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It’s 2021, and we need Pride now more than ever

Pride is a celebration. It’s an annual opportunity for the LGBT community to cast off the cloak of heteronormativity and revel in our true selves - whatever and whoever that may be.

And there is much to celebrate. Statistics Canada recently reported that over 1 million Canadians identify as LGBT, a sign of the great strides made for people to feel safe enough to be open about who they are. Catholic Schools in Ontario raised the Pride flag for the first time this year, and even though it feels a little late to the game I am happy to support these schools for making the right decision to show love to their (probably LGBT) students.

But amidst these signs of progress, I remember that Pride is also a confrontation. A time for queers to be seen, be counted, and say ENOUGH. Enough hate and discrimination. Enough exclusion and violence. We’re here, we’re queer, let’s stop this already.

After 15 months (and counting) of a global pandemic that has exacerbated existing and immense inequity, Pride 2021 reminds me of the continued relevance and need for Pride. Lest we forget that the first Pride was a riot - or, in Canada’s case, a protest.

I have never been very loud about being part of the LGBT community. I’m proud, sure, but usually in a more reserved, need-to-know-basis kind of way. I usually hold to this perspective until late June each year, when for about a week I feel the need to remind everyone in my life that, yes, you know someone who is LGBT, and yes, we’re just like you. We’re not pedophiles, we’re not greedy, and we’re only weird in that cool way you always wanted to be in high school.

Coming out and finding acceptance and safety is not guaranteed, not even in Canada in 2021. We still live in a binary gendered, heteronormative society that expects straightness and easily identifiable maleness or femaleness, which means being anything other than this takes courage to accept and proclaim. Many still struggle with it. Many still stay hidden. Trans folks, South Asian queers, and bisexual men in particular face an inordinate amount of resistance, violence and straight-up discrimination. It’s no wonder we continue to suffer negative mental health consequences or choose to stay closeted in order to keep our lives and our sanity intact.

Don’t believe me that things are still that bad?

There is also an argument heating up about whether or not trans athletes should be allowed to participate in the gendered sport of their choosing, despite reputable studies disputing whether testosterone even provides a competitive advantage. Sadly, I find it telling that the loudest critics only seem worried about trans girls competing and not trans men - maybe the real issue is rooted in our deep-seeded culture of seeing women and feminine people as less-than. More and more it feels like the cries of “fairness” are, instead, cries of fear of the other.

I could also tell you about the Pride flags that were recently burned in Ontario, or about the person yelling homophobic obscenities at participants of a Pride painting project in Saskatoon, or about the recent beating of a gay man on his way home from a well-known LGBT beach in Toronto. These are just some of the incidents of the past few months.

That last one hits particularly hard. It’s disappointing that, in 2021, gay bashing still exists. It adds insult to injury that this bashing took place steps away from one of the few distinctly queer spaces LGBT people have left to go to during the pandemic.

The pandemic took our queer spaces from us. It took our Pride celebrations and our bars. It took our Halloween parades and our brunch places and our queer sports leagues. For many LGBT people, this was difficult enough, but for others, the pandemic also took their personal safety and ability to live in a safe space where they can be themselves. I am privileged that, as a middle-class, white, cis person, my coming out was met with love and support from my family and friends - some queers aren’t so lucky.

In truth, my queerness has become a treasured part of my identity. It’s a way to tap into my empathy and support everyone around me. Knowing that, if things were just a bit different for me, I would have to hide this part of myself and deal with the consequences makes me want to fight tooth and nail to make sure no one ever has to do that. Sexuality, gender representation, immigration/citizenship status, race, colour - the reasons to ostracise each other are many. But we can’t give in to the desire to shut others out.  We all face exclusion in some way, why not use what makes you different to help make it safe for others to be different too?

This is my wish for Pride 2021. Let us all find the courage to embrace what makes us different and the generosity to accept the differences of others.

Happy Pride.