Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why Celebrating Gay Pride Continues to Matter

Some recent happenings throughout the world and here at home have shown that when it comes to gay rights, we’ve still got a long way to go. I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues over the past couple of weeks, as Pride Week in Greater Sudbury gets under way later this month. My family and the Green Party both have been active supporters of Pride and gay rights, which is why I’m both personally and politically troubled by those who claim at this time of year that “gays” have no need of parades and marches.

In my local paper today, an editorial was published by Sun Media’s Michael Den Tandt, (“C’mon, give Rob Ford a break”, the Sudbury Star, Tuesday July 5, 2011), in which he shared his criticism of the Toronto Star and Globe & Mail’s continuing coverage of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s decision to skip the Toronto Pride Parade, in favour of spending the weekend with his family at their Muskoka cottage. Ford’s decision to skip the parade has been one of the biggest stories of the summer so far. Many have suggested that it’s the Mayor’s prerogative to choose family time over civic duties. If that were the extent of this story, I might agree.

But what Den Tandt misses (or chooses not to say, which is more likely) is that not only did Mayor Ford skip out on Sunday’s parade, he wilfully chose not to take part in any Pride Weed events, including the flag raising which took place right outside of his office at Nathan Philips Square. His claims of being “too busy” have been pursued in the media, and it seems that they don’t stand up to scrutiny.

It would have been one thing for Ford to say to the public that he was going on vacation for the long weekend with his family, but to miss an entire week’s worth of event programming, including the flag raising? C’mon, Den Tandt: give us all a break. There’s another agenda at play here.

Beyond Ford himself, though, what Ford did was create the opportunity for all whom have a grudge or personal issue with Toronto Pride events, or the LGBT community, to prop themselves up on their own soapboxes and rant away. Appended to every article written by any of the major newsmedia, one could find dozens of comments, some of which bordered on hate speech directed at the LGBT community (some probably even crossed that line, but being able to hide behind anonymous posts just seems so empowering for many that they likely didn’t care). Sure, the media outlets eventually removed the most egregious comments, but they still made their way into the public realm, even if for a short time.

Talk radio shows, too, highlighted callers whom appeared to be filled with anti-gay hatred, all while discussing Ford’s divisive decision to skip Pride events (although usually only the Parade itself was mentioned).

If this kind of vitriol were directed at jewish Canadians, visible minorities or women, you would expect there would be a national outcry. However, apparently it still remains socially acceptable in many quarters to bash gays.

Let me repeat that, please.

It still remains socially acceptable in many quarters to bash gays.

Which brings me back to Pride Week in Greater Sudbury, and my attempt to pre-emptively answer the sure-to-be-asked questions about why celebrating Pride here in Northern Ontario remains a fun and necessary activity.

Den Tandt points out, where he lives in rural Grey County, “Nobody, gay or straight, makes a big deal of it. It’s more that it just doesn’t matter, any more, whether a person is gay or straight. Live and let live. People get along.” Certainly, there’s some truth to that; but at the same time, it’s not so simple.

Ask an LGBT member of our community whether it doesn’t matter any more, and I think that you’ll find responses will vary considerably, depending on the individual.

For example, if that individual is a youth attending a Roman Catholic school, where gay/straight alliances have been banned (apparently, in name only), and where rainbow flags have been prohibited (as has happened in one Southern Ontario school board), you likely will get a much different response than if you asked a youth attending one of our public schools here in Sudbury (in the “Rainbow” Board no less!). But, then ask another couple of individuals, and I’m sure that the responses will be different again.

Den Tandt, and others like him, fall into the trap of assuming that all individuals who share a partial collective identity (such as being gay) must experience things in the same way. This is clear when he states that nobody makes a big deal of it. And that’s just an absurd assumption. Based on what we’ve been seeing in the media, and hearing on our radios, plenty of people continue to make a “big deal” out of it. Den Tandt’s attempt to shrug this off won’t change that fact.

I’m very pleased to see that Greater Sudbury’s Mayor, Marianne Matichuk, will be attending the Sudbury Pride flag raising at Tom Davies Square, kicking off Pride Week events here in Sudbury (the flag raising will take place at 1:00 PM, Monday, July 18th; information about this and other events can be found at the Sudbury Pride website, www.sudburypride.com). Although Pride Week in Greater Sudbury isn’t the same kind of community economic generator that it is in Toronto, Sudbury nevertheless hosts celebrants from all over Northern Ontario, who find themselves here in town to celebrate the North’s diversity. For a smaller community, Pride’s economic impact is still robust.

Which is why Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s snubbing of Toronto Pride events appears to be so perplexing. And now, apparently, Toronto’s City Council will be entertaining a motion to cancel committed funding, which could lead to bankrupting Toronto Pride (along with costly legal battles for Toronto taxpayers): see “Pride funding in jeopardy after Mammoliti video gets rise from City”, the Toronto Star, Tuesday July 5 2011).

So, what’s really going on here?

Take a closer peak behind the scenes to see who else didn’t show up at Toronto’s Pride Parade. From my review of media articles, it seems that not one of Toronto’s newly elected Conservative MP’s were in attendance, despite that Party’s recent breakthrough in the City. Nor were any candidates spotted who are standing for the provincial Conservatives in the upcoming Ontario election. (Now, I admit that I’m operating with incomplete information here, and if someone knows something that I don’t, please feel free to advise me, and I’ll correct the record by appending information to this post).

Listening to CBC radio yesterday, one caller made a very telling remark, when she praised Mayor Ford for his decision to put his family values ahead of “depravity”. When challenged by the radio interviewer, who stated that Ford has only ever said that he was “too busy” to attend Pride events, and that he chose the cottage over the Parade, the caller said what was on the minds of everybody: “Well, that’s just what he’s saying, but we all know the truth”.

The truth, for me, is that gay rights are a political issue, and members of one political party in particular seem scared of showing support to the gay community for fear of alienating so-called “core” supporters. Which is interesting, because last I checked, I didn’t realize that people were pre-disposed politically based on their sexuality.

Like it or not, fringe elements on the right-wing of Canada’s political spectrum continue to politicize the every day act of being gay, which gives lie to Den Tandt’s statement that being gay just doesn’t matter any more. Clearly, to some, it does.

And it still remains socially acceptable in many quarters to bash gays.

This is not to suggest that the policies and programs of Canada’s Conservative government are in any way anti-gay, or that Conservative parties, as political institutions, are homophobic. I will not repeat Den Tandt’s mistake of assuming that all individuals act as the collective, or the reverse: that the collective is a reflection of each individual. Certainly, I’m sure that every political party in Canada has its share of anti-gay supporters. No Party, however, deserves to be labelled homophobic.

But the right-wing social agenda remains, even when it actually works against family values. We just saw how that played out in New York State, when Republican legislators voted in favour of legalizing gay marriage, because they identified that doing so was the right thing to do from a human rights perspective, and also because it could potentially lead to stronger, more stable family units.

Gay rights are human rights. Shame on those who forget this.

Recently-elected Toronto Councillor Kristyn Tam-Wong shared her concerns with the media during the Rob Ford flap regarding her belief that Canada might be taking steps backwards when it comes to recognizing the rights of LGBT individuals. Tam-Wong, a member of the New Democratic Party, understands that there is a political element at play here, and that it’s not just an easy matter of saying that being gay has become acceptable and that nobody cares. When politicians are bent on retaining core voters, what’s right and wrong is frequently less important than what’s politically expedient.

Until there is a comprehensive understanding that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, let the parades and marches continue. And let all who participate in them have a great time celebrating Canada’s diversity!

(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

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