3 min

My summer of discontent: Pride on the Prairies

How our big gay parties are becoming more corporate, more conservative and more militaristic

IN THE NAME OF PRIDE. A group of Edmonton activists, including members of Exposure: Edmonton's Queer Arts and Cultural Festival and Mile Zero Dance, stage a die-in and swarm the Edmonton police tank at Pride. Credit: Karen Campos photo

Despite Winnipeg Pride’s “reminder” that all floats should be “family friendly”, drag queens, bull dykes and scantily-clad folks of all types were out in full force on Jun 14 for the annual parade. In fact the BDSM float won best entry, a choice endorsed by my friends Xavier (age nine) and Eva (aged seven). They really liked the “Halloween float,” proving that family friendliness is a crock of shit, a thinly-veiled use of children to hide oppressive, rightwing values.

That there is conservatism within our own community — that a Pride committee dared to censor the many ways we express ourselves — should remind us why we march, just as much as homophobia inspires us to take to the streets. Injustice and discrimination exist in many forms, some more insidious than others. And the messages we put out as a community can be as politically problematic (at best), or reactionary and repressive (at worse) as the homophobic lies told about us.

Winnipeg Pride Committee’s lack of understanding regarding the diverse community it serves, and its responsibility to that diverse community, is one example of how Pride celebrations can go awry. And it inspires timely questions: what is Pride? A party? A protest? The commemoration of a historical event? An opportunity to show the larger community how “normal” we are? Or an opportunity to challenge ideas of normalcy? Is it about gay sex, gay people, or gay integration? Who is marching and why? What are we marching for?

All of these queeries became more pressing in my mind when news trickled in from another prairie town, Edmonton. On the same day as Winnipeg’s Pride, dykes, fairies and everyone in-between were as proud as ever in the City of Champions, celebrating their gay day in the streets. But three things made the event exceptional for all the wrong reasons, and may foreshadow issues that queers and Pride committees in every Canadian city might want to consider.

Firstly, E-Town Pride sold naming rights to a major Canadian corporation, so instead of the Edmonton Pride Parade it was called the TD Canada Trust Pride Parade. Understandably, community organizations are strapped for cash. And the queerer we are, the less fundable (as Montreal’s Divers/Cité recently found out when it was denied Marquee Tourism Events Program funding.) But does the named presence of a major financial institution change the content of the event and its purpose? It sure makes it seem less sexy, transgressive, political (my list could go on and on….)

Secondly, Conservative MLA Heather Klimchuk was invited to speak at the event, despite the clearly homophobic intentions of her government in crafting and passing Bill 44. (For those of you who missed it, parents in Alberta can now pull kids from class if sex, sexual orientation or religion is being discussed. Needless to say, no anti-homophobia programs will be taught in Wild Rose Country anytime soon.) Fortunately Klimchuk barely opened her mouth before being booed off the stage. But that she was invited is baffling. Not quite like having Hitler at your bar mitzvah, but you get my point.

And finally, last but not least, the thing that really left me gob smacked: one of the floats in the parade was a tank. That’s right, there was an instrument of war, supplied by Edmonton’s police service, rolling along Edmonton’s parade route. Leaving aside the very creepy question of what the Edmonton police force are doing with a tank, who thought it would be an appropriate symbol to include in a queer parade? By all reports, the long, thick gun barrel was not straddled by drag queens nor mounted by beefy boys and girls. The tank simply was, driven by a dude in civies. Apparently nothing says Pride like a killing machine.

How soon we forget that the tools of violence have often been used against us, just as they still are in many places around the world. We’ve come a long way, baby — far enough to accept militarization just like everyone else. There is perhaps no more potent symbol of repression that an olive green tank (think of every photo you have ever seen of the massacre in Tiananmen Square.) Have the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan so inured us to images of war that now we feel war machines are okay at our gay party?

To my mind, an armored vehicle is neither celebratory nor progressive. Neither are brandings of Pride marches to reflect corporate interests, invitations to representatives of blatantly anti-queer governments, or “family friendly” warnings by Pride committees. As Pride continues to march across the country, maybe it is time to ask ourselves what is Pride and why? I hope to God it is more than an endless sea of rainbow crap, but recent events in Winnipeg and Edmonton have left me wondering.