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Robyn Harper Headshot

Pride and the Other 364 Days of the Year

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Getty File
Getty File

Opinion is divided over Pride parades. Are they good for the community? To me, Pride is a special day. It's that sense of inclusion that fills the air, a time of great embrace and large-scale celebration. A feeling of unity sweeps through the crowd. For that day, I feel surrounded by people who feel like my family. It's a loving, welcoming, and friendly atmosphere, and more times than not, even the sun comes out to wish us well.

I have heard some disagreement surrounding the very the existence of Pride parades. "We don't have straight parades," I've heard. Firstly, why discourage any cause for celebration? And secondly, the fact of the matter remains that there is an LGBT community, and all communities celebrate, for various reasons. The LGBT community is no different in that regard. Take St. Patrick's Day, for example. Ireland celebrates as a community, albeit as a country. The people of Ireland join together in shared spirit in honoring our country's heritage. It's about where we've come from. It's about how far we've come.

I have also learned that some don't like how Pride parades are conducted. There is the suggestion that the parades are counterproductive and that LGBT people are portraying themselves in a misleading and damaging light. I'm reminded of something I read at the beginning of the summer. Opinion from within the community claimed that parades are "giving foes of the community ammunition with which to disparage the movement." It was argued that "the often sex positive and flamboyant displays that are customarily part of the parades" are "enforcing the stereotype that LGBT people are silly, genderbending, sex-crazed freaks." And there is a "worry that LGBT people will never gain acceptance from the mainstream if they continue to flaunt their 'otherness.'"

What is "otherness"? It takes all kinds of people to make up this world. Call it diversity, call it variety, but it is precisely that richness that makes up our human race. At the parade, some opt for scanty attire. Some opt for flamboyancy. Some don't. It's a matter of personal choice. To propose that expression and individuality be curtailed to please others, or for the benefit of conformity, is taking progress in the wrong direction. We need to move forwards, not backwards. Our personalities are a gift, and they are different from everyone else's for a reason. We are unique, and expressing our individuality is an ability we were given to embrace and nurture, not hide. In my view, this worry that LGBT people will never gain acceptance from the mainstream is not only pessimistic but erroneous. These assumptions are founded on intolerance. Intolerance runs contrary to very foundation of the equality movement. Any form of intolerance toward people is what we're trying to eradicate. It is about accepting and embracing people for all of who they are and not marginalizing them for parts of who they are. It's not about fitting in. It's about celebrating diversity. It's not a matter of gaining or earning respect or rights by acting a certain way. Everybody is entitled to the same rights and respect by virtue of being human.

In my own experience, Pride is a celebratory affair, not a strictly political event. It is a rejoicing, not a protest. To me, a parade means entertainment, enjoyment, and fun. Demonstrations and marches lean toward what is wrong; they're held in a spirit of protest. Parades lean toward what is right; they're held in a spirit of celebration. Pride parades have become synonymous with the opportunity to dress up and wear costumes, which can include a flamboyant, extroverted, and colourful element. After all, some, including me, choose to see and treat the parade like a party. It is an annual event. It is an occasion. I can't think of anyone, bar Santa Claus, who can be defined by one day of the year. Where would that mean for people who celebrate St. Patrick's Day? The existence of leprechauns is a myth! The idea that all LGBT people are "silly, genderbending, sex-crazed freaks" is a myth!

There is also suggestion that some in the LGBT community feel that Pride parades don't represent them. I personally don't take part in any "sex positive and flamboyant displays." I feel represented, and that's probably due to the fact of my being there. However, my absence wouldn't take anything away from me. My existence is not defined by what I do or what I wear one day of the year at a Pride parade. There are many other aspects to me and to everybody else. That's where the breakdown in understanding comes in, and that's where education is needed to fill that void.

This, I believe, is key. This, I believe, is important. There are 364 other days in the year. Increased visibility throughout the rest of the year will enhance progress, whether it be in mainstream media or just in everyday life. Mainstream media are raising awareness of the LGBT community, and there is increasing integration of LGBT culture into mainstream culture. My own view, however, is that television and film can only help matters so much. They have to dramatize lives; they have to sex up lives. In terms of everyday life, I am not suggesting that anyone walk the streets or go to work sporting slogan T-shirts or flying Pride flags, but visibility is important. There are always opportunities for visibility.

I can relate an example. I recently heard of a friend who teaches in a high school. In the staff room she frequently witnesses disparaging remarks about people who are gay. She is gay. She stays silent. In fact, she walks away. These people are not only her colleagues but her friends. They're obviously not very close friends, as they are unaware of a very special part of her life, but they are her friends nonetheless. Whether she opts to disclose the fact that she's gay is her business. But what is there to hide? I personally feel that we have not only a responsibility but an opportunity to educate people on the reality of the life of a gay person and the normality of being in a relationship with a person of the same gender. There is little difference, if any at all. In fact, I've written recently contributing my own efforts toward debunking this illusion of the existence of a "gay lifestyle." We will never gain ground unless we stand it. Standing up for ourselves, whatever the cause, can be daunting. Yes, it may take bravery, it may take strength, but there is a generation following behind us that is relying on us to make this a better world for them. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Would her colleagues be enlightened to know the truth? Would her colleagues be educated? Would their friendships stay the same? I think that they would, on all counts. If anything were to change for the worse, that would highlight a problem with them, not with her. That's what I see as the beauty of this dilemma. Contrary to some naïve opinion, LGBT people are not always easily identifiable.

Whether we agree with Pride parades or not, I don't think the parades are a problem. One day of the year is not a problem. Being a person who also happens to be gay, I don't see myself as any different from, or any less deserving than, the next person. However, some of society sees me differently, irrespective of the way I choose to carry on at a parade. The law sees me differently, whether I'm at the parade or not. These are the things that need to change. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay. It's something that just is. There is everything wrong with the way people who are gay are perceived and treated when that falls below the level of respect and equal treatment.

Progress and acceptance are coming about, and it's through education. The way to foster acceptance is to educate people. Only last year President Obama said his views on marriage equality were "evolving." It meant that the president was learning, gaining an understanding. He has now openly pledged his support for equal rights and equal opportunity, because it is the right thing to do. The president's decision included particular consideration of some of his own staff, who are in committed same-gender relationships and raising kids together. They are visible. This visibility fostered an understanding of the normality of these relationships and illustrated the futility of any opposition.

Pride will always be very special to me. I'm very proud to be gay, much the same way I'm very proud to be Irish. These things will never change about me. These are things I would never change about me. What starts as a pensive day remembering my own personal struggle as a teen ends with elation as thoughts of a day when no teenager will struggle with something that just is. I believe that day is coming. I don't see an alternative to this sense of harmony, equality, and good feeling. Education will continue to evaporate any alternative, and increased visibility will play a role in cultivating this better world for LGBT people, young and old. It makes little sense to judge people on the basis of one day. In fact, it makes little sense to judge people at all. We all have one life to live. It is important to live, and it is just as important to let live. And as the old saying goes, "An open mind leaves a chance for someone to drop a worthwhile thought in it."