I’ve got to hand it to Fred Phelps. He sure knows how to inspire a good party.
Anything that moves hundreds of gay men, lesbians, trans folks and allies in our all too apathetic community to stand in the rain for hours staking out our space can’t be all bad.
In fact, I’m glad the hateful, cantankerous old bastard threatened to bring his Westboro wingnuts here to protest The Laramie Project.
It’s almost as good as getting our marriage rights rolled back.
Of course I’d be lying if I said my mind didn’t wander repeatedly to the prospect of a hot bath as I stood in the rain last Fri night. But I endured. We all did, just in case Phelps showed up, just in case he managed to clear the border to bring his “god hates fags” and “fags doom nations” bullshit to our neck of the woods.
We weren’t about to let him spew his ridiculous venom in our city without a challenge.
Just as the crowd began to disperse, word came from a CBC reporter that they’d reached someone in the Phelps clan who claimed they had indeed crossed the border and were 10 minutes away.
Instantly the cold, wet crowd reformed itself, coalescing into a row of proud rainbow sentries to line the sidewalk opposite the Havana theatre.
As I looked at that line of rainbows I forgot all about my cold toes, all about the rain, the mud and the hot bath. I looked at that line and felt a rush of pride.
This is what it looks like to claim our space, I thought. This is what strength looks like.
This is what community looks like.
“I don’t think you’re in Kansas anymore,” warned one sign amid the rainbows. “A family of douchebags does not a religion make,” read another.
“Love is always the answer,” added another.
“Thank god for lube,” added yet another, reminding us that strength need not be humourless.
In fact, for a serious protest, it was anything but dour. This was not a community under siege but a community standing securely in its strength, prepared to drown out hatred by our mere presence, joyful and dignified.
Phelps and his followers never did show up that night, but we didn’t need him to. I’d found what I was looking for.
For the second time in two days I had found community.
I had spent the previous night at Out in Schools’ screening of The Times of Harvey Milk, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Milk’s assassination. The post-film panel and audience discussion was an inspiring surprise. At least 60 people stayed to talk about the film and the activism it showcased.
“How do we motivate our GLBT community to take to the streets?” moderator Ross Johnstone asked.
After some initially uninspiring responses, several audience members joined the discussion, urging us all to take some initiative, to set the agenda and assert a regular presence rather than simply reacting to events swirling around us.
Soon the audience was collectively planning a trip to Abbotsford to support the youth-organized Pride/Social Justice parade on Dec 6. First carpools were offered, then The Centre and the Pride Society volunteered to organize buses. I was amazed.
Look what we can do when we bring a bunch of us together in one room, show us our history and challenge us to shape our present.
The strength that Milk tapped into out of necessity, the courage to stand up and be counted and take our power can still bubble in our blood —with a little prodding.
It’s no surprise that our blood flows more sluggishly these days. We are not where Milk was. Thanks in no small part to Milk and his contemporaries, we are far past the starting gate.
But we are still far from the finish line.
As long as there are gays and lesbians of any age who are too scared to come out, to live their lives fully and honestly and embrace their sexuality, there will be battles to be fought, space to be claimed, presence to assert.
Nothing like a little adversity to remind us, to shake us out of our apathy, prod our sluggish blood and spur us to action.
I hope Phelps threatens to come back next week.