This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on June 24, 2018.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this month’s Pride celebration doesn’t still matter.
For the young lesbian woman living in Northern Ontario who travels to Toronto for the first time and finds a community of over a million supporters.
For the closeted refugee who sneaks off to Pride because his family does not accept him for who he is, but who discovers that he is not alone.
For the nervous mother whose son has just come out to her, who worries about him finding his place in the world, and who sees in Pride an expansive and welcoming community.
Without question, Pride matters for the individual looking to accept themselves for who they are.
But it also matters at a much larger level, and that’s what is too often forgotten.
For activists, it’s a place to protest lingering inequalities and systemic injustices, both domestic and international. A place to come together in solidarity, to highlight the work that still needs to be done without forgetting to celebrate progress already made.
In a recent speech to the LGBTQ advocacy organization EGALE, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke movingly about the day he issued a formal apology for the government’s historical mistreatment of LGBTQ people. He described how he brought his three children with him to Parliament that day, to watch as he delivered his historic speech from the floor of the House of Commons.
And at a time when trans youth attempt suicide six times more often than the average Ontarian, a vibrant display of love and support like Pride sends a powerful message.
Pride, and all that it represents, is good for our community and that means it is also good for business.
That’s why, in part, after looking all over the world, Google CEO Eric Schmidt chose Toronto as the site for his experimental “smart city” project. “In Toronto, we found a city with unequalled diversity and a remarkable spirit of openness – a beacon of social tolerance,” he explains. “Its recent economic success hasn’t come at the expense of these values, but rather because of them.”
That is exactly the case that Trudeau made to Jeff Bezos when the two met in February. As Bezos decides where Amazon will locate its second headquarters, which will create 50,000 high-paying jobs, we know that the diversity and inclusion that is Toronto and the vibrancy and choice that come with those attributes are critically important. Toronto is, after all, proudly the most diverse city in the world.
When I came out in the 1980s, no political leader would dare be seen anywhere near Pride. In 2017, the prime minister, the premier and the mayor linked arms and marched down Church St. The progress made in a few short decades has been nothing short of remarkable.
So remarkable, in fact, that sometimes it can be easy to forget that Pride is rooted in protest.
And there is self-evidently more to fight for: transgender rights, better HIV/AIDS care for the marginalized, the ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men. I could go on.
This year has been particularly difficult for LGBTQ community. We have been haunted by a serial killer and perhaps by police indifference; an inquiry will seek to sort that out. At the tail end of the parade this year will be silent marchers wearing black, in memory of the pain and trauma endured over the last 12 months.
And, of course, for many of an older generation, that pain and trauma has not only been confined to the last 12 months. Just as quickly as we can move forwards, we can also move backwards. The fight for recognition, the fight for equality, the fight to move from tolerance to acceptance to embrace – it is a fight that will never sleep. Just as rights are granted, they can be just as quickly revoked.
Look no further than south of our border.
At a time when trust in institutions is declining and tribalism is on the rise, a strong sense of cultural identity and cohesion matters more than ever. Some may think participating in Pride is an empty gesture or photo-op. But that’s just not true. It truly is an act of solidarity, love and patriotism.