2007 was my first up-close-and-personal experience of a Pride parade — ever.
Any prior sense of what a Pride parade looked or felt like came courtesy of what the American networks saved for the end of their newscasts. (“Gotta-love-those-wild-and-wacky-gay-people… have a good one, see you back here tomorrow at six.”)
But a 15-second hit of token TV clips doesn’t do any parade — and certainly not a Pride parade — justice.
Vancouver’s parade reminds me in many ways of my country Trinidad’s annual Carnival.
Both have histories steeped in conflict, pitting the marginalized against the mainstream. (In colonial Trinidad’s case, the marginalized being those who were not light-skinned enough, or of a high enough socio-economic class, or raised in the “right’ part of town into the “right” kind of family).
Early Carnivals featured witty, subversive takes on the affectations and cultural norms of an elitist, Eurocentric society seeking through its laws, education system and religious mores to establish what was considered acceptable.
Reading last issue’s Pride retrospective in which interviewees recalled the fear, potential danger and exhilaration of taking part in their first Pride parades here reminded me of the stories early steelband musicians in Trinidad told about the risks they took in trying to play that instrument.
They not only faced the censure of their families, who felt for years that only hooligans and people who had “no class” dabbled in that kind of music and instrument, but police harassment and violence.
Carnival would also be nothing without its no-holds-barred expressions of sexuality —albeit privileging heterosexuality. (Although every so often, some queerdom surfaces, the masked people feeling just that much braver to be themselves behind the security of a costume, soca music and too much rum.)
Like Carnival, Pride is steeped in sexuality in all its nearly naked and full-monty-ed glory.
Another striking parallel between the two celebrations is the conflicted relationship each has with big capital.
Like diehard Carnival traditionalists who remember a time when grassroots creativity ruled Trinidad’s streets minus commercial logos, here too I have heard the perennial complaints from Pride purists about the too-obvious, too-easy infiltration of corporatism into Pride.
And like Vancouverites on the subject of Pride, Trinidadians can debate endlessly and vociferously when the first Carnival really got off the ground.
And yet in so many other ways, what holds in Vancouver versus Trinidad is remarkably different.
Come this weekend, an anticipated half million queer and mostly queer-friendly souls will hit the West End to celebrate what is being touted as the 30th anniversary of Pride. The float count is at 163 and counting.
There is no such thing as a Pride parade in Trinidad.
Pride is a behind-closed-doors affair. And according to one of the few queer activists there, a public Pride ain’t happening any time soon.
“It’s difficult in a small place like this to have a demonstration like that. Who would you get? Three people?” asks Geoffrey Maclean half-jokingly, half-ruefully.
It’s difficult to have such in-your-face queerdom between family pressures, religion, the law and unsympathetic political leadership.
So Pride in Trinidad is the domain of private parties in at least four clubs.
Geoffrey reminds me, of course, that homosexuality is still a criminal offence and that the long-debated Equal Opportunity Act still does not include sexual orientation as a protected category.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever see the likes of a Pride parade in my home country in my lifetime.
Geoffrey assures me, however, that from what he sees and hears, Trinidad’s youth is not willing to accept discrimination.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see how the attitude develops and whether they’ll be able to make any sort of headway,” he says, a shade hopefully.
“I think things are bound to change because of the pressure of these young guys. Because they don’t give a damn.”
I can only hope in time that their don’t-give-a-damn internal Pride eventually makes its way onto the island’s streets — then all we’d have to worry about is remembering the actual year of our first-ever parade.