We’re in the middle of Pride season. The biggest of the top 10 festivals – Toronto, New York and San Francisco – are over now, but that leaves Montreal and Vancouver still to come in Canada, and a host of smaller ones around the world. They’re everywhere these days. Port Alberni, BC, will host its first Pride Festival next week, thanks to this kid.
They’re not the blowouts they used to be; Pride has become more of a family affair. And the Supreme Court ruling in June that made marriage equality the law in all 50 of the states guarantees they’ll continue to become more mainstream. Which is fine by me; gays have been part of the mainstream since forever. The mainstream just didn’t know it.
The SCOTUS decision was a squeaker, that had activists holding their breath, and holding back their hopes, in advance. And the five-to-four decision was not exactly a resounding win. But it was also a shining moment in American human rights history (not that there have been that many).
Within seconds of the decision, social media went bonkers – even bonkier than normal. Was it possible? Had a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives really just said yes to gay marriage? Was that U.S. pastor really going to set himself on fire? (As it turned out, the answer was No.) Facebook in particular was soon awash in rainbow-coloured profile photos, which is when the whole thing started to seem a bit self-congratulatory to me, especially on the part of suddenly enlightened straights – more “Look how open-minded I am!” than a genuine celebration of what SCOTUS had done.
The decision did, however, return the U.S. to its once-proud place in the vanguard of the gay rights movement. Stonewall, Harvey Milk, the Rainbow, the Castro and Pride were all touchstones on our path to equality, for both American and Canadian gays. Cross-dressing . . . erm, cross-border travel brought us together in the early days of the movement, to party and to dream. Friendships were formed. A strong, supra-national alliance was forged.
In Canada, marriage equality became pretty much assured once the provincial courts started falling, domino-like, in favour. By 2005, eight of the 10 provinces and one territory had legalized it. The most conspicuous holdouts were Alberta and P.E.I – the former being red meat conservative under Ralph Klein and the latter holding fast to the prim virtue of Anne of Green Gables. The Paul Martin Liberal government passed the federal Civil Marriage Act and the wedding bells rang. Americans heard, and gays and lesbians started travelling north to marry.
Some of us even remember when Pierre Trudeau, then-Justice Minister in the Pearson government, made his famous statement that started the disco ball spinning. “It’s bringing the laws of the land up to contemporary society I think,” he said of his omnibus bill to change the criminal code. “Take this thing on homosexuality. The view we take here I think is that there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” (You really wouldn’t want to know what goes on it our bedrooms, anyway.)
Forty-eight years later, the diabolical Bill C-51 has let the state back into our bedrooms. But that’s another battle.
It was the seminal scourge of the ‘80s, HIV/AIDS, that galvanized the movement for equality. We were dying by thousands. Partners were denied hospital visitation and other dignities. Friends and families were fractured. Society was shocked into recognition. The world woke up and popular culture turned its attention to our cause. Politicians started speaking out, even coming out. By golly, the straight world exclaimed, they aren’t that much different than us!
A lot of us who had been radicalized in the ‘70s and ‘80s didn’t really want to become part of the norm, and still don’t. But a lot of the norms were suddenly determined to become our allies – today’s euphemism for “some of my best friends are gay” – whether we liked it or not.
When news of the Supreme Court decision broke, Canadian LGBT people started posting congratulatory messages to our U.S. brethren. Then came the yawns. Bor-ring. We’ve had marriage equality for 10 years, although not much of a to-do was made about it back in 2005, or on the anniversary. A legislative process, which is how Canada finally tied the knot, doesn’t have nearly the same gravitas as a Supreme Court decision. We were smug because Canada was the fourth country in the world, and the first country outside of Europe, to grant marriage rights. But shouting “We’re No. 4! We’re No. 4!” just isn’t all that rousing.
Nevertheless, we joined in on the social media festivities. Within minutes of the initial celebration, and after the party-poopers had had their moment, the first of those rainbow-hued Facebook pics appeared. Adding the filter, which was originally created to celebrate Pride season, quickly took on greater meaning, though exactly what was unclear. (Or was it just a nefarious data mining experiment on the part of Facebook? Or both?)
The first time one of my friends posted their mug in glorious Warholesque colours, I thought, “This is kinda of cool.” Then the thing started popping up on everyone’s face. Except for the few of us who retained our dignity and skills at self-expression, resistance was apparently futile. But the meme that showed a flock of sheep behind the rainbow, with the title “Meanwhile on Facebook,” pretty much summed up my sentiment.
I posted: “Okay . . . Think before doing this latest profile pic craze. Some of you don’t look good in rainbow.” Sure I was trying to be witty. But I also intended some not-too-subtle sarcasm – gays love the sarcasm. It was directed at our allies: “Oh, so now you want in on it. After we’ve won. Where were you when the early battles were being fought for LGBT equality? This march started long before social media. Saying ‘yes’ when Gallup comes calling or clicking like on Facebook does not make you an ally. Action makes an ally.”
So, the question I would ask of our straight supporters — and some of my best friends are straight — is this: Just how far does your support extend? Does it include the BT part of LGBT? Will you continue to be just as supportive if you find out your spouse, or boyfriend or girlfriend, is bisexual? And the whole transgender thing seems way beyond what a lot of you can wrap your heads around. (Come on, what do you really think about Caitlyn Jenner?) Now that you’ve removed the filter from your Facebook pic, you may need to do some real soul-searching about how far you’re willing to travel with us.
And that journey isn’t over yet, We need a new generation of young leaders to take the torch from those of us who lit it. We’re getting old. They’re young, healthy, and strong. Not to mention a wee bit entitled, now that we’ve done all the work for them. I can’t tell you how many have told me they really aren’t interested in the whole gay politics thing.
But we can be proud anyway. When President Obama reacted to the SCOTUS ruling on the steps to the White House, his concluding his remarks were, “Those countless, often anonymous heroes, they deserve our thanks. They should be very proud.” He was talking about us. We’re the heroes, all of us who fought those battles, including Canadian LGBTs. After all, if it hadn’t been for our example, America might have taken that much longer to become the 21st country to legalize same-sex marriage. (“They’re No. 21! They’re No. 21!”)
So good for us. And good for you too, America, even if you were a bit slow on the uptake. Pride has never looked better on you.