Today, I woke up to a post on Facebook about the Toronto Police being asked, and acquiescing, to not marching in this year’s Toronto Pride parade. It brought me back to the parade last year, my very first Pride in Toronto.
I need to preface this by saying that when I got to Toronto, I felt like the country mouse suddenly being thrown around in this amazing, vibrant, diverse community of people that was so outside of my experience that I was high (yes, high like I was on drugs) for the entire time I was there. I think that by the time the fourth or fifth day rolled around my hosts were probably sick of me saying “WOW!” all the time! I believe, therefore, that my entire experience of the parade was one of beautiful, beautiful shell shock.
When Black Lives Matter started coming down the street, it was something you could see from a distance because the smoke flares showed up first. It almost looked like splashes of colour from the Indian colour festival, and I was both curious and excited.
Then, as the movement got closer, it became clear this wasn’t a celebration. If I had to guess, there were about 100 people dressed in the typical clothes of mourning. Black. Veils. Somber faces, serious faces. There were some in the parade who jeered. Some were confused. Most just looked, watched, wondered. I suspect that like most people there, I wasn’t the only one who was uncomfortable. My companion mentioned to me that where we were standing to watch the parade was the spot where BLM sat down in protest the following year. And unlike the rest of the parade, this particular section was swarming, swimming, with media. Cameras everywhere, swarming like vultures, just waiting for something horrible to happen to crank up those ratings. Controversy sells.
When I got back to where I was staying, the conversation revolved around how there were rules and how everyone had to play by the rules if they wanted to be seen as respectable. The notion was expressed that BLM did not register to enter the parade, or pay the fee which in part helps cover the costs of insurance. I went back to Regina feeling conflicted. On the one hand, someone on Church Street had told me the night before that if there was a city or a place that expressed what world peace would look like, it would be Toronto. On the other hand, I had this sombre sense of something not fitting into the paradigm that got under my skin. That parade, that moment of those sombre people walking through what was to everyone else a party will stick with me for the rest of my life.
I got home, talked about it with Dan, and he tried to express to me how people who are effected by a police presence feel. It’s a tough one for him. And although I tried to get it, I couldn’t quite understand exactly what it was about. A part of me was still comfortable with the idea that anyone should be entitled to be in a parade, especially when the police have been such an integral part of keeping us safe, protected. We needed the police to protect us.
But I think that attitude in part is what kept me from seeing the other side of this very, very real coin.
Siblings: our community is a contradiction that many of us are comfortable living with because it stops us from having to give up privileges we enjoy, and keeps us from having to deal with uncomfortable realities that are happening right now within our communities. For one thing, we refer to ourselves as an inclusive community and yet within that ‘community’ there are varied communities, and not all of those communities experience the same sense of calm that some of us may. To put this into a beginning perspective, think of a situation where you did not feel safe because of the presence or actions of another person or persons. For me, this brings up memories of being screamed at and threatened in an inappropriate way for something I had no control over. It brings up the moments in my life before I came out where I constantly wondered if people knew, where there was a sense of shame and fear about who I was as a person. It brings to mind how I felt once I came out, and had to fight to overcome the sense of empowerment it brought, to be able to walk and be proud, and yet to still have to confront the reality that a government, an NDP government I will remind you, refused to issue a proclamation for LGBT Pride month. Not a conservative government. It brings to mind how I felt about sitting in the gallery of the legislature and watching as every NDP MLA wore a Pride pin to show solidarity EXCEPT for then Premier Roy Romanov, and every Saskatchewan Party MLA refused to wear a Pride pin EXCEPT for June Draude who very bravely went against every other member of her party to show support for us. That’s something I admire and am grateful for to this day.
But it also brings to mind how I felt when I was chased around a coffee table by a date that was quickly deteriorating into a possible rape scenario. It brings to mind how I felt being stalked by a half ton truck full of young 20 something men as I walked down Broad Street, wondering if I was about to get bashed and instead feeling relief that all that happened was I had balloons filled with urine thrown at me, then breaking down in sobs in the shower afterwards and realizing I couldn’t report it because I’m six foot four and two hundred pounds and men who are that size and shape don’t report things like that to the police: they just deal with it.
It brings to mind how I felt when I started receiving phone calls from someone wanting to know if I wanted someone to come over to the house to talk about the Bible. They didn’t identify themselves, they just wanted to know if I wanted someone to come by and ‘talk’.
Or how I felt when I saw and continue to see vehicles with bumper stickers that are discriminatory towards LGBTQ people.
