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OPINION - Pride: 1969, 2019, 2069 and beyond - what now?

Political by Evan Kayne (From September 2019 Online)
Edmonton Pride 2018
Edmonton Pride 2018
Image by: GayCalgary
Edmonton Pride 2018
Edmonton Pride 2018
Image by: GayCalgary

As Pride season in Canada and the USA is winding down, we’re also closing the season of criticizing Pride festivals. Beyond people bemoaning corporate sponsorships, there are accusations Pride is mostly a safe space for white LGB people. People of colour and trans-individuals want Pride to be more inclusive. Some requests include modifying or eliminating the presence of police or military forces in parades (due to a history of racial profiling and mistreatment). As well, Pride organizations are being petitioned to include increased organization membership of, and events for, people of colour and trans individuals. Of course, some of the more conservative segments of our community are annoyed by these pushes.

In Edmonton, such a conversation between the Edmonton Pride Festival Society (EPFS) board members and groups representing queer people of colour (of late, represented by Shades of Colour YEG and Rarica Now) has been going on since a protest briefly interrupted the 2018 parade. Some progress was occurring over the last year.

Sadly, this April the society pulled the plug on the 2019 Parade and Festival after a very contentious meeting between the two groups. Both sides blamed each other - I’ll include some links at the end of this article*, so you can decide. If you read the links and especially watch the Raw footage video of the meeting from April 4th, it’s not pretty for either group.

As a community organization, EPFS should have displayed a greater degree of professional behavior. Instead they provided a vague excuse which passive-aggressively pointed the finger at Shades of Colour: "In light of the current political and social environment, it has been determined that any attempt to host a Festival will not be successful." Buried in all this? A member on the society’s board of directors informed Shades of Colour (and Global News) the cancellation of Pride would have occurred anyhow due to lack of volunteers and funding.

I reached out to both groups and only Shades of Colour provided a statement after I reassured them would be neutral compared to the Postmedia network:

Neutral isn’t good enough though. Neutral continues to let the dominant narrative prevail, because conservative media isn’t being neutral. Conservative media slanders us. So, any media we engage in has to be on our side, otherwise people continue to call QTIBPOC terrorists and extremists when we were literally making a speech.

You’re right, middle class whites got scared of a bunch of brown and Black folks trying to make a speech. The pride festival hasn’t gotten death threats the way we have. Not in the same way. Not in the, "this brown trans body feels seen everywhere he goes", not in the constantly wondering if everyone hates me for trying to hold up an entire community who have nowhere else to go, not in the "wounded healers trying to heal the wounded healers".

This advocacy isn’t glamorous, and we don’t get cool rainbows at the end of it. This advocacy is maybe we saved a life, and back to business as usual the next morning. This advocacy looks like broken spirits and hearts. Praying to Brahma (the Creator) that all my loved ones will be safe. I am scared. We are tired. We wanted a place to say that; and the media continues to call us extremists.

Stand back from what happened; put the sound bites on hold; ignore the Twitter tirades; discard the "if it bleeds it leads" media mentality. Ask yourself - What’s going on that we got to this point?

People of colour and transgender folks want to feel as safe in our community as their cis-gendered and white gay or lesbian friends feel. Unless you’re a white gay male or female, Pride, instead of a celebration, can turn into a bit of a minefield. Besides discrimination on sexual orientation, many individuals/groups experience multiple forms of social stratification and discrimination (based on class, political affiliation, race, age, religion, creed, disability and gender to name a few).

This discrimination often happens within the LGBTQ2S community; on the dating/hookup apps people either outright or subtly indicate they prefer someone of their own race (or worse - objectify Asians, African-Americans, etc.). It can also happen by omission - for example, the LGBTQ2S community may have a lot of services for a gay middle-aged man of European descent, yet for a gay East Indian immigrant, there may be a severe knowledge gap in services and support.

