Toronto

Pride, gay community has 'many issues' of inclusiveness, says CBC reporter

Pride and the gay community can often make some of its own members — notably women, minorities and people that don't conform to the idea 'Pride body' — feel like outsiders, says CBC's Kevin Sweet, who is a member of the community.

Misogyny, racism and body image issues among members are persistent, says Kevin Sweet

Gay men 'regress' back to high school mentalities because they spend parts of their formative years in the closet, says CBC arts reporter and member of the LGBT community Kevin Sweet. (CBC)

Thousands of people, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will descend upon Toronto in June and July to celebrate the city's annual Pride events, putting a spotlight on issues that affect the LGBT community, diversity on the gender and sexuality spectrum and the inclusion of the community in the city's social fabric.

"I've heard people refer to Pride as a gay Christmas," says CBC arts reporter Kevin Sweet, who is gay, noting the event's penchant for celebration and festivity.

But Sweet says both Pride and the gay community still have some work to do to become fully inclusive, especially towards their own members.

"Pride also has a lot of land mines," he tells CBC's Metro Morning. "I think there are many issues facing our community.

Sweet points to misogyny and racism, which can disenfranchise many. 

"I think if you went in to the lesbian community and asked them if they felt included by the gay community, you'd get an interesting answer," says Sweet. "If you approached ... minorities like Asians, I think you would get some people expressing feelings of segregation."

'There's a lot of false idols walking around'

One issue Sweet identifies is body image, especially the high standards that arise during Pride.

"There's a certain standard that is put forward during Pride, where there's these impeccable bodies and guys that are shirtless," he says. "There's something in the community that's known as 'Pride body.'" 

"We say it jokingly to each other at the gym, but I do think that a lot of people get [their bodies] ready for Pride," he adds, noting its similar to people wanting to get beach-body ready when summer rolls around.

Revellers atop a float take part in Pride Parade celebrations in June 2004 in Toronto. Sweet says many in the gay community use steroids to achieve the ideal 'Pride body.' (Donald Weber/Getty Images)

But the difference for Sweet is that the ideal Pride body can be, quite literally, unnatural, with rampant steroid use within the community.

"There's a lot of false idols walking around," he says, adding he has been offered steroids before and that it is readily accessible in the community. "You can spot it right away."

"I just find it unfortunate that sometimes that is upheld as the kind of ideal."

Pride 'often very high school-ish'

Sweet says some of these issues stem from a sort of delayed adulthood among the gay community brought on by many being in the closet for so long.

"Pride to me is often very high school-ish because I feel as gay men we make up for a lot of time... because we spend really important parts of our life, our teenage years and our young adulthood, in the closet and not experiencing fully," says Sweet.

"I think we regress to that feeling of ... high school and... all the drama that brings with it and the clique-iness," he adds.

Sweet says the inability to live up to these standards can lead many to alcohol and drugs.

"There's a part of me that thinks, 'Yeah, I could put my self-esteem issues and the way I feel about my body on the back burner,'" he says.

"It would be easier for me to do drugs and be completely out of my mind for three, four days and not have to deal with it. That's another reason why I find Pride kind of difficult."

Pride Toronto executive director Mathieu Chantelois says Pride is making strides to make the event more inclusive. (Marc Lemyre/Radio-Canada)

Pride executive director Mathieu Chantelois agrees more can be done.

"Pride could always be more inclusive," he tells CBC's Metro Morning. "Some people... freak out because they arrive in a mass of people and don't feel a sense of belonging and that for me is a problem."

Chantelois says Pride is making strides to close the inclusion gap, including its Mean Girls-referencing 'You can sit with us' campaign; a photography project that showcases members of the community from various backgrounds, from "drag queens that are 72 years old" to "burlesque dancers that are 300 pounds," and for the first time in the event's history, welcoming centres to help people acclimatize to Pride.

"The only way to make this organization really inclusive is to listen to the voices that don't feel included," says Chantelois.

For Sweet, he hopes Pride could be more of an introspective event.

"What I hope people think about is why they go to Pride or why they don't," he says. "The conversations I have and how I live and how I evolve as a gay man and the questions that I ask, that's my Pride to me."

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