PEI

Why P.E.I. needs Pride: Opinion

Why do we need Pride? What this kind of comment misses is that homophobia is so ingrained in our everyday lives that we accept it as normal.

This is not about blame, this is about correction, writes Dave Stewart

Last year's Pride march in Charlottetown. (Pride PEI/Facebook)

With the P.E.I. Pride Festival approaching — it runs July 22-28 — I pitched a couple of celebratory and light-minded ideas to my producer: My P.E.I. Pride playlist, LGBTQ movies for Pride Week.

"Why not do a piece about why we still need Pride?" she suggested. 

"Oh," I thought, a little dark cloud forming over my head. "We're going heavy."

The more I thought about it and my reaction to the idea, though, the more a recent comment on a local social media thread resurfaced — the general message being: "Where's my Straight Pride Day?"

And so, I sat down to type.

It's about sharing, not taking over

What this kind of comment misses is that homophobia — like transphobia, racism, xenophobia and misogyny — is so ingrained in our everyday lives that we accept it as normal, and we often don't see it in action even when it's obvious. 

'I need Pride because some people don’t see the need,' says Dave Stewart. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

To acknowledge it is to pose a threat to order, to what some people know, and that can be unsettling. It needn't be, though, with the understanding that it's about sharing, not taking over.

The problem with writing about why we still need Pride is that it rarely makes anyone see more clearly — it's a case of preaching to the choir while agitating the haters. 

In my experience, the best way to facilitate change is one, laws and two, friendships between straight and LGBTQ people.

Gay marriage was just one battle — there's more

Obviously, in the case of the commenter I've referenced, he hasn't experienced homophobia, so he has the luxury of not needing to think about it in any meaningful way. After all, gay people can get married now, so what's the problem?

But marriage was just one small battle, albeit a very visible one, in a much more complex and ongoing engagement. 

'The best way to facilitate change is 1.) laws and 2.) friendships between straight and LGBTQ people,' writes Stewart. (Pride PEI/Facebook)

There are numberless gay people who don't want to get married, who don't believe in the institution — but the option, associated legal rights and relationship equality are what matter.

And the thing is, in a lot of ways things have gotten better, with P.E.I. an outstanding example of that positive change. 

But when a wrong is righted, when strides are gained, it doesn't eliminate all the other issues that are ongoing. It doesn't erase a living past. There's a history here that needs to be dealt with, learned behaviours and scars that are too often dismissed. 

This is not about blame, this is about correction. 

And it's not something you "get over" with the flick of a switch. It takes time. Generations.

How Pride began

Though a number of gay rights organizations existed prior to June 28, 1969, that was the date the Stonewall Riots occurred in New York City's Greenwich Village and the modern-day Pride movement was born. 

Protests continued in the days after the Stonewall Inn riot in New York City, and the gay rights movement was born. (Leonard Fink/CBS News)

Faced with yet another raid of a gay bar at the Stonewall Inn (now designated a national monument) and the arrest of its patrons, drag queens, gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people fought back and began a major advancement for gay rights. 

It shouldn't be lost on us that trans people and people of colour were at the fore of this fight.

Jumping to the present day, skipping past the anecdotes about growing up gay in the late 20th century, why do we still need Pride? 

I can't speak for everyone in the LGBTQ community, but I can tell you why I need Pride (re: that bit above about scars and time). 

Why I need Pride

I need Pride because some people don't see the need.

Because it's taking me a lifetime to feel comfortable in my skin. 

Because LGBTQ youth still kill themselves at an alarming rate. 

The Pride Parade is an opportunity for the LGBTQ community and supporters to celebrate acceptance. (Pride PEI/Facebook)

Because conversion therapy programs still exist. Because parents still assume their kids are straight. 

Because we need to be accepted, not tolerated. Because some people still don't feel safe to come out. 

Because role models are essential.

Because some people stop at same-sex love and get hung up on gay sex — no need to "imagine" it unless you're into it. 

Because gay men can't donate blood unless they've been celibate for a year, despite a blood shortage (test everyone!). Because the rules for gay men becoming organ donors in Canada are bizarre and discriminatory.

Because a colleague at an office where I no longer work once told me he hunts ducks, geese and "fags". Because a supervisor at the same office made "fag" jokes accompanied by limp wrist and lisp. 

Because I shared a cab with a guy who told his girlfriend how much he hates "fags". Because I'm tired of hearing about acquaintances being gay-bashed. 

Because I've had a knife pulled on me. Because I've been punched. Because I was outed. Because I've been blackmailed. Because I've been preached at. 

Because Canada developed something as shameful as the "fruit machine" (Google it) and stuck it with such a degrading name that I'm embarrassed to share it. 

This U.S.-made device known as a 'fruit machine' was created to detect homosexuality. It's in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa — a Canadian version was more elaborate but was probably destroyed. (CBC)

Because around the world we're thrown off rooftops, stoned, beaten to death, captured and tortured.

Most of all, I need Pride because justifying my existence on a daily basis is exhausting. 

There's nothing to 'agree' with

There are people out there who say they don't "agree" with a gay lifestyle — but it's not a lifestyle. It's a facet of our being. And there's nothing to agree with. We exist. Do you disagree with oak trees?

Two guys kissing ... is just two guys kissing, says Stewart. (Supplied)

The time for conversations about LGBTQ rights is past, because it rarely takes us anywhere (go ahead and make fun of our community's acronym; it's unwieldly but welcoming). 

We are everywhere, adding to the world all around you.

And a part of that world will be celebrating Pride in P.E.I. from July 22-28. Because we need it. 

Feel free to join us. Everyone in a celebratory mood is welcome.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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About the Author

Dave Stewart is an "ad man" at Graphcom in Charlottetown; a DIY filmmaker and musician; and contributor to The Buzz, Rue Morgue, Art Decades, Studio CX and online at RetroSlashers.net. He edited and contributed to the P.E.I. horror anthology Fear from a Small Place, and 26 two-minute episodes of his cartoon for The Buzz, And Yet I Blame Hollywood, were adapted on the CBC-TV show ZeD.