So Toronto Mayor Rob Ford wants the rainbow flag – the Pride flag that represents the gay community – taken down from city hall. Earlier this week it was flown up the flagpole – by order of the city’s Protocol Chief – at the request of a Toronto group to show solidarity for Russia’s gays and Olympic gay athletes competing in Sochi. Other city councils across this country and around the world are doing the same thing to protest against one thing: the persecution of gays by Russian’s Vladimir Putin regime.
Mayor Rob Ford would have it that the flag is to support a certain sexual orientation. That’s disingenuous and untrue.
Let’s get this straight: The world hasn’t put up flags and shown support for people having sex a certain way: they’ve done it to give voice to persecution. And the issue of gay rights has not been politicized by the gay or LGBT community. It became political when their sexual choices became a lightning rod for public humiliation and public beatings. Gay rights are human rights.
As Toronto Councillor Shelley Carroll put it: “Unfortunately Vladimir Putin’s actions make this Olympics about human rights.”
Personally, I’m ashamed for our city that this mayor of ours, and his councillor brother, are disingenuously making the issue about whether or not you approve of someone’s sexuality. To say that the Pride parade is about “buck naked men”, as the mayor’s brother Councillor Doug Ford put it. marching down Yonge St. is, at best, missing the point – and is, at worst, fomenting hatred. It’s about much more than that – but it’s easy to reduce it to something nasty and dirty. It’s easy to say, you’re different, I don’t like you, so I won’t support you. It’s easy to say, I’m uncomfortable with you so I don’t want to know about you. It’s much harder to say, you’re different but I’m going to support your right to be different.
Ford’s argument is one I believe most Torontonians, whether urban or suburban, can see through. I believe they know it’s not about what goes on in people’s bedrooms. It’s about embracing other ways of living one’s life. It’s about the right of people to publicly state what they are – whether that’s Catholic or black, Muslim or gay. It’s about diversity.
And as to the argument that the Pride parade is a family event I ask: Since when? It’s always been open and flagrant and camp. That’s part of the fun of it. And for those who don’t approve, it’s a parade that we embrace so we can reassure ourselves and each other that public persecution is not acceptable.
When I was living in Belfast I made a point of dragging my husband, stepson and daughter down to the Pride parade every year. It was a small one – but it went down the middle of the big shopping street, Royal Ave., on a weekend afternoon. Being Northern Ireland, with its very vocal bible belt, the Pride parade was pretty tame. A little cross-dressing – but, heck, that’s a time-worn British tradition anyway.
The LGBT community would march with their big rainbow flag, with their floats and crossdressers and funky dance music down the middle of Royal Ave. They’d turn the corner in front of city hall where a group of Free Presbyterians were waiting, condemning them to hell for eternity.
Marching – particularly political marching – has a long history in Northern Ireland as we all know. Those marches divisive, the argument being: I’m going through your neighbourhood because I can.
The Pride parade was different – it was about acceptance. I didn’t go to support any particular sexuality or religion. I went to support freedom – freedom from being persecuted for your sexuality, for your beliefs, for your gender. Because if we can’t do that, we’re in trouble.
It was always nasty when that parade turned the corner to Belfast city hall, knowing the confