Recent gay ally Michael Coren goes to his first Pride

"It was hot and crowded and loud, but vital and splendid and peaceful. The only person who was rude to me all day was an eccentric fellow at the LGBTory stall."

It was my first Pride. As a straight, white, middle-aged married man with four children – who until three years ago had been considered an opponent of the gay community – I had never attended before.

But apparently only two things happened at Pride this weekend: Justin Trudeau marched and Black Lives Matter stopped marching.

That must be true, because I watched it on television, read about it in the newspapers and saw it screamed hysterically on social media.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of people – no idea whether it was that iconic but largely immaterial 1 million – gathered to show acceptance and affection. “Whatever one’s sexuality, you are welcome and loved” was the message.

Yes, I know there are people who cringe at such thoughts, but, then, anger has always been more titillating and newsworthy than contentment. There are still the angry few. 

They should get together with the right-wing Christians who still write to me every day with their abuse and threats. As someone who is a relatively recent friend and ally, I have absolutely no right to ownership of any of this, but first the prime ministerial presence.

Trudeau? He’s drenched if he is and damned if he isn’t. There are people arguing that his participation distracted from the whole thing, but that’s a thin complaint. He’s been before, of course, but never as prime minister in fact, no PM has marched before. So here were the prime minister, the premier and the mayor – and myriad other leading politicians and public servants – demonstrating their support. That’s not just cosmetic – that’s a mighty affirmation.

As for Black Lives Matter, Pride Toronto’s 2016 honoured group, stopping the main parade, there’s been an absurdly emotional reaction to what was a hold-up of less than half an hour during which most people were unaware that anything had happened. The group held up the march “to challenge and address anti-Blackness within Pride Toronto.” Protesters pledged to stay at the intersection until a face-to-face meeting and official pledge of acceptance of their nine demands. It was all negotiated fairly smoothly.

Sometimes it takes a shock tactic to make people listen.

Obviously there’s an inherent duality in Pride, a political or social schizophrenia. 

The gay community has won most, though not all, of its battles, and with triumph always comes confusion. 

What began as a scream for justice following the bathhouse raids of the 1980s is now a heavily corporate event and celebration. And as so many LGBTQ people have become comfortable and establishment, the event has increasingly reflected their status. It’s a group divided – just like every other group.

What characterized the whole thing for me, however, was the sense of grace that hovered over it all. 

The church service in the morning was powerful and joyous. As a Christian, I know something of where so many of the people there had come from. 

One man introduced himself and explained that he had been a Roman Catholic priest. The agony of that double life must have been excruciating. Others had been told by their churches and ministers that they were freaks and sinners. Not here, not now. I was close to weeping.

Brent Hawkes preached of everybody having a “chair at the table” and delicately wove in the very real concerns of Black Lives Matters hours before the sit-in took place. 

From before the church service – I arrived absurdly early at 9:15 am – until the end of the day, there was simply a compelling absence of intolerance. 

Of course, countless straight people were there just to have fun. The necessary radicalism of earlier days has generally disappeared, but we can interpret that in numerous ways. I felt a poignant, visceral sense of solidarity and support. 

While the media tend to dwell on those with great bodies or no clothes, what is most noticeable is how many shapes and sizes of people there are and how little attention anyone pays to those differences. 

For an event whose sexiness has long been characterized as over the top, I found the absence of it quite liberating – the total opposite of a straight club on a Saturday night, for example. Being nice and kind can be a real turn-on!

In fact, the only person who was rude to me all day was an eccentric fellow at the LGBTory stall. He was upset that provincial PC leader Patrick Brown hadn’t been invited to that morning’s church service. 

I tried to explain that Brown had been courting some pretty nasty and certainly homophobic anti-sex-education votes a mere year ago during his leadership bid and that if he wanted acceptance at Pride he might want to apologize. 

This seemed to anger my new friend, who accused me of writing anti-gay columns back in 1975. I explained that I was in high school in England at the time. He moved the date to the early 80s. I said I only came to Canada in 87. But this only made matters worse, so I said my goodbyes.

Not, however, my goodbyes to Pride. It was hot and crowded and loud, but vital and splendid and peaceful. Oh, there were some fundamentalist Christian types condemning people to hell at the end of the parade. Nobody said much. Actually, nobody really took notice of them. Poor lambs.    

Author, columnist and broadcaster Michael Coren’s new book is Epiphany: A Christian’s Change Of Heart & Mind Over Same-Sex Marriage (Signal/Random House). | @nowtoronto

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