It’s an interesting quirk of history that Canada and the United States, neighbouring countries who share the world’s longest undefended border, celebrate their national holiday within days of each other.
Circumstances brought me to Washington, D.C. just prior to Canada Day and the trip was thought-provoking.
I exercised enough restraint while riding on a tour bus in D.C. to avoid creating a diplomatic incident. The narrator on the tour bus asked passengers if they knew how the White House got its name. I wanted to jump up and shout: “Because the Canadians whupped your asses and torched your headquarters during the War of 1812!”
Instead, the narrator calmly indicated that the British forces had made an incursion into American soil and damaged part of the official residence. When they painted the burnt walls to cover up the damage, they realized it didn’t match the rest so everything was then painted white. Hence, the name known the world over. Since we weren’t yet recognized as Canadians, it’s the British who get the credit for the deed.
My spouse and I stayed with Joe and Michael, delightfully hospitable Americans. In fact, all the folks we met during our stay were extremely friendly. Either the Americans have forgotten about the White House torching or perhaps they’ve forgiven us.
I didn’t get a chance to meet up with the less-than-friendly Americans. I’m referring to the 800,000 supporters of the American Family Association who apparently emailed President Bush to protest my visit. It wasn’t specifically my visit they were protesting but rather, the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was celebrating Pride through a series of events, including the one at which I was scheduled to speak. Their email nonetheless mentioned my name.
I was looking forward to sharing the Canadian gospel of equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified (LGBT) people. But it was not to be.
Prior to my arrival, D.C. experienced inordinately heavy rains and floods of quasi-Biblical proportions. The flooding was so heavy that it shut down a few federal government buildings, including the one where I was scheduled to speak.
Despite bringing sunshine to the water-logged capital, I was not able to speak. Because of a power outage, the EPA’s building did not re-open on the morning of my scheduled presentation so the event was cancelled. Some might call it divine intervention. Others might instead say shit happens.
The few days spent in Washington nonetheless gave me a deeper appreciation for the contrasts that exist in the U.S. Yes, the head of state is waging a war against LGBT equality and a number of legislative road blocks have been erected. At the same time, support for equal marriage and same-sex spousal recognition is growing and LGBT visibility is reaching new heights.
As I consider our own Prime Minister’s lack of support for LGBT issues, my brief trip to the U.S. capital underlines the idea that despite hostile leadership, LGBT equality can nonetheless move forward. In fact, it has to.