I don’t generally consider myself to be a drama queen, but I have to admit that I’m freaking out a little over the possibility that the no-longer-progressive Conservatives will be forming the government after Monday’s federal election. I can understand that Canadians are frustrated with the Liberals. I’m frustrated myself at how Prime Minister Paul Martin, the man who couldn’t bring himself to make a clear statement in support of same-sex marriage before the election, has been trying to pass himself off as Mr Gay Rights ever since he’s started to slip in the polls.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper? It’s a frightening thought.
My partner said to me the other day, “Well, it’s not as though they’ll be dragging us out into the streets and shooting us,” which is, of course, a completely reasonable response to my Harper-induced panic. But at this particular political crossroad I can’t help but think back to something I learned in university.
Amidst the slew of other more parentally acceptable courses I took at U of T was one called the History Of Sexuality. Of everything I heard in that course what stuck with me the most came from a lecture by professor David Townsend in which he described the freedoms enjoyed by queers in Berlin in the 1920s, just a decade before tens of thousands of homos were put to death by the Nazis alongside Jews, Romani and other undesirables.
I was shocked. Shocked at how quickly society’s tolerance can be revoked. Shocked at the number of people who stood by and let it happen. Shocked at how a 36-year-old queer rights movement was completely unprepared for the atrocities that ensued.
Now, needless to say, Harper isn’t Hitler and Canada in 2004 is a far cry from 1920s Germany, but I can’t help but wonder if we’re not suffering from a similarly false sense of security. There seems to be a sort of apathetic optimism running rampant among Toronto homos, a belief that, bit by bit, society will inevitably become more accepting of queers; that we don’t have to defend the rights we’ve gained in the last few decades or advocate particularly hard for those rights we’re still lacking. They’ll come in their own time as society naturally progresses.
I’ve certainly not been immune to this way of thinking. To be honest, if Harper was just threatening to pull the Supreme Court reference on marriage and hold a sure-to-fail free vote, I’d probably be a lot less wound up about the whole thing. I admit I’ve tended to dismiss the issue of same-sex marriage as a bourgie battle championed by respectable homosexuals who want nothing more than to assimilate and are willing to scapegoat the bad queers in order to do it.
But I’m beginning to think that going after the right to marry is more about pessimistic activists attempting to shore up a higher level of security for when the tide turns. Because it’s not just about marriage, is it? We’re talking about a rollback of human rights.
Now I know this is all doom and gloom at a time when we should be celebrating, but should the worst come to pass and Paul Martin’s Liberals aren’t able to squeak themselves through to a minority government, I don’t think we should be waiting around to see how things turn out.
Pride is a good place to start and a good example of our apathy. Once a powerful protest and now a street party sponsored by Labatt Blue, Pride is a chance to take stock of how far we’ve come and remember that it didn’t happen on its own. Hats off to this year’s grand marshal George Hislop (see page 31 for our profile) and to the countless others like him who have put the work in to get us where we are today.
So get out there and celebrate, but at some point over the weekend take a minute to think on how much it would suck if all this were taken away from us. Make a commitment to do something tangible to prevent that from happening.
And, most importantly, no matter how hung-over you are Monday morning, get out and vote. Or Pride next year might be a different story.
Julia Garro is Associate Editor for Xtra.