R. Jeanette Martin
Sometimes it takes a major event to transform a city.
In the midst of Toronto Pride festivities, it's exciting to keep in mind that we've been awarded the honour of hosting the fourth annual World Pride celebration in 2014.
Whereas the Olympics and Pan Am Games require new physical buildings and infrastructure, our obligation to World Pride is less, shall we say, concrete.
Rather, it requires us to focus on building an inclusive and welcoming city for the globe's queer community to visit. We have a good base, but as with any major happening, we have a lot of preparation to do to properly roll out the red carpet. The challenge is to make T.O. even more inclusive.
In many ways Toronto is a diversity leader. We can all point to queer movers and shakers in many parts of the culture, including the media, the arts and the civic organizations that help make this a fantastic place to live. In government, we're blessed with gay provincial cabinet ministers and city councillors as well as members of federal Parliament.
It's estimated that between 7 and 10 per cent of the population is queer, meaning the LGBT community is larger than many of T.O.'s ethno-cultural groupings. Of course, many gays also identify with particular ethnic groups; and sexual orientation is only part of a person's sense of self. Still, the high number, approximately 300,000, suggests that LGBT Toronto is a major cultural force.
Diversity, though, is still a work in progress. We have a long way to go before all queer people can feel perfectly safe and at home wherever their lives take them.
Which brings us back to Pride Week. The fest is important not just because it brings $130 million into our economy, is one of the largest cultural festivals in North America and a great party, but because we haven't yet fully integrated LGBT people into the city.
While our queer community wins respect and legal rights, it remains vulnerable to prejudice, harassment and at times outright physical violence. Many young queers still feel they're not accepted for who they are, and endure threats in places that should be safe, like their homes, places of worship or schools. The transgender and transsexual communities are at even greater risk.
The fact that we needed a law passed in the Ontario legislature to ensure that anti-homophobia clubs in schools can flourish makes the point. Imagine if a law hadn't been required to encourage a positive school environment and prevent homophobic bullying. Likewise, the province's Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week, the third week of November, serves as a yearly reminder of what still needs to be accomplished.
Sadly, these laws are needed despite the fact that things are changing rapidly and young people are more tolerant. Many prominent Torontonians, like CBC's Rick Mercer, have signed on to the North America-wide It Gets Better campaign, which offers hope to queer students facing harassment. There's no question that one of the chief functions of Pride remains the creation of a massive safe space.
The positive media attention and moves by the province are in stark contrast to the mayor's attitude. While he did attend one of the rainbow-flag-raisings at City Hall this year, his past comments and continued rebuffs of the LGBT community send the wrong message. So does the fact that council actually debated whether to nix Pride funding over the spurious Queers Against Israeli Apartheid threat, an entirely disproportional response.
It's not just municipal shenanigans that menace Pride funding. In 2009, Calgary MP Diane Ablonczy was removed as tourism minister just after she awarded $400,000 to Pride Toronto. And in 2010, the federal government announced it was dropping Pride from its tourism stimulus package. The fact that funding and promoting the event are even under discussion when it's so well established, shows how much Pride is truly needed to highlight ongoing integration challenges.
Pride Week is in full swing. Toronto's alive with positive energy, our hotels filled with visitors, parties spilling over everywhere. Amidst all the fun, we have to remind ourselves how much we still have to do.