Arts·Queeries

Take a trip to Pride celebrations around the world in this wonderful new docu-series

From Calgary to Hong Kong, filmmakers Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa want to show you the queer world.

From Calgary to Hong Kong, filmmakers Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa want to show you the queer world

Pride goes to Calgary. (OUTtv)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.

Last month marked a steady stream of epic Pride celebrations around the world, from New York City's World Pride festivities commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots to a little project we unleashed here at CBC Arts that paid tribute to 69 Canadian art "Superqueeroes." But why stop there? Pride can and should be a year-long celebration, and many actual Pride festivals don't take place in June. In Calgary, Pride takes place over Labour Day weekend, for example. And that festival is one of six subjects of a new docu-series that is serving pride all year round: Pride — The LGBTQ+ History Series.

Currently in the midst of its first season (and already renewed for two more), the Canadian series follows filmmakers Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa as they travel to different Pride celebrations around the globe to learn about LGBTQ+ history and how it can inform our communities going forward. In addition to Calgary, the first season heads to New York City, Salt Lake City, Palm Springs, Hong Kong and Berlin. It's available to stream in its entirety on OUTtv now, and CBC Arts chatted with Woods and Yerxa about the series and why it's so important.

What was the genesis of Pride and how did that evolve into the series?

Mark Kenneth Woods: The idea was influenced by a number experiences but, for me, the idea for the series began a few years back when Black Lives Matters stopped the Toronto Pride parade to protest a variety of issues. I just happened to be at that intersection filming and, after hearing the various reactions from the crowd and subsequent dialogue afterwards, it became very clear to me that a lot of folks in our community didn't know much about LGBTQ2+ history or, in many cases, even about Pride itself. And who could blame any of us? Nobody taught me about Stonewall growing up. I never learned about all the many amazing LGBTQ2+ heroes whose shoulders we stand on. They weren't in the history books. Their stories were demonized, altered, censored or, in most cases, erased altogether. When I wanted to learn about them, I had to seek it out and it wasn't — and still isn't — always easy to find. As Stonewall was nearing its 50th anniversary, I thought it would be the perfect time to release a history series that really celebrates LGBTQ2+ heroes of the past and ties that past to our communities' issues today so that we might all better understand each other.

Michael Yerxa: We are really passionate LGBTQ2+ artists and it influences most of the work we do as filmmakers and television producers. In working on our previous projects, we kept discovering that there is such a rich history of LGBTQ2+ identities and stories, but this history and these stories are often relatively unknown. There have also always been such active efforts in history to censor, erase and invalidate queer narratives or to use coded language when it comes to anything LGBTQ2+. We really wanted to learn about our collective history — because it certainly isn't taught in schools — and to enlighten people who might be unaware of important moments and individuals in our history. We feel that you can't know where you are going if you don't know where you came from, and that was the major motivating factor in wanting to produce this series.

Mark Kenneth Woods during Salt Lake City Pride, (OUTtv)

This might sound obvious, but did you feel it was important to make?

MY: We just felt it was so important to know our collective LGBTQ2+ history and to know where we came from. As queer people, we just don't have traditional avenues to learn about our history. We are forever grateful to those who came before us and who paved the way, and it's so important to highlight their incredible contributions.

MKW: I wanted to celebrate LGBTQ2+ history and heroes of course, but I had also started to feel very alienated from my community. I think there is a huge disconnect between generations in the LGBTQ2+ community. Some younger people really have no idea how much was sacrificed so that we could have the discussions we are having now. That is, in itself, a privilege. And some of our elders don't understand more recent change, their own personal privileges and how the fight isn't over yet for so many. I think we all could do a much better job of listening to one another and I thought a good step forward in achieving that might be to explore the past so that it could better inform our community going forward. Exploring our history and meeting the people we've met have certainly helped me personally to better understand other members of our diverse community, and I hope the audience can feel that as well. I think right now our community has a tendency to cannibalize each other so quickly so it's important for me to create work that attempts to bridge that gap.

In the Calgary episode specifically, what surprised you the most about what you learned?

MKW: For me, I am always blown away discussing any LGBTQ2+ history that dates back from centuries, or millennia as the case may be. We have a tendency to think of LGBTQ2+ people in terms of Stonewall and the modern LGBTQ2+ movement. Of course, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two-spirit and their associated identities in our ever expanding acronym are fairly modern terms, but that doesn't mean there wasn't same-sex activity, love, relationships or gender variety before these terms. Listening to Evans Yellow Old Woman talk about how the Blackfoot Nation (Siksikaitsitapi) recognized six genders long before colonialism began is kind of mind-blowing to me. It's amazing to learn how identities that might be considered trans, gender fluid or non-binary today were accepted hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. It's just one example of how gender fluidity, same-sex activity or relationships have always existed in some form and I think there's a lot of power in knowing that we were always there.

Michael Yerxa visits Pride in Berlin. (OUTtv)

What do you want folks to take from the series?

MY: We hope that people understand what a tremendously rich history we have as queer people and how the active efforts to erase our identities dulled so many brilliant moments. We hope to give some of those brilliant moments a spotlight within the series.

What could we expect from a second season?

MKW: The response so far has been really heartwarming and we've been renewed through 2021, so I'm super excited to learn more LGBTQ2+ history from around the world. We are particularly fond of exploring less obvious destinations and/or events so that we can learn about and help give voice to the lesser-known stories. I just returned from filming at The Sparkle Weekend in Manchester, U.K. — the world's largest free-to-attend celebration of gender diversity — and Michael just shot an episode in Halifax, our Canadian episode for Season 2.

Pride goes to Berlin. (OUTtv)

What do you think — given your journeys to make this — is the most pressing issue (or one of) facing LGBTQ folks today?

MY: There are definitely many issues facing LGBTQ2+ folks today, especially among those most marginalized in our community. I think the biggest takeaway for us of the entire process has been to do our best to listen to the most marginalized in our community and to be effective allies to those individuals. These are the people who need to be listened to and are owed a seat at the table. It's our job as artists and human beings to do that. We also have to be aware that history often repeats itself and that we have the ability to learn from our past mistakes. That has been the big takeaway for me.

Watch Pride on OUTtv.ca now.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and playing integral roles in the launch and production of series The Filmmakers and Canada's a Drag. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also a stand-up comedian, the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.