This is my super awesome cousin, Melanie Lynch. She identifies as bisexual and her sign always gets a ton of cheers and good vibes - though I've never seen it copied by anyone, oddly enough. She stole the idea from our cousin, Matt.
Pride Week 2016 came to a close on Sunday with thousands of LGBTQ peeps and allies parading in the streets of St. John's, celebrating love, diversity, and demanding a better and safer society for the queer and trans community. It's amazing to see the parade blossom to the spectacle that it was today - there had to have been between 2000-3000 people there, maybe more. My first SJ Pride in 2008 saw maybe 150 marching in the street.
While the parade and the week of festivities are a huge celebration, and so they should be, it's also important to reflect on the political nature of Pride. A good friend and queer activist says he has to be political to survive, that LGBTQ youth have to be political to survive. Demanding change and a safer society has been the cornerstone of Pride parades in the past. Up until a few years ago the majority of those on parade would be chanting to end transphobia, to end homophobia, demanding better access to healthcare, calling for legislation for a safer society, yelling to end heteronormativity.
With thousands of people present this year, those chanting were few.
A small but vocal contingent were chanting. There were probably ~100, with politically charged messaging, and they were relentless. They were mostly students, and of course they were students, we can always count on students with their energy, tenacity, and passion for change. But why weren't others chanting?
As a white heterosexual cis man, I am not the best person to be talking about this. Who am I to say Pride should be political if so many seem content. I was thinking of this while marching today.
CBC radio coverage in the weeks leading up to Pride was focusing on having an awesome time at Pride, showing "Pride in your community" - this is very watered down language from what began as riots. At my bank last week, tellers were wearing pride shirts and they were dressed with rainbows. I asked if she was going to the parade and she said maybe, that she went before and it was fun.
While society is much more accepting today than in decades past, trans and queer people still face violence on a regular basis simply for being who they are, and I didn't see any reflection of this in the media. Quite the opposite, in fact, as moves by organizers of St. John's Pride to make Pride more inclusive to communities that don't feel safe around police officers, namely people of colour and indigenous people, were met with racist backlash. To make people more comfortable, off-duty officers were asked to leave their uniforms at home, and instead wear t-shirts of have banners reflecting their profession. This is something that RCMP members are actually calling for themselves in parts of the country, and something the RNC publicly respected.
It was sad but not surprising to see such a racist response in light of so much work being done around the country by groups like Black Lives Matter Toronto and Idle No More. Clearly that work is needed here, because despite the assertions of many that "our police are the best in the world," racism is rampant in our society, in our policing, and in our media. This isn't something to get your back up over, it's something to critically think about resolving because people's lives are at stake, in particular black and indigenous peoples.
Back to the parade. I'm generally pretty vocal, especially during demonstrations and parades. I have a loud voice and it's safe for me to speak up without being met with violent backlash so I try to lend my voice to those people and groups leading the fight against oppression and injustice. However, with recent events in the province, and given the lack of political motivation in the crowd, I walked relatively silent during the parade. I wasn't far from those who were demanding change, demanding a better, safer society, but far enough away so that very few around me were rabble rousing.
Then Melanie asked me why I wasn't chanting, she was weirded-out because being loud is kinda my jam. I was thinking about how the parade had become apolitical, that those who had voiced critical thoughts were shut down, that the parade was boiled down to a good time - which is also super important, but come on, thousands of people in the street with extensive media coverage and thousands more viewing from the sideline - what better time to get a message across?
She challenged me and got me chanting even though few around us were, and I thank her so much for it. Melanie's not affiliated with any groups, she's just an awesome individual and for her Pride is very political. And through the backlash, the organizers started the dialogue about race and policing in NL - something that is rarely ever spoken about here. And 150 people from the trans community, predominantly youth, organized an awesome march on Friday where they occupied Water Street, demanding to be seen and heard and respected. And in a crowd of thousands, a group of student activists, about as large as the entire parade in 2008, chanted from beginning to end, keeping the parade political. And as I write these thoughts down, I think it's because of those who were political over the years that so many in the parade were just there being themselves. And isn't that the whole point?
EDIT: But then again being openly and unapologetically who you are in public is highly political for any oppressed community. Not every form of action is in the form of chanting, sometimes it's holding hands, wearing glitter, and dancing in the streets.
This is what progress looks like, and we are by no means there, yet. But make no mistake, while change takes time, and it can be frustrating, there are those who will continue to be critical, those who will continue to make us uncomfortable, they will continue keep Pride political. and push us to act.
For me yesterday, that person was Melanie.