A city councillor shares what Pride means to her, and the underlying principle that makes the party meaningful.
Kristyn Wong-Tam is the city councillor for Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale, which includes Toronto’s Gay Village. Here’s what Pride means to her.
“What a difference an election can make.”
I proclaimed these words at the annual Pride Week rainbow flag raising kick-off on Monday from the roof of City Hall. After working four years without any success to bring former Mayor Rob Ford to understand and accept Toronto’s LGBTQ and Two-Spirited community, it is with relief and jubilation that I now get to work with a new mayor, John Tory, who gleefully dons rainbow-themed ties and socks.
Of course, Pride for me—and I’m sure for you, too—is about more than the attitude and actions of just one person, be they a neo-conservative or progressive conservative mayor. It never is. Pride is transpersonal.
In October, Torontonians will have the opportunity to personally view one of the most important historical documents in the English-speaking world: the 800-year-old Magna Carta and its companion document The Charter of the Forest. These documents, which will be on display this fall at the Fort York Visitor Centre, set forth an influential legal framework. Over epochs, the documents have shaped other important frameworks that guide our governance, including the British North America Act (1867), the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).
LGBTQ and Two-Spirited human rights have slowly advanced and regressed over centuries. In much of the western world, and in Canada especially, the last half-century has seen remarkable progress. Sexual minorities have emerged from shame and hiding to become the bohemian index of success and a market segment fought over for its “pink” dollars. If city life is too much, the modern queer professional can escape on the comfort of a gay or lesbian cruise ship vacation. Want some live entertainment with that? You can cruise with the queens on the RuPaul Drag Stars at Sea departing from Miami. So do we need the Pride parade? Do we need the gay Village?
These questions are asked with all seriousness by some, and with cynicism by others, on online forums, Twitter conversations, at cocktail parties and at public meetings. With a large portion of the community as much a part of the ‘in’ crowd as the archetypal Bay Street executive, many are happy to declare mission accomplished. Many felt the same way about the struggle for racial equality in the United States with the election of Barak Obama.
We have over recent months been reminded, in the most serious way, of the struggle that black Americans still face. Black Lives Matter has been given new salience with each member of the community gunned down in their streets, homes, and churches. To those who scratch the surface, these recent deaths are tragic additions to the systemic inequality still facing so many in their community and exceptional as much in the public awareness raised as in their horror. Those working every day on Idle No More, No One Is Illegal, gender-based violence and anti-rape campaigns, the workers’ rights movement, and elsewhere also live and work with communities who experience needless and under-reported tragedy on a regular basis. While many in the LGBTQ2S community can be proud of living above the muck, it is still a reality for others.
In ignorance, or out of malice, there are still those who spread suffering as far as their reach. We still need a PrideHouse for our community to congregate around sports. While popular queer culture may have a record level of protection, we need only look as far as LGBTQ2S youth homelessness—a product of homophobia within families—or the fact that 45 per cent of Ontario’s trans population has attempted suicide to know that real success is not silencing bigotry when it will only re-emerge out of sight or off-camera in Canada.
Real success, beyond the original intention of the Magna Carta, is when we take personal liberty and equality seriously. It is when a missing or murdered Aboriginal woman is treated with as much urgency and alarm as anyone else, when one’s skin colour does not get one pulled over on the road or “carded” by the police, and when we are collectively willing to accept that there truly are serious issues facing many outside the public eye.
Pride still means so much to me because its principle is not achieved through the community’s sublimation into consumer culture or even the ability of a great many to live comfortable and open lives. It may be an amazing party, but today’s Pride remains an announcement to the world that what moves the LGBTQ2S community in Toronto, Canada and beyond is something much larger and more meaningful: the principle of equality.