A lot has changed in Canada since the 1970s, when a columnist at one of Toronto’s major dailies claimed gays and lesbians orchestrated Gay Pride Week to seduce children. That tidbit is one of many we’ve recently discovered while digging through the Xtra and Body Politic archives for our Pride issue.
Back then, Toronto’s gay-pride events would have included just a few hundred brave souls — not out to recruit, but instead paving the way for the massive Pride celebration (and the many human rights) we now enjoy.
Most queer youth won’t have heard of many of the sponsors of the 1989 Pride Day in Toronto. The list includes establishments long closed — such as The Rose Café, Club Colby’s and Boots & Buds — and some, like the Toronto Women’s Bookstore and The Barn, more recently lost. Just a few Pride sponsors from almost a quarter of a century ago, including Xtra and The 519, remain open for business.
Compare that collection to a list of sponsors for 2013 Pride, which comprises governments (federal, provincial and the City of Toronto), media (CP24 and CTV) and big business (Bud Light, Viagra, Loblaws and Sheraton).
Some might say that what we’ve won in support and acceptance (and a recognition of our spending power) has been at the expense of a strong sense of community and thriving queer-owned small businesses. But much of the queer world looks to Canada as the destination on a journey they’re only beginning — and many others risk their lives to get here.
When we welcome members of our global community to Toronto next year for WorldPride, it’s important that we remember to market our human rights and legislative successes along with our hotels, beer and consumer goods.
Our Pride issue also looks beyond Church Street and Toronto, to many of the gay rights struggles in progress around the globe. From the former Soviet countries — where governments have been cracking down on Pride events and gay rights — to Uganda, where brave women and men like Frank Mugisha, of Sexual Minorities
Uganda, fight to block the passage of the notorious “kill the gays” bill.
And despite what appears at first to be a compendium of dire setbacks, activists in places like Russia and Uganda are also celebrating this year, aware that they’re part of something bigger than one anti-gay bill or one police truncheon.
“It’s dangerous, but it’s life,” Ukrainian activist Olena Semenova tells Kaj Hasselriis of her participation in several gay protests that turned violent (see page 32). “I love being an activist. I’m motivated by a human rights hunger.”
A few years ago I met a group of gay men in Sierra Leone who suffer the daily effects of crushing poverty and discrimination. Many live closeted lives, unable to consider the idea of telling family and friends about their sexuality. Yet every dry season they find their way to a private strip of beach near Freetown, slip into sexy bathing suits, set up a makeshift bar, blast dance music and create a damn fine kiki.
That’s the spirit of Pride. While queer people here in Canada and all around the world may never be free from hatred and homophobia, we’re also never going to roll over and play dead.
A new immigrant in Brampton begs out of a family function to attend Toronto’s Pride parade. An activist in Kiev faces down a religious protester shouting hateful slurs into a megaphone. A group of West African gays host a secret beach bacchanal.
Each, in its own way, is a daring act of Pride. Each says I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it. This year’s Pride theme is Superqueer — so let’s take it up to the next level. Let’s give the media something to write about 25 years from now. Let’s give our friends around the world something to look up to. Let’s take stock of our challenges and celebrate our triumphs. And let’s have a party!