Saskatchewan·Opinion

Understanding the hurt after Regina Pride selects Jon Ryan as parade grand marshal

On May 24, Queen City Pride announced that the grand marshals of this year’s Pride parade will be AIDS Programs South Saskatchewan (APSS) and NFL Seahawk’s punter Jon Ryan.

Marshal is 'a symbolic leader of the LGBT movement'

Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan will serve as one of two grand marshals during his hometown Regina's Pride Parade on June 16. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

On May 24, Queen City Pride announced that the grand marshals of this year's Pride parade will be AIDS Programs South Saskatchewan (APSS) and Jon Ryan, a punter for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

The grand marshal leads the Pride parade and acts as a symbolic leader of the LGBT movement. Ryan was born in Regina, but does not identify as LGBT. 

Ryan could be using his voice and platform to continuously educate the public around LGBT issues and amplify the voices of LGBT activists, organizations, and community members.- Cat Haines

Many people have voiced frustration, anger and hurt at this decision. To understand these reactions, we need to understand both the historical context of Pride and the current realities in our province.

A history of action

The first organized Pride parades happened in the U.S. in 1970 to commemorate Christopher Street Liberation Day — a riot started in response to the brutal treatment and exploitation of LGBT people by the police. The riots, and the organizing that followed, marked the beginning of the modern LGBT movement and Pride as we know it today.

Pride parades like Regina's have been critical to the advancement of LGBT rights, says Haines. (Arielle Zerr/CBC News)

In the decades that followed, Pride became an important annual event and played a critical role in bringing awareness and action to the decriminalization of LGBT in the 70s, the AIDS crisis of the 80s, the repealing of the American military's policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the 90s and marriage and family equality in the early 2000s.

To many, marriage equality was seen as one of the last and most important steps in the movement for LGBT liberation and equality. After all, love is love, and marriage equality enshrined that value into law. But there is still much work to be done. 

Parallel struggles

Modern Saskatchewan is facing a suicide epidemic among transgender youth. A 2016 report indicates that 50 per cent of high school aged transgender youth (14-18) had attempted suicide that year and 74 per cent of older youth (19-25) had seriously considered suicide at least once during their lifetime.

Saskatchewan is also facing soaring rates of HIV/AIDS. In 2016, 79 per cent of new cases were self-identified Indigenous people. Indigenous youth face suicide rates five to six times more than non-Indigenous youth in this country.

Meanwhile, families are being torn apart by the Ministry of Social Services, with reports suggesting the number of children in care exceeds the number of children in residential schools.

Robin Pitawanakwat, member of the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism and Colonialism No More notes that "community members are tired of the situation that is happening within the justice system, within social services, within all of these systems meant to dictate how Indigenous people live their lives."

The LGBT movement has a long history of struggle against HIV/AIDS, youth suicide epidemics, unequal employment, inadequate housing, inaccessible healthcare and a lack of family rights, basic dignity and respect. These struggles have always run parallel with our Indigenous communities.

Marshal should display 'active and continuous work'

Selecting APSS as a grand marshal for the Pride parade is significant not only because it honours past and present work being done to end an epidemic, but also because it acknowledges the intersectional work that still needs to be done in our province and the importance of working with, and including, Indigenous issues, voices and communities when working on issues related to justice and equality.

As a veteran NFL player, Ryan could be using his voice and platform to continuously educate the public around LGBT issues, and amplify the voices of LGBT activists, organizations, and community members. While Ryan has been known (on two prominent occasions) to speak out against homophobic hate in the NFL, this seems to be the extent of his public work as an ally, which is most well known for the following Twitter conversation:

Jon Ryan attracted media attention when he called out a homophobic comment on Insagram. (Cat Haines)

After this exchange, and because of the ensuing tweets supporting the homophobic fan, Ryan deleted his social media accounts. "It's nice to be off of there right now. … I was just angry. I just didn't want to be a part of that anymore."

The grand marshal of Pride is meant to honour a person or organization that has made significant contributions to the struggle for the rights, equality, and needs of LGBT people through active and continuous work to address critical issues within LGBT communities. This is not Jon Ryan.

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cat Haines is trans woman, lesbian, and activist. Her work focuses on the needs of queer and trans youth, and creating more accessible trans affirming healthcare in Saskatchewan. Contact her: cat.c.haines@gmail.com

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