Twenty years. A whole generation. Two complete decades during which we came of age as a movement, as a culture, as a community and as individuals.
A fifth of a century during which local gays and lesbians, bisexuals and trans people took control of their own lives, decided to live out and proud, and formed and joined local, provincial and national groups. Twenty years during which we rejected the old definitions and limitations once forced upon us and instead created our own way of doing things, our own celebration of who we are and what we can be.
On the local level, consider the large number of organizations organically arising from the queer community, from Pink Triangle Services, to Gay Men’s Wellness, to LIX, to the newspaper you’re reading now. Consider that Ottawa has some 38 queer organizations, and institutions serving queers, within the Rainbow Village — more even than does Vancouver in Davie Village. Consider the local gay calendar of must-go events: Taste For Life, LGX, Swirl & Twirl, Women’s Voices, Pride, Wilde About Sappho, Mr Leather Ottawa, AIDS Walk, Capital Xtra Heroes Awards. This year, Capital Xtra is adding a new one, Transgress literary festival, on Oct 6.
And despite the infighting, the varying levels of competence through the years, and the discrimination against our festival by Ottawa’s city hall, Pride is 20 this year. It’s the Platinum Anniversary.
Next time someone tells you there’s no gay community in Ottawa, tell them to take a sociology course and learn the meaning of community, and the meaning of culture for that matter.
Let’s not get Pollyanna-ish about this. Not all is well in our community, in our culture, in our province, country or around the world. You’ll find news reports and features inside exploring some of those remaining challenges.
But take a moment’s pause and pat yourself on the back. If you’re out of the closet, you’re part of the solution. Every person who comes out of the closet has an impact on the people around them. Every person who comes out makes it easier for the next person to come out. And, every time a homophobe realizes that people they like, love or respect are queer, it makes it harder for them to cling to outdated values. We don’t say this enough anymore.
Have you patted yourself on the back? Good. Now, we need to talk. We’ve come so very far in 30 years — from being jailed or forced into psychiatric programs to being considered fabulous trendsetters and just ordinary folks. Canadian cities provide a pretty good life for most gays and lesbians now. To get there, many of us worked hard in our personal lives and/or through political and community work. Perhaps you’ve done your bit and are now taking a break and enjoying our newly acquired equality rights. Or perhaps you haven’t put in time yet to give back to the community that has created that freedom for you. Many in our community have no idea how much has changed in three decades and are enjoying rights and acceptance won by others on their behalf.
I challenge you to get involved. Just as a new generation of people is getting involved in the committee creating a queer centre for Ottawa. Most issues, Capital Xtra profiles a Rainbow Warrior. Over and over, they speak of the personal satisfaction they get from being involved. They point to the terrific people they meet, the creative energy released in building our community, the sense of satisfaction that comes from accomplishing important things.
Our local groups, from Pride to PTS to the queer liaison to the Ottawa police need fresh blood, new enthusiasm, and competent directors. New people are needed to re-establish a queer theatre company and a queer film festival in Ottawa and build an umbrella group for local sports teams. New activists are needed to challenge the Harper government’s directions on equal marriage, Customs censorship, AIDS funding, and anti-terrorist legislation.
Enjoy your freedom. Celebrate who you are over Pride. And then, if you haven’t done your bit to advance your own opportunities yet, it’s time to ask yourself the following: If not now, when? If not me, who? We’ve done so much already. Imagine what we could do with your involvement.
See you at Pride.