Celebration or Protest?
June marks the beginning of another season of Gay Pride celebrations in major Western cities. On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Riots in New York City occurred, marking the moment when gays and lesbians stood up against persecution, thus the usual choice of a date in late-June to commemorate the event. But over the years, as Pride events have become more mainstream and commercial and akin to a circuit party, the date choice can range from June to September in different cities, as in Sin City North, for instance, where it now happens in mid-August.
The fact we use the word “celebration” today is telling of the shift that has happened over the years with regard to this commemorative event. Thus, I’m glad that former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray reminds us that the event, not that long ago, used to be a protest. It’s hard to imagine that a mere 20 years ago, it was imperative for some to be secretive about their sexual orientation for fear of losing their job. Thus, some would avoid the event at all cost in order not to be associated with it in any way.
Indeed, much has changed for the better HERE since I was in my 20s, so the term “celebration” may not be totally out of order. What’s more, I now live in perhaps the most tolerant, if not downright accepting, city in North America with regard to being gay. As well, for my employer and my colleagues at work, my being gay is a non-issue. I never fear of losing my job or my apartment over it, just as I don’t for loving coffee too much or having blue eyes. But it never escapes me that our cities and my country are still oases. Too easily we forget there are places on this planet where being gay is an offense — sometimes criminal, and in extreme cases, sometimes punishable by death.
Even among ourselves, though, we don’t speak with a common voice, and thus don’t form a cohesive community. To be blunt, the only thing I have in common with the vast majority of the guys who hang out in the Village is that we prefer to kiss guys, and even there, there’s a wide array of preferences. (Some don’t like kissing!) So, when it comes to Pride, there are many who can’t stand seeing scantily clad people or adherents to whatever fetish parading down the street, as they not only can’t identify with them but also, in some cases, take offense. “That is not me,” they say, and they resent that others might think they’re anything like them. That’s because, in reality, they aren’t, and it’s way too facile for anyone to accuse them of self-hatred or inward homophobia. For the life of me, I can’t comprehend how a gay guy can be on the socially conservative side of the political spectrum and I would definitely say loud and clear that “he’s not me.” That doesn’t make me self-loathing. He might be, but even that is a cheap shot.
The reason I wish Pride today had more of a protest element is that we don’t have to stray too far from our oasis to find deep resentment and hatred for the gains that have been made in the last 20 years. I don’t know if and how that can be changed. In Canada, where the legal front has been reasonably taken care of, there’s one thing left to protest: ignorance. But elsewhere, there’s that and much, much more. Thus, isn’t it selfish of us to be resting on our laurels and setting aside the notion of protest?