Two of North America’s largest metropolises will celebrate Pride this upcoming weekend.
In New York, there is reason to celebrate.
This past Friday, New York’s Senate passed its historic same-sex marriage bill by a vote of 33-29. New York City, one of the most populous cities in the world, has now entered the small percentage of jurisdictions around the world where people of the same-sex can legally marry.
The President of the United States was in , albeit, reservedly.
The Governor of the State was seen as a major reason for the passing of this bill.
And, the Mayor of New York City feverishly endorsed the initiative, channelling pleas for human rights equality and sanity in every one of his major speeches.
Each and everyone of the aforementioned individuals put their political capital on the line and decided that siding with humanity dignity, fairness, and justice was the right thing to do.
In Toronto, for the first time in a long time, its mayor has unapologetically decided that marching in one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world is unnecessary and bothersome. This on top of a history of anti-gay comments and clear .
The reaction from Canadians has started to filter in. Some are furious with the Mayor’s decision, while others are less concerned.
In Toronto’s gay communities, the decision has sparked an array of intense debate, where once again Canada’s largest LGBT urban centre finds itself debating one another as opposed to standing shoulder-to-shoulder and fighting for the progress that is so desperately needed on actual issues of substance.
Does it all really matter? How important is it for political leaders to show face and represent their governments (and their constituents) at international events such as Pride?
The answers, in my view, are quite clear.
On August 28, 1971, 100 men and women marched onto Parliament hill demanding equal rights for gays and lesbians. The events of that day have since been recorded as the first large scale public protest in Canada’s gay rights movement.
In 1978, Montreal’s gay community decided to organize themselves after police raid a gay nightclub.
In 1980, former Toronto mayor John Sewell publicly endorsed gay rights activist George Hislop’s candidacy for Toronto city council, at a time when it was rare for public figures to express support for same-sex rights.
In 1981, thousands of Torontonians protest a day after four Toronto bathhouses are raided and 286 men are arrested, in what is still seen as one of the largest mass arrests in Canada’s history.
And in 2005, when Canada’s federal government finally passed the nation-wide law that legalized same-sex marriage in Canada, the province of Alberta - the only province whose political leadership opposed the measure - was forced to comply with the progress made in the rest of the country.
For decades, Canadians have marched, organized, spoken up, and protested intolerance and division. This bigotry faced by Canada’s gay communities has been manifested in various ways.
It was once legitimate to label people as having “mental problems” and reject those individuals with the rights and privileges afforded to other members of society.
Sometimes, it was through the subtle, yet intentional acts of firing, ignoring, and shunning those who were deemed “dangerous” and “different.”
Other times, it was through violence and hate.
And today, this bigotry is presented and displayed through acts of silence - by saying nothing, by refusing to fix the problem, and by choosing not to march with your fellow citizens.
Like it or not - and many of you won’t - the need for political approval has been integral to the advances made in gay rights in both Canada and the US. So, when politicians decide to slowly stifle the progress and legitimacy of our communities, we should all care and take notice. When politicians decide to pit "family values" against "the gays," someone needs to stand up and suggest that dichotomy is a false one and it only cheapens the years of advocacy homosexuals, drag queens, and others on the margins of society worked so hard to defend.
Unfortunately, this week, while New Yorkers (politicians, activists and supporters alike) unite to cheer and celebrate the most substantial political victory for gay rights in the USA, Toronto's gay communities will remain immensely divided.
Historical references: CBC Archives