I don't normally celebrate Pride—but having a drink with a new friend helped me understand it.
My editors at Torontoist have asked me to write a Pride-themed beer column this week. I’m not unfamiliar with the subject, being a rather open lesbian who has written somewhat broadly about LGBTQ representation in the craft beer scene, but the subject felt tiring this time around. While I’m consistently vocal about such issues, there was something about writing a piece like this during Pride that didn’t sit right with me. It felt forced. For the record, I don’t often celebrate Pride during the designated time; the only sense of occasion I get is when having the odd drink celebrating my comrades in the LGBTQ community. I then go on with my day, being who I am and nothing less.
But it was that sense of occasion, that desire to raise a glass to those who fought and died for me to be at my comfortable state that led me to enter the Old Nick on Tuesday evening.
For those not in the know, the Old Nick is a pub on Broadview and Danforth that has been around for yonks. It is proudly and unabashedly female-owned and queer friendly. The food is fantastic and hearty, the beer selection is accessible and easy-drinking, the atmosphere is as low-key and comfortable as they come, and it’s one of the few places where you will truly see all walks of life there for a pint. Young, old, gay, lesbian, bi, asexual, aromantic, trans, straight, cis—all are welcome at the Old Nick and all, for the time I’ve been going there, seem to have a good time.
Sitting beside me at the bar was a 69-year-old man named Tim. Tim is the oldest member of his gay men’s softball team and did his bit to implement a lesbian and Two-Spirited softball team back in the ’90s, which both received some, for the times being what they were, very unsurprising pushback. He’s spent nearly 40 years working in education and lives and breathes art (though he’s pretty modest about his knowledge). We started talking when he asked me for a beer suggestion, as he overheard that I was a beer writer. I promptly suggested what I was drinking, which was Side Launch Mountain Lager. He tried it, loved it much more than what he was previously drinking, and then we talked—about his life, about where I’m at in mine, and about our love of the bar we were both at.
Then we hit on the subject of Pride. Now, Tim had the privilege of experiencing the event in its early days and didn’t go out to it as much anymore, but because of “what recently happened,” he felt a sense of importance to attend this year’s festivities.
“What recently happened” was, of course, the Orlando shooting, where Omar Mateen thought it would be a good idea to go into the popular Pulse nightclub with a Sig Sauer MCX .223-caliber rifle and a Glock 17 9mm semi-automatic and kill as many of the gay Latinx patrons enjoying themselves in the late hours as he could. He killed 49 and injured 53. Since then, it’s been the typical “who to blame” cycle of the news that doesn’t erase the fact that queer folks died because someone full of hate thought it was the best thing he could do.
During Tim’s moment of explanation, we both stumbled through our words, feeling an overwhelming sadness over the events that transpired that terrible night in the way only folks who have heard about their own kind dying do. It’s an unspoken acknowledgement that even in 2016, as far as we’ve come, someone can still kill us for no other reason than being ourselves, and that there will be plenty of people to mock our deaths before assigning their superficial moral “side” of choice a point on the scoresheet. For a lot of folks, this reminder of the brutal reality of queer people today tends to create a rather jarring and guilt-inducing desire to not dwell on it and move on. Tim and I faced it ourselves: we changed the subject to something more pleasant.
It was at that point that I managed to step out of myself and take a look at my situation. Longtime readers will no doubt agree with the fact that I see beer as exceptional background material to significant social goings-on. It’s the people you’re with that are more important than what you’re drinking, though it helps if the drink is good enough to help enhance the situation from behind the scenes. For the most part, beer should pleasantly accompany the night and not demand your attention if you don’t want it to.
The internal side of the beer industry, both generally and here in Toronto, still has a long way to go to be more actively accepting and to diminish some of the more prevalent signs of “bro-culture”—and its associated homophobia and transphobia—that exist within its ranks. But the consumer end, I’m pleased to say, has vastly improved in the past two years. I see more and more LGBTQ folks at festivals actively celebrating craft beer. I also see more of what I experienced firsthand on Tuesday: two queer folks drinking good beer while talking and enjoying each other’s company.
After I paid my bill at the Old Nick, Tim stood up and hugged me, thanking me for the conversation and saying how glad he was that our paths crossed. I hugged him back and told him to keep being himself. He smiled and waved goodbye, and I did likewise. As I stepped out of the doors onto the half-empty street, I felt something in my heart, something I thought I would never feel because I just “didn’t get it” or was in a place of privilege to not truly understand it.
I felt pride.