At the end of August this year, Fort McMurray will welcome an event unlike any other we have welcomed before; on August 26, Pride will arrive in Fort McMurray.
Several other communities recently celebrated Pride events. For the most part, the events were greeted warmly and openly, although there have been some troubling incidents that should be seen as evidence as to why Pride events are still needed.
In Lethbridge, a rainbow crosswalk was the target of vandals, who looked to mar the symbol of LGBTQ pride and solidarity with black paint.
In Edmonton, the rainbow Pride flag at a local school was cut down and removed, undoubtedly serving to further marginalize LGBTQ students who already face challenges in feeling safe in their school environments.
And in our own community I have seen dissension about the Pride flag (and whether or not it dishonours the Canadian national flag), and this despite the existence of many flag modifications we seem to accept or tolerate without much controversy or even comment, like the following, as well as the national flag appearing on every imaginable item from mugs to underwear with nary a whisper of outrage or offense:
- So, when is straight pride day?
- I don’t think those people need to rub our noses in their lifestyle.
- I have no problem with gay people, but this Pride stuff is bullshit.
And here’s my questions for all the straight folks in the crowd:
- When was the last time you were threatened with physical violence for your sexual orientation?
- When was the last time you were assaulted due to your sexual orientation?
- Have you ever felt you had to hide or lie about your sexual orientation?
- Have you ever been afraid to hold the hand of your significant other in public because of the potential reaction of others?
The reality is straight pride day is every day, 365 days a year. And I say that as a straight white woman who answered “never” to the questions above, and who sees heterosexuality celebrated by popular culture in every single way on every single day.
The truth is that those who identify as LGBTQ continue to face significant challenges in our society. We have come a long way in terms of acceptance, but we continue to have a long way to go. And mere “acceptance” and “tolerance” aren’t the benchmarks we should be seeking; until we can say we genuinely celebrate diversity of every kind, we cannot claim to have achieved equality.
It is a bit startling that in 2017 we remain so preoccupied with the lives of others, including their sexual orientation. Our interest in it betrays our discomfort with it; and if we truly have “no problem with gay people” as some claim then we should have no problem with Pride flags, crosswalks or parades. These things shouldn’t even be a blip on our radar if we really have achieved the kind of equanimity we like to think we have.
The reality is we haven’t. Vandalized crosswalks, controversy over flags and dissension over LGBTQ events betray the truth: we haven’t come nearly as far as we think we have, and a lot of straight folks still have no idea what it’s like to be openly LGBTQ in today’s world.
Pride Fort McMurray has my full, unequivocal and vocal support. My daughter’s involvement in co-founding the region’s first GSA opened my eyes to issues I thought had been laid to rest long ago: discrimination, hatred and, if we are to be honest, fear. Every time we express our discomfort with some aspect of Pride we betray our own discomfort with LGBTQ individuals and we portray why rainbow flags, crosswalks and Pride events are still very much needed.
Pride sums it up well; I am proud of those who not only find the courage to be themselves but who support others in doing so as well. I am proud of those who are unafraid to celebrate our diversity and who seek to develop welcoming communities. And I find great pride in those who can empathize with others despite our own narrow experience of the world and understand that they may face challenges we cannot and will not ever know.
Take pride, Fort McMurray. Take pride in our tremendous diversity in this region, including our LGBTQ community that has chosen to join with others across the country in celebrating. Know that rainbow crosswalks, flags and parades are celebrations of our country, our people, our diversity and our unity. Take pride in us – in ALL of us, no matter our religion, the colour of our skin or our sexual orientation – and truly feel the joy and wonder and yes, pride, in simply being Canadian, part of the true north strong and free.