Mr. V. brought his kindergarteners to the Pride flag raising every year. Here's why.
I’ve attended the Pride flag raising ceremony for many years without my students, dressed in a one-metre wide Kiwi costume. But for the last several of years, I have brought my Clinton Street Junior Public School kindergarten classes along with me—wearing my costume, of course, to add to the merriment.
At a previous school, where I spent 17 years, I taught kindergarten where at least 12 languages were within the room. We celebrated all the cultural festivities—Ramadan, Eid, Diwali, Lunar New Year, to name a few—and covered the -isms. It was a diverse student body.
At Clinton, we also have several gay and lesbian parents. So, I checked the Toronto District School Board director’s website, which depicts its rainbow flag and includes the Ministry of Education’s policies on diversity, and decided it was time for a trip to City Hall to see the rainbow flag being raised up.
The trip wasn’t just about the flag raising, and I managed to squeeze in other areas of education. I taught children about the architecture of City Hall, the artwork inside, the grass on the roof, and who the mayor was. We even took a pit-stop at the City Hall Library for story time.
But at its core, seeing the rainbow flag raised up was a moment of learning for the kids—and a moment of pride for me.
As a child growing up in a small town, I knew at 4 I was not the same as the other boys around. By 6, I definitely knew I liked boys, though I lacked the vocabulary to say it. I wanted to kiss and hug them even then—but I also knew it was not something embraced by most. That’s is why I take my students to the flag raising: I want each and every one of them to be okay with everyone else and who they are.
I came out in 1974. My first foray into political activism came with the 1981 bathhouse raids. I had been at a bathhouse the previous Saturday evening, and received a call the Friday it occurred to join a demonstration. I showed up, stayed in the middle of the crowd and moved with it. It was scary but incredibly empowering. I didn’t think my presence would make a difference at first, but after being in the first demonstration I realized that when we all stood together we became a large united front.
I’ve danced on the Pride stages. One year I even followed Jack Layton’s speech. This year, I am line-dancing with The Toronto Wranglers.
But I’m best known as the Kiwi.
Fruit used to be a derogatory name for gay men. But like the word queer, we’ve reclaimed it, and made it a positive. That’s why I chose to dress up as a fruit: I get to put on a large Kiwi costume, act silly, and promote Community One, an organization that funds and supports LGBTQ people in Toronto and the GTA. There are six of us: Kiwi, Blueberry, Banana, Orange, Orange segment, and Tomato (yes, a tomato is a fruit).
The Fruit first came to be when we collaborated as MCs of a variety show called Fruit Cocktail (Jim Saar was the creator). We did seven shows every other year from 1983 to 95. The community’s love of these shows was apparent when we had line-ups down and around the block to the Ryerson Theatre to see us.
I have had to take many steps to enjoy Pride. When I told a few friends in 1974—when I was 16—that I was gay, it felt good to share it (though everyone in the entire small town knew). When I moved away from the small town in ’77, I felt I could really be me. I donned myself in outrageous clothing: wearing patterns, stripes, and checks simultaneously, I looked like a poster boy for The Bay City Rollers. But it felt right.
In the 80s, I even brought my grandmother to the Village. At first she didn’t understand what being gay meant. Once she understood, she loved all my boyfriends, and wanted to see the Village. Together, she—then in her 80s—and I sat on the steps of the Second Cup steps (I brought her a cushion), sipping tea, and commenting on the men who passed by. We then went for lunch across the street. When the waiter came with the menu, she said, “Oh, I do not need a menu young man, I will have what all the gay men have: quiche and salad.” My Granny may have fallen into some stereotypes, but she wanted to be a cool Granny—and she was.
Now, I’m about to retire from my teaching job after 25 years. This year was the last I’d bring my kindergarteners to the flag raising, and I’m proud to have been their first mentor at Pride.