On this dreadful day, I don’t want to write about the shootings in Orlando. Instead, I want to write about my friend, Rick.
Rick lives just outside of Nanaimo, a city of about 80,000, across the water from the island I live on. He’s been a celebrity there for a long time, first as the city’s most prominent drag performer, and more recently as an actor with various of its theatre companies, and President of the Pride Society. That’s him to the left, walking in today’s Pride parade.
Rick grew up in Nanaimo, and experienced all the crap you’d expect a gay kid to experience in what was then a working-class town, like having “Rick Meyers is a fag” spray painted across the side of a bridge above a main thoroughfare. A lot of gay people in small places respond to that sort of abuse by moving to a larger centre, where they can find more community (and safety), and Rick did live in Vancouver for a while. But then he came back to Nanaimo, and helped turn it into the more progressive and gay-friendly place it is today.
For example, while Nanaimo’s had a Pride Week since 2002, that Pride parade today was its first, as is the rainbow-coloured crosswalk you see Rick checking out below, on the night it was painted. Rick was one of the main forces behind both. If you live in a larger centre, you may think that was a bit overdue, and a lot of people in Nanaimo would agree with you. But when you lose many of your best people to places like Vancouver and Toronto, some things just take a bit longer to happen.
But of course in writing about him, I am writing about the shootings in Orlando. It takes a lot of courage to be a gay man, or any other member of the LGBTQ community, even today. In fact, I’m not sure it’s correct to say that Nanaimo or any place else has really become “gay-friendly”; homophobia hasn’t disappeared, it’s just become more furtive (though perhaps there’s some justice in the fact that it’s the homophobes who now have to be furtive). Being gay especially takes a lot of courage in the land of the free and the assault rifles, as the Orlando shootings have reminded us in the most gruesome, stomach-turning way possible. And it will take even more after today. Can you imagine what it will be like to spend Friday night at a gay bar in the U.S., or to walk down the streets of a gay neighbourhood, after today? I can’t, not really. That is what is known as hetero (and perhaps Canadian) privilege.
Which is why I’d rather leave it to those who do know to try to provide insight into Orlando, if it can be peered into at all. Instead, I’d like to write about Rick, out there today at the front of the parade he created, brave, resplendent, spreading joy as he passed, his suit jacket glittering in the sunlight, even on this darkest of days. Unbeaten. Proud.