"I don't want to be gay." Those were the words I said during my first Pride as I bawled in a sea of people on Church Street in Toronto.
I was overwhelmed by everything: the people, the noise, the colours. The little Christian girl in me wanted to disappear and escape my reality.
I wasn't ready to be confronted with my fears and internalized homophobia.
I eventually found my friend who came down with me from Ottawa to support me at my first Pride. I told her how I was feeling and she told me we didn't have to do a big Pride weekend. Toronto was a big city and there were many other places we could explore.
Knowing there were other options and I had a safe person with me was a sigh of relief. After taking a little breather with her, we jumped back in with our other friends and had an amazing weekend. One of my highlights was going out dancing, which was very healing and freeing for me.
It was the first time I saw so many people of colour at a queer dance party, as well as lots of women in dresses. At the time, I didn’t realize the multiple ways I could present as a queer woman and it was still okay to wear dresses.
There were people who looked like me. It was possible for me to exist. I didn't have to change.
As I think back on that time, the mass shooting in Orlando is very present on my heart. I haven't had the words to communicate my grief and anger – just scribbles in my journal and rants to friends that often end in tears.
I think about the beautiful queer and trans people in my community who lost their lives. Not by a terrorist attack, but a hate crime. It's a shame that it takes a mass shooting for people to realize the violence still happening against LGBTQ+ people, especially trans women of colour.
The Orlando victims were in their sanctuary, a safe place for them to exist, dance and not hide. It was Latin Night and the club was filled with predominantly queer and trans Latinx and black people. The beautiful visibility of brown and black bodies, a place for them to dance and take up space.
I know how healing it is to be in those spaces.
This Pride, I think about the people in Orlando who lost their lives, were outed in their deaths, injured and live with this trauma. I think about the oppression LGBTQ+ people face daily, especially queer and trans communities of colour. I think about Muslim people who stand at the intersection of queerness and faith, and the Islamophobia, homophobia and transphobia that follow their every steps.
People still ask me why we need Pride and why I'm always talking about this "gay stuff." It's because many of us experience violence and self-hatred on a daily basis. It's because many of us are bullied and harassed, and attempt or want to take our lives.
It's because we are surrounded by messages that we are not enough and will never be enough. It's still very hard to be out in many spaces, including Christian communities that I was so silent in. I see pain in the eyes of LGBTQ+ Christians as they search for a place to belong and to know they are enough.
Going to my first Pride in Toronto helped me see that I could exist and being gay was a beautiful part of me. I hope this Pride helps other LGBTQ+ people see possibilities, and the beautiful ways they can exist and live their truths.