Last weekend, a Scottish friend and I drove from New York City to Toronto – to see the city, yes, as she’d never been to Ontario before, but also, once I spoke to some friends, to attend the city’s Pride parade.
I’ve attended a couple of New York city’s Pride parades, and my friend from Scotland has been involved for years in helping out at Edinburgh Pride – so seeing a third country’s Pride event made for an interesting study in cultural differences.
Two years ago, after marriage equality was passed in New York State, I went to the Pride parade and was overwhelmed by the obvious joy that crackled on the streets. Inspired, I went home and wrote Millennial Ex. Given how lively the streets outside The Stonewall Inn were after the SCOTUS decisions on Prop 8 and DOMA, I was interested to see how the landscape might differ in Toronto.
Granted, I’ve only seen parts of the NYC pride parade, but like much of what goes on in this city, it’s about spectacle. (I’m not saying this is a bad thing, necessarily, just noting that it’s present.) I found this to be less the case in Toronto – while a few of the floats had pumping music, dancers and costumed drag queens, the overwhelming majority of the marching groups were exactly that: people supporting Pride and the spirit of joy and solidarity that makes it an accessible and inclusive celebration.
Relating the names of organizations who’d marched by to a friend after the fact, I listed police precints, local radio stations, fire departments, educators, political parties (including the Premiere of Ontario and her supporters), PFLAG groups (that, along with an explanation of what PFLAG is…) and more. When I had finished, my friend commented, “it sounds so mainstream!”
She was right. It wasn’t something I gave much thought to until after our discussion, but I’ve been thinking about the “fringe-ness” of some of the LGBTQ events I’ve been to in the past and thinking about how the Toronto Pride Parade felt more like the parades I grew up watching for any other holiday – sure, there was one group of naked men advocating foreskin pride (separated, I noticed with a sense of irony, from a Jewish faith-based group), but other than that the event could have been a longer version of any municipal holiday parades I’ve seen over the years; compared to the overwhelming nature of the NYC floats or the simplicity of the Edinburgh parade (as related by my another friend, “All the gay people pretty much get in a group and walk down the street together!”).
I don’t know what conclusions to draw from the atmosphere at Toronto Pride and how it compares to Pride in other cities, particularly American ones. I know that Canada has had marriage equality since 2005, thanks to Wikipedia, but I never went to a Pride parade there before this was the case, so I have nothing to compare it to.
That said, now that DOMA isn’t going to exclude same sex couples from the federal benefits side of marriage, and more states are treating same-sex couples equally under the law, I wonder how much longer people like my friend will be acting under the misapprehension that LGBTQ and allies are a societal fringe, rather than part of everyday, mainstream life.
What does it mean for a movement to move from the fringe to the center in the public eye? In some ways, it reminds me of Vaginagate and being contacted by women who wanted to take part but weren’t in environments that would allow them to stand up and speak – for example, one woman who got in touch to say she loved the idea but would probably be institutionalized if she stood up in public in her town to take part. It’s easy for me, as a straight woman, to sit in New York City, one of the most liberal cities in America, and opine on the state of the gay rights movement – but how long will it take for changes in the legal system to trickle through to social behaviors in other parts of the country?
Not long, I hope. Toronto Pride was inclusive, celebratory and spread across multiple strata of Canadian society, and to this outsider, it demonstrated that a support network exists for LGBTQ individuals in Canada, in almost any social or work-related organization they might be a part of.
The only downside to attending was that I missed the post-DOMA-decision festivities here in NYC. Given that people were popping bottles of champagne in the street outside The Stonewall Inn the Wednesday before the parade, I’m sure the Pride parade here was an intense, intense celebration.
Happy Pride, everyone.