These issues aren’t new - they’ve been here all along. We lacked the language in the past to discuss these things. Looking back over the 50 years since 1969, for anyone from the gender and sexually diverse community, there were so few safe spaces. Everyone had to figure out what was secure and for whom. Often, you took what you could get. While some bars were open to everyone (or had nights for all) often you had spaces only for gay men or only for lesbians. That was basically the only (binary) choices.

Community Centers and community groups started coming to the forefront in the late 70s/early 80s for those not comfortable in nightclub/bar spaces. These spaces were a mix of everyone and there were attempts to diversify the type of services. Even so, they catered to the majority of the "out" or active LGBTQ2S folk (again, in many cities, primarily cis-gendered males and females of European descent - i.e. white).

We also had two types of progressive power working (somewhat) in tandem to progress rights: the loud, public activist, and the quiet power behind the throne.

From the start, there were the public crusaders, the trans-activists, and people of colour fighting for rights (Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson for example). As well, some political capital and effort originated from white gay and lesbians within the system. Many of them worked within political machines and walked the halls of power (in the background). They counselled politicians. Both the public crusaders and the political operatives worked together (if in the long-term) even if in the short-term they looked to be at each other’s throats.

You also must consider the demographics. Looking at the statistics of ethnicity for Canada and the United States, the largest group then (and still now) are primarily people with a European background. Once things normalized in terms of same-sex rights (2003-2006), this majority group may have felt most of their work was done. Suddenly, a lot of the push towards progressive politics in the LGBTQ2SA community fractured.

However, many of the activists realized we must examine the concerns of other minority groups within our community. Human Rights--in practice--evolves very piecemeal and not equally across the board. We are now at a point of another reckoning. A lot of people feel left out; they are organizing, they fall under our umbrella, and want to have a say to their issues as well.

Advocates, groups, and institutions are always playing catch-up compared to the language and experience of people in society. Yes, in 2019, the position and power of the gender and sexually diverse community is better now than where it was 50 years ago. We can marry. We have legal protection from discrimination and violence. Yes, some of the protection mechanisms for minorities do not work perfectly, yes there is privilege, bias and outright bigotry in our societal structures (courts, police, laws, politicians, etc.).

This gets to another question 50 years after the 1969 Stonewall Riots we MUST consider. What next? What more do we need to do?

As mentioned, Human Rights are a messy business evolving over time. For the person-to-person, group-to-group, day-to-day and even year-to-year struggles, this evolution is not obvious. Nonetheless, change and progress is happening, and needs to continue to happen. Edmonton Pride’s cancellation was a symptom of other issues which always existed - they just were rarely discussed. Furthermore, just because Canada is a (relatively) safe society for LGBTQ2S citizens, doesn’t mean our work is done - there are still countries where atrocious Human Rights abuses continue against sexually and gender diverse individuals.

In the past 200 years our technology has grown an astonishing pace. Human society has evolved at a similar if not greater rate: we’re examining the structure of our cultures, we’re expanding our understanding of the psychology of the mind, and we’re realizing how far we have yet to go on Human Rights. In North America today, minorities have greater opportunities and are freer than any time in the past to openly express any grievances. This is relatively new, and the majority groups within society are mostly supportive of this progress.

Harvard professor Steven Pinker, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined states "The Rights Revolutions too have given us ideals that educated people today take for granted but that are virtually unprecedented in human history, such as that people of all races and creeds have equal rights, that women should be free from all forms of coercion, that children should never, ever be spanked, that students should be protected from bullying, and that there’s nothing wrong with being gay."

Unfortunately, it’s true within the majority you’ll find a small but vocal group of contrarians (consisting of the ignorant, racists, opportunists, and conservative authoritarians) who believe any problems the minority speak of were either fictional, minor, or rare because they never experienced this themselves. There’s been a disconnect between their empathy, curiosity, and reason.

These contrarians hate progress, and are getting louder and more aggressive because they are losing the argument. From complaints of "special groups ruining X" to "they’re asking for more rights than me!" and now, the dismissive "Why didn’t you say anything about it before?" they deflect, deny or turn a deaf ear. They operate on a win/lose playbook; they don’t think collaborate, they think compete. If you are different or exploring differences in your life, they do not like that ("Gender binary? What’s that? Sounds ridiculous and made up!!").

