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Kicking back in high heels

Zelda Marshall leads the Pride parade

Zelda Marshall believes the Pride parade is an important component of queer activism. Credit: Noreen Fagan

Zelda Marshall is leaning on the fence outside the Flamingo. She is primped up in a tight, post-punk black suit with a touch of bling on the front. Her hair is short and coiffed, her bag is slung over her shoulder, and she is wearing the highest heels I have ever seen someone wear.

When I comment on the shoes, she smiles, tosses back her head and says, “It’s a girl thing. What can I say.”

We walk across the street — Marshall tottering in her heels and me stomping in my shaggy Converse sneakers — to the Second Cup.

I am meeting Marshall to talk about her role as grand marshal of Capital Pride 2011. This year the drag icon gets to kick back her heels in a convertible and lead the parade through the streets of Ottawa.

She is, in true Marshall fashion, humble about the attention.

“I am absolutely honoured and thrilled to be nominated,” she says with a smile.

Marshall has been involved in the queer community since her attempt at being “normal” failed — she was married and lived a conventional lifestyle before stepping out of the box.

“I decided that I had to really be myself and not try to be something else, and that is how I first got involved with Gender Mosaic,” she says. “Because I was also interested in theatre and dance, going into drag seemed to be a natural extension.”

When she decided that she wanted to try to earn some titles, her first drag mother, Dixie Landers, told her to get involved with the community. She did — wholeheartedly so. She now sits on the Ottawa Police Liaison Committee for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communities as the representative of Gender Mosaic and is an active member of the Ottawa Knights.

“I just naturally got involved with the leather people because they are also very on the fringe, misunderstood — much like the drag community is. It is simultaneously embraced by the GLBT community but at the same time relegated to the fringes,” she says.

Getting involved with the community worked. In 2008, Marshall was named Miss Gay National Capital 2008. During her reign, she participated in many charity events, within the gay community and beyond, performing in fundraising benefits for cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Marshall is quietly composed when she talks about her work within the community. She is content with what she has achieved but has no intention of stopping any of her volunteer work.

When we talk about the obstacles faced by the queer community, she becomes animated. She is an ardent supporter of Pride and makes a point of going to parades in smaller Ontario towns, such as Cornwall. She is adamant that the parades are an important component of queer activism.

“For me, last year, the thing was the MP Jason Kenney, who took all that immigration literature and struck out every positive reference to how Canada makes life positive to live and welcoming for its GLBT people,” she says, adding sarcastically to the imaginary Kenney, “Thank you for showing us how ashamed you are of us.”

This year her outrage is directed at Catholic school boards that oppose gay-straight alliances in their schools. In her opinion, there are always reasons to march.

Having the chance to lead the parade makes her especially proud.

“I wanted to make a difference, and their [Capital Pride Committee] nominating me is, well, being noticed. And that is very humbling and gratifying – to hear that people have noticed the difference that you make and they are appreciative of what you do.”