Or how I felt when my boyfriend was jeered at outside a bottle-drop because someone going into a bar felt his car was too gay. In 2018 that happened. People said it was because of the bar near where the bottle-drop happened, and a lot of people just said ‘oh ok’ or at least that was the sense I was getting. I felt powerless to protect him because I wasn’t there, powerless because it might happen again and although I want to be able to keep him safe I can’t stay with him 24/7.
Regina. The city that rhymes with fun.
Take those feelings, those emotions, all those memories and encapsulate them if you can into one single instance. A pill if you will.
Take the pill.
Now. Ask yourself how our siblings who are non-white, who identify members of those groups that ‘get in the way of letting you feel comfortable’, are feeling. What you’re experiencing now as a result of that pill I’ve asked you to take is in one aspect a small part of what people who see the police as a threat feel. Not because they commit crimes. Not because they’re ‘bad people’. But because statistically, individuals who don’t meet the caucasian mold are more likely to be ‘approached’ by police simply because they are individuals of colour. Siblings who identify as trans have expressed challenges that I as a cis gay man never had to experience in my ‘community’. If I ever experience an uncomfortable moment in a public space and challenged the owners of that space to deal with it, instantly it would be on the minds of the people to make the situation more comfortable for me so it would be more comfortable for them. Yet when a trans sibling expresses the same issues in the same space, are their rights and feelings dealt with in the same way? Or are they marginalized by virtue of our culture of privilege? That’s just the tip of the ice burg, and although I can say I empathize the reality is I can only empathize a percentage of what they experience.
It’s not a comfortable thing to think about because living in privilege doesn’t take any courage at all. You simply accept that people who make you feel uncomfortable can be ignored without consequence. If someone asks for change, ignore them unless you feel particularly generous. Because it’s OK to ignore someone asking for change because they don’t really need our money right? If they just cleaned themselves up and got nice clothes and got a job they wouldn’t have to ask for change, right?
Except we all know that’s not true. Really. It’s what we tell ourselves because it’s easier than stopping and stepping out of our comfort zone and risking saying hello, asking where the individual is from, how their day is going. It doesn’t have to be a monumental expression: just simple courtesy.
Why are people who ask for change not entitled to courtesy?
Then there are those moments where the convenient conversations happen among our friends when we talk about ‘those people’ and maybe laugh, tell jokes, and agree quietly that while we may in fact be jesting and publicly wouldn’t ever express these opinions, it’s ok to do so in private among our own circle of friends because nobody will know. Besides, it’s easier than having the courage to suggest that maybe, just maybe, these opinions aren’t inclusive, aren’t appropriate, and racism is racism is sexism is misogyny is ok when nobody is around to see you being who you really are because you can’t get in trouble saying certain words in secret places right?
Remember when we had to fight just to get a flag on a pole in front of a building? Remember when we had to remind people in important positions that we mattered, that we counted? And everyone was a part of that struggle… at least we told ourselves that.
This is why people are angry. Because we’ve left them behind and told ourselves they’re whining, they’re not living up to the standard we all have to live by.
When someone gets upset about the police presence in a parade, ask yourself how you’d feel if the individuals in your past who have treated you with distain, disgust, the people you have had to fight with to get the basic right of a human being, suddenly wanted to walk in your parade. If you want to live by the standards you set for the police, for it to be ok for uniformed police to walk in the parade, then you have to accept that even our strongest opponents will have the right to march with us.
So get ready for the floats. Or have the courage to open your mind to the possibility that we may not see the entire situation at hand. Because opening our eyes, especially when we’ve been asleep (or gone back to sleep) for so long is uncomfortable, and requires to look at ourselves very honestly, very soberly.
It means we may have to say to certain communities within the greater GSD umbrella: Forgive us. We have left you behind out of our own selfishness. We have forgotten what it was like to be in your shoes, and worse, we have treated you as we ourselves were once treated. Forgive us and give us the opportunities to show you that we want things to be different. Not just by words, but by our actions over time. And it will take time, because trust once lost takes time to earn again.
But why do we have to make that move? Why do we have to sacrifice?
Because that’s what grown ups do. That’s what people who are responsible do. They don’t wait, they do the right thing. Even if it’s scary. Especially if its scary.
God help me to do the right thing.
It has to start somewhere, and it has to start somehow. Just say hi to that person asking for change. Shake their hand. Ask them how they’re doing.
It’ll make you braver. It’ll make it easier the next time you have to do it.