This vocal group of contrarians aren’t going away, but their shouting and boldness makes it easier to spot them (for better or worse). The fact we ARE hearing about these contrarians is an example of these longer societal advances bumping up against the day-to-day. Societal rules and privilege are being examined and questioned as to its use and misuse.

More and more, people are coming to understand we are all homo sapiens regardless of skin, hair, eye colour, physical or mental abilities, sex or sexuality, or any other attribute you have.

Or put it this way...think of the power structure of society as an infinitely large table. For the longest time in North America and Europe, a lie was told: only rich, middle-aged nominally Christian males from a European background could sit at this table. All these changes we have seen in the last 200 years (equal rights for Women, Civil rights movement, LGBTQ2S rights, etc.) have been culminating in a tide of progress where all citizens are beginning to understand everyone has a right to sit at this table.

This means the power structure and the systems which keep the existing "table of power" in place must be refurbished if not built anew. We’re learning to collaborate rather than compete. Some will fight changes out of ignorance or fear. Many of the contrarians will fight it because they benefit from the system or feel personally attacked by progress (granted, while most of these contrarians are conservatives, there are a smaller group of contrarians on the left who can have a similar "you’re either with me, or against me" outlook).

The rapid acceptance of LGBTQ2S rights over the past 50 years is evidence many average members of the public are willing to listen and change. People stepped away from the temptation to respond with emotion. They asked questions, they met with their LGBTQ2S neighbors and found common ground.

Our community is unique because it’s a possibility of a cosmopolitan society - at some Pride events even in Calgary you will see a variety of people of varying sexes, sexuality, different ages, different ethnicities, and from different classes in society. Our community should be at the vanguard of pushing for more freedom and protection for all from bias, violence and bigotry.

Or at the very least - we need to promote the leaders in human society, and mitigate the contrarians who fight progress. Groups in conflict can - with good, egalitarian leaders - recognize bias, and work to come up with collaborative compromise both sides can accept. If we don’t do it, the generations younger than us will - and they’re going to be a lot less subtle about it.

So, you have a choice. Get angry and upset because of "the other" or ask the hard questions, and push yourself, your friends and family, leaders within groups, movements and even politics to learn, change, and be better. Understand it’s not special rights, it’s not taking away from others, it’s collaboration and adding to the whole for all.

Find the contrarians, coach them to be better, or minimize them. Have intergenerational mentoring - the elders of the community can mentor the young on the history and on the organization/administration side, and the young can coach the elders on changes and concerns within the community they may have missed or ignored.

Promote those leaders who see the commonalities between us and reach across arbitrary tribal lines. You may not have all things in common with your neighbor, however if you talk to her perhaps you discover both of you love baking and playing chess. If both parties are open to having a discussion, an understanding of the other’s point of view is possible.

Plant a forest of ideas and positive change despite the fact you may be old and will never sit under these trees or see them bloom. Fight and listen to those fighting for a better tomorrow, and don’t give up, because the anti-progress contrarians of the world will win. Choose to work for greater understanding and a better world because it is hard.

Below are some of the links which give the background on what happened.

Shades of Colour and Rarica Now list of demands:

Raw footage of the April 4th meeting and EPFS Walkout:

Edmonton Pride Statement re: cancellation of Pride:

Shades of Colour Speeches about being not allowed into Pride Meeting:

Shades of Colour Facebook posts about this issue - April 6th:

Rarica Now Facebook post - April 10


Raw data is also available on Stats Canada’s Website

Moving a Mountain: The Extraordinary Trajectory of Same-Sex Marriage Approval in the United States:

And a Washington Post article - Americans’ views flipped on gay rights. How did minds change so quickly?

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Contributor Evan Kayne |

Locale Calgary | Edmonton |

Topic Calgary Pride | Edmonton Pride | Gay Pride | Politics | VOICES | Voices Coalition |


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