Toronto
4 min

Fearless & free

The two issues defining Pride 2006

Whatever else unfolds this Pride Week — and here’s hoping a lot of sexy fun unfolds for you! — it’s already clear that the 2006 celebration will go down in history for two things.

The first is Ryerson University’s decision to award an honorary doctorate to controversial McGill ethicist Margaret Somerville right in the middle of Pride Week, right here in the gaybourhood.

Somerville has won awards for her arguments against routine male circumcision, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. She gives voice to people who are skeptical of social and technological change, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Somerville’s also against same-sex marriage. To summarize: It doesn’t form the building blocks needed for raising children, which is a biological mother and father. It’s kids, not homosexuality, she says she’s concerned about.

Her declaration would sound far more convincing if she was attacking the causes rather than one of the results of the dissolution of the mommy-daddy-me family in Canada.

It’s true that same-sex marriage is the cherry on the top of a new kind of wedding cake, where marriage is about romantic love, not necessarily heredity and childrearing. But Somerville fails to acknowledge this cake’s been in the oven for three decades, going back to the late 1970s when Canadian governments started recognizing the responsibilities of unmarried people to each other and to their offspring — common-law marriage. Sexual dalliances (for straight men in particular) were given social and financial consequences whether they had rings on their fingers or not. Homos certainly didn’t start this fire.

This regime took the pressure off marriage, which could go on to serve another purpose — the celebration of couplehood (feel free to groan). Same-sex marriage, then, is basically a footnote to marriage’s growing irrelevance in Canada (the US has not gone down this path). In her criticism of homo couplings, Somerville’s criticizing the last people through the door, though their numbers pale in comparison to the single parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, divorced couples and infertile couples who also breach her two-biological-parents-only rule.

All of which makes it hard to believe Somerville’s a world-famous academic; her arguments are shallow, devoid of historical analysis and beside the point. They’re merely justifications of antigay feeling. Why pick on just us?

(There is another way of looking at her arguments, of course. If gay men and lesbians have the right to exist in society, but not in the role of spouses or parents, Somerville is implying we should be doing other things with our lives: pushing the boundaries of sexual liberty, building new kinds of nonfamilial relationships based on sex and camaraderie, being creative or perhaps even helping the poor. But her silence on what we should be doing — in the midst of her many pronouncements about what we shouldn’t be doing — tells us more about her motives than her claims that she doesn’t hate gays.)

Monday’s protest of Somerville’s honorary docorate was an ideal way to call attention to the many flaws in her world view, and to challenge Ryerson to think twice before honouring such a wafer-thin thinker again.

Besides, protesting Margaret Somerville seems more authentic and fun than marching in the Pride Parade this year. Because Pride 2006 will also be remembered for Pride Toronto’s decision to charge individuals and marching contingents to participate. (Turn to pages 7 and 44 for more.)

This decision was wrong on so many levels. Charging your mostly queer entertainers to entertain the mostly straight spectators? Ignoring the parade’s legacy as an act of defiance? Turning a community event into a money-raising exercise? Forcing early registration deadlines for an event based on spontaneous nonconformity?

The fees were a perfect way to fan the flames of queers worried that Pride had become more about corporate imaging — Look at how we line them up in the proper order! Look at how we collect our GST! Look at how we sell their eyeballs to corporate sponsors! — than about queer visibility.

The new message of Pride: We’re here, we’re queer and we can afford a $25 fee, surcharge, donation or whatever the fuck you want to call it.

First Pride Toronto seemed surprise that anyone would have a problem with the fee. Then, feeling rumblings of dissatisfaction, claimed the fee was voluntary. Then finally sent out a newsletter stating that nobody would be restricted from entering the parade this year. For an organization to feel obliged to issue a statement that would otherwise be self-evident — Don’t worry! Queer people will be permitted in the Pride Parade this year! — tells the tale of a communications strategy from hell, designed by people who have forgotten what Pride is all about.

Their attempts to shut down debate about the fees and parade sponsorship is a further embarrassment. If Pride would lower the drawbridge to its garrison it would realize there is something to be learned from a community that barks back.

Fortunately, nobody asked you to fill out a form or pay a fee when you came out — that’s still free and all you really need to have your best Pride ever.

You don’t have to pay (or ask Margaret Somerville’s permission, for that matter) to be a big flamer, slut, shemale (you’ve probably paid a lot already, anyway), tomboy, butt pirate or drag artist.

You don’t have to pay to wear your shortest shorts or take off your top and strut your stuff. You don’t have to pay to have sex (free condoms should be easy to find this weekend). You don’t have to pay to loiter, gawk or kiss strangers/ future lovers. You don’t have to pay to show off the part of yourself you keep bottled up around family, friends, coworkers or the people back home. You don’t have to pay to feel like this city’s yours, to feel like you belong here.

It’s free to high kick, get lost, get fed up and wonder if it’s all worth it.

If you want to march for free, join Xtra’s parade entry. Or Supporting Our Youth’s. Or the leather contingent’s. Even if Pride Toronto has forgotten about its roots, lots of others haven’t.