As I sit at my desk writing this reflection, dozens of volunteers are frantically setting up tables, equipment, workshop rooms and a large buffet at The 519 and throughout Cawthra Square Park to welcome the hundreds of LGBT community members attending today’s StonewallTO event.
StonewallTO will include music, dancing, a march, great food and a community fair – all the elements of our traditional Pride experience – but it will be decidedly more intimate and more grassroots. Born from a frustration with what its participants might call the ‘corporatization, de-politicization and mainstreaming’ of Toronto’s Pride experience, StonewallTO offers a group of people from our communities an opportunity to celebrate our identities, our rights and our (continuing) struggles in a way that is authentic to their life and their values.
But isn’t that what Pride was meant to be?
As the LGBT community grows in presence it becomes less and less homogeneous (it never really was in the first place). A community for which “gay” was once a sufficient label now encompasses LGBTTIQQ2SA identities, and even that doesn’t seem to be a sufficient description. Despite what television or film might suggest, LGBT people don’t all dress the same, act the same, attend the same events, vote for the same politicians or listen to the same music (although it’s guaranteed that ‘Born this Way’ will be played at StonewallTO, at Pride next weekend and nearly every party in between).
Where questions like ‘Is Pride dead?’ emerge, where we go wrong, is when we think of ‘Pride’ as the official event operated by a specific organization on a particular weekend or, worse yet, when we begin to judge how Pride should be celebrated, by whom and in what way. Indeed, it’s laughable to think that a celebration rooted in a recognition and celebration of diversity is so often forced to adhere to certain standards and certain expectations.
Pride Toronto, StonewallTO, Trans Theatre Under the Stars, ProPride and a host of other events all contribute to the experience and legacy of Pride in any given year. As a community we share a common history and a common tradition in Pride, but how we continue that celebration will evolve, change and grow, and different people will find different ways to commemorate Pride in an individually authentic way.
Whether at a BBQ on your back patio, drinking and dancing in a beer garden to a stellar DJ or at a workshop on the experience of LGBT people in Uganda, my hope for all members of the LGBT community in Toronto is that we each find an opportunity in June (why not every day?) to spend time with friends, to reflect on our past and our triumphs, to acknowledge that both locally and internationally our struggle continues and, most of all, to celebrate ourselves, our uniqueness and our collective diversity in a way that reflects our individuality and diversity. As long as somewhere someone is doing just that, Pride will never be dead.
Matthew Cutler is a twenty-something member of the management team at The 519, a community centre in Toronto’s diverse downtown communities. Always the adventurer, Matthew loves exploring new areas of the city and engaging in lively debates on current affairs with anyone who will indulge him.