with Pride parades and celebrations sweeping the country from April until mid-September.

While the focus is often on huge celebrations like those in Toronto or Vancouver, many grassroots groups in smaller town and cities are organizing their own activities. Within the big Prides, there are a growing number of split-off and spin-off groups as well forming their own events.

Kamloops shows its Pride 

The character of smaller Prides is different from larger ones. They often mark the first time a community is making itself visible, and with that comes heightened vulnerability and sometimes larger political stakes. Here in Kamloops B.C., for instance, we held our first official Pride Parade in April.

For a city of 85,000 that serves as a hub in B.C.'s Interior, it's unusual that no official parade has happened here before. Six years ago, members of Kamloops' Gay and Lesbian Association brought a proposal for a parade to city council. Then councillor John DiCicco rejected it, saying homosexuality was "not normal and not natural." The comment made national headlines and DiCicco faced a human rights challenge and a $1,000 fine. The city paid his legal fees during the process.

This year, city council backed the parade for the first time. The event was organized by two students from Thompson Rivers University, with a team of supporters including myself. About 450 people attended, and it ended up going off without a hitch, save a few nasty comments online.

Organizer Kathleen Hutfluss says, "People's feedback [online] was, 'We don't need this, who really cares, you don't hear us boasting about our lives.'” But, she says, "It was something that needed to be done; just to show people that you can avoid the minority as much as possible, but we're going to use our voices and the majority can't ignore us anymore.”

On Salt Spring Island, in 2008, the community held their first Pride. Some organizers were nervous about the reception they'd get on a small island where everyone would have to continue to live side-by-side with anyone who disapproved. I attended that march, and organizers at the time spoke of a generational split where some older people were afraid of marching and being outed, and younger ones were generally more eager for it.

Salt Spring's first Pride was also a success, with only one or two minor protesters standing in the sidelines, mostly ignored. In other places around the world, first-time Pride parades aren't so easy. The Stonewall riots in New York's Greenwich Village in 1969 are credited as the birth of the gay liberation movement. Queer liberation was born of protest, and in many countries around the world, protest is what Pride continues to be.

The film Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride documents various Prides including Moscow's, where organizers are regularly jailed and beaten by police for attempting to march in a place where Pride is banned by the city's mayor, and Colombo, Sri Lanka, where even attempting to march in the street for gay rights could land the organizers 10 years of jail time. In seven countries around the world homosexuality is punishable by death.

While established Prides in large Canadian cities do retain political elements, they have largely grown into celebrations rather than protests. Ken Coolen, former organizer of the Vancouver Pride Parade and narrator of Beyond Gay, says, "The Prides here are just more mature Prides, and have been around longer. If we went back to the early '80s, the Prides here in Vancouver weren't necessarily as chaotic as some of the Prides I've seen internationally, but they still were controversial. It was just people marching and very few spectators."

Coolen has his own perspective on the difference between small and larger Prides: "When you go to the bigger Prides you get to see more of the glitz and glamour and grandeur of it all. Then you go to the smaller Prides, and you get that community feel, and meet people.”

He adds that Pride is about having that time when people can celebrate being who they are, and that doesn't have to come in the form of a parade.

Within Canada, there are growing numbers of split-off groups who find themselves dissatisfied by what Pride offers and who want distinct representation.

Marches like the Unauthorized Toronto Trans March, which this year split off from the official Pride Trans March, was created, according to event advertising, as “a political statement, needing to be expressed loudly and clearly in a march on MAIN streets.” (The official Trans March planned by Pride Toronto marched along more side streets.)

They describe themselves as allies to Pride Toronto, but say the message of trans liberation needs to be brought out "from behind the rainbow curtain."

Vancouver also hosts a Trans and Genderqueer Celebration and Liberation March, now in its third consecutive year.

Kay Lamothe, an organizer, says, "We're definitely not against Pride, but this wasn't organized by them, so we thought, we'll do it ourselves. I think it's important to be separate from Pride because some trans people don't identify as gay or queer, or lesbian, or even straight."

Lamothe says holding it under the rubric of 'pride' may alienate some trans people. The conversation though, they say, is open at this point, and the group may seek alliance with the larger Pride society in the future if that fits.

The annual Dyke Marches that takes place in many cities are another split-off group, and in Canada they've taken place in Vancouver, Toronto, Montréal, Halifax and Calgary to date.

Coolen of Vancouver Pride says, "As any community grows, it's about people finding a place to feel comfortable and inclusive and accepted in. I equate it to the way gay bars are -- if you go to a small town or city, they have one gay bar and that's where everybody goes ... but then as cities grow, or communities grow [things become more specialized]. It's the same thing with our Pride celebration; people are trying to find spaces where they can be their true authentic selves and be accepted fully. It's sad but even within our own community, we still struggle with judgements amongst each other.”

Ultimately, it's the work of brave people that got us here, and it will be the work of brave people that moves us further toward the world we want to see.

 

Larkin Schmiedl a contributing Editor at rabble.ca is the host of Gaydio on CFBX 92.5 FM in Kamloops, B.C., which airs Tuesdays 9-10p.m. 

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