“I’m sorry sir, I can’t disclose that information.”
The officer was firm but friendly as he urged us past the walkway, swathed in Day-Glo yellow police tape, toward the door of our nearby home.
Sadly, most Toronto residents have at least a nodding familiarity with the disheartening visual clues of violent crime in our beloved city. Seen on the news, in the newspaper or, worse yet, in our neighbourhoods, the cavalcade of police cruisers bearing rolls of the infamous yellow tape is seemingly more ubiquitous year by year.
It wasn’t until later that evening, when my partner and I were questioned by two soft-spoken representatives of the law, that our worst fears were confirmed: Toronto’s latest murder had happened just a few doors down, in the midst of our Pride weekend festivities.
I’m not sure why, but the backdrop of Pride weekend made this event all the more poignant and dispiriting for me. Perhaps it was the idea that, mere metres from the cheering crowds, a young woman’s life was being strangled out of her. She was dying while the rest of us sang and danced and celebrated our increasingly accepted place in society.
How safe we all felt that night, gathered together by the thousands to revel in the sultry night air. How far away we were from any legal woes greater than overcrowding citations for our local bars and clubs. How much we took for granted on Gwendolyn Pilgrim’s last evening alive.
As I wrestle with my own fears of gaybashings and random shootings, I find myself gaining a larger sense of my fellow targets — the dead woman next door, whose ex-boyfriend has been charged with second-degree murder; the Pakistani cab driver, quietly enduring ridicule from his blustering dispatcher while I fumble for a meager tip; the dotty pensioner wandering around in slippers as she repeats her plea for money in a defeated monotone.
As the more masculinity-challenged of us are afforded increased protection from hate crimes and gain influence in the formation of protective laws, do we not have some responsibility in ensuring equal treatment for our vulnerable brethren? If I gratefully acknowledge the growing number of straight folks who refuse to countenance jokes at my queer expense, voracious politicians who seek to demean me and any media that mocks my effeminate mannerisms, then should I not infer a responsibility to “pay it forward” to those lower down in the pecking order?
I realize that it’s unlikely any of us could have prevented the Pride tragedy on Dundonald St, but I can’t shake the blossoming conviction that we homos have the ability to affect public consciousness with the political and social capital we’ve accumulated.
The question is how do we spend that capital? Do we continue to be society’s bitchy court jesters, snapping our way from verbal barb to cutting asides, or do we begin to behave in the manner with which we demand to be treated?
Graciousness. Dignity. Compassion. Are these qualities that we experience within ourselves as we see, say, a fledgling tranny trying out unsteady wings for the first time on Church St? Do they come naturally when dealing with the immigrant cab driver who can’t make himself understood, despite a foreign education that could very well put our own to shame? And, most relevantly to these musings, do they drive us to lobby for greater protection for the black single mother living in a rundown rooming house?
Sure, we may give a half-hearted shout-out to our lesbian sisters at the Dyke March, but are we gay men looking past the spectre of AIDS and Lansdowne Station beatings to emulate the solidarity shown to us by communities outside our own?
Our battles have gained so many supporters from other communities. We’ve been taken into the hearts and minds of political allies. We have specialized healthcare for our ailing comrades. We have our own network television shows. I can’t help but think that perhaps it’s time for us to find ways to use our public stage for something larger than ourselves.
Maybe it’s about extending the respect and acceptance we demand to include other disenfranchised folks. Maybe it’s about realizing that any type of group victimization affects and endangers us all, that merely deflecting the bullies onto easier prey doesn’t actually fix the greater problem. Maybe it’s just about being kinder to each other.
Or maybe I just can’t shake the idea that, in a lifetime of selfishly fighting for my own rights, I could have also contributed to a social consciousness that may have kept less-mobilized victims like my neighbour alive.