June is celebrated in much of the ‘western world’ as Pride Month (or Day, Weekend, or Week). Most often identified as “LGBT Pride” – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans. Sometimes with Q for Queer. There are plenty of other letters added to the acronym at times- see for example this blog’s LGBTiTQQ2S category.
These days many of us old queers grumble about the modern incarnations of Pride. For the record, I was born in July 1958; not yet 11 during the Stonewall Riots. But this summer I turn 58, and with the large number of gays of my generation who died of aids-related complications, I sometimes feel older.
Now, as much as I rail against blindly adopting hetero-normative, ‘first world’ monogamy-based world views, human behaviour (whether genetic or sociologically based) is pretty consistent. Old foogies rant about young whipper-snappers who are destroying society, disrespecting their elders, having no artistic sense, and trampling our lawns. It has not always been easy to hear myself say (or think) something and admit that’s one of my parents coming through.
Which, of course, doesn’t invalidate (nor automatically validate) the complaint or opinion. Sometimes a ‘truism’ is, in fact, true.
But back to Pride. The first Pride Event I attended was in Toronto in the park north of Queen’s Park (the location of the Provincial Legislature) in 1978. I had moved back to the city of my birth early that year and joined GYT Gay Youth Toronto. We had a table at the GayDays Fair, Saturday August 26th. The week of events did not include a parade; but continued the decade’s annual social and cultural gatherings and presentations. While there were some marches and protests during the ’70s they were individual responses to specific events. It was not until 1981, as a response to years of harassment culminating in the 1981 Bathhouse Raids, that a large protest march in June, at the same time as the more cultural events, really cemented the idea of June Pride (with Parade) in Toronto.
As noted in this 2014 piece (The March To Pride) about the 1981 Parade:
“During a brief pause in front of 52 Division [Police precinct], the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence performed an exorcism on the station“
This was the introduction of Perpetual Indulgence to Toronto, although I did not join the order until late in 1983.
That same article makes clear that the 1981 event is generally considered the “first official edition of Pride” in Toronto. I attended most of the Pride Festivals in Toronto, and often marched in the Parade, until I moved down to Ohio in 1996. I don’t know that I can state a specific year that the protests-based marches became more about Pride and Celebration. The fight for equality seemed well on its way- although full marriage equality did not arrive in Canada until 2005. I can say that the Parades haven’t totally lost elements of protest:
2006: We March For Those Who Can’t (Photograph © 2006 Brian Gryphon)
But well before that event, even before I moved out of Toronto, there was resistance to the commercialization of Pride. Not without fits and starts and the sort of turmoil that often accompanies resistance movements, Queer West has offered a queer alternative to the ‘official’ corporate-sponsored events generally centered around the ‘Church Street Village’ commonly known, at least in my day, as ‘the gay ghetto’.
Regular readers to my blog are well aware that I often write against #mainstreamingQueers and the emphasis so often placed on nearly straight gays. As I call for my right to live as openly queer, for trans folk to live their authenticity, and leather/kink to be recognized as another valid approach to relationships, I also support the right of those who choose (or, perhaps recognizes as their core nature) a somewhat traditional, mainstream approach to life. I do take issue with anyone who argues that’s a better choice.
And so, while I will continue to argue the importance of we old coots sharing our stories and keeping queer history alive, railing against those who think what we lived through can not ever happen again, I must recognize that these younger queers who see Pride as a party are, more or less, living in the world we fought to bring into being. They are the inevitable beneficiaries of our struggles, our deaths, our dreams.
Yes, I hate the commercialization of Pride. But I will also celebrate what those crass, tacky, mass-produced baubles represent. Progress.