The year is 1987, and i’m sitting on the steps outside the old Second Cup coffee shop at Church and Wellesley with a gaggle of new queer friends. Earlier that day I’d marched in my first Pride parade. Along with gay professionals, pinko unionists, drag queens, leather daddies, muscle Marys, twinks, grizzly bears, handsome butches, high femmes, trans folk and just about everyone else who stands on the outside looking in.
As I lapped up the boisterous laughter of playful, confident teenagers, I thought, “How lucky am I to have found this community.”
Just months before, I’d been walking the hallways of my high school in an all-encompassing depression. I was living a life that wasn’t true and struggling with my sexual identity.
I should have been a happy teenager. I was a popular student athlete on the basketball, badminton, tennis and volleyball teams. My grades were excellent, and I was valedictorian material. The icing on the cake was that the cutest boy on the tennis team had just asked me out. If things were going so well, why was I so depressed?
When you’re a teen, hormones, peer pressure, awkwardness, cliques, acne, braces, surging libido and everything else set the stage for turbulent times. Toss into the mix coming out of the closet and you have all the makings of an unpredictable, white-knuckle roller coaster ride, and the seat belt is missing.
Nowadays, when peer support clubs like gay-straight alliances are banned from high schools, it generally means the queer kids there are going to be exposed to more homophobic bullying and violence. After all, when those who run the schools don’t stand up for queer kids, they’re endorsing homophobia. So, too, with others in leadership positions.
I’m still very grateful to the thousands of volunteers and organizers who’ve given selflessly through the decades to ensure that Pride remains relevant and visible. Pride belongs to each and every single one of us, and it’s our responsibility to challenge and celebrate the event. We never want to lose it.
As a new wave of social conservatism takes hold of our country and city, queers and other minorities cannot let our guard down.
When the mayor of Canada’s largest urban centre is the only member of council to vote against AIDS funding, dithers over signing the City Proclamation to declare Pride Week, can’t be bothered to attend any of the multitude of events planned over the 10 days of Pride celebrations to deliver the utterances expected of a chief magistrate, disappears when he hears an announcement inviting council members to the rainbow-flag-raising ceremony for Pride Week, and then disappears again to his Huntsville cottage instead of attending the Pride parade, we can assume that Rob Ford doesn’t care much about the LGBTQ community.
Hopefully, his thinking will mature as he grows into his role as mayor of the most diverse city in the world. Until then, I will benevolently remind him that he is the mayor of all Torontonians and not just those in his namesake “nation.”
Sitting on the steps of the Second Cup that memorable night, I never imagined that the full body-and-mind experience of political liberation fostered by my participation in the Pride parade would lead me to become the happy, independent and out queer woman I am today.
To all the dykes, fags, trannies and drag queens who helped forge the path to legislative equality and whom I call my chosen family – thank you for being who you are. I love you and always will.
Now let’s pick out our outfits and make a new banner to celebrate Pride 2011.
Kristyn Wong-Tam is city councillor for Toronto Centre Rosedale. firstname.lastname@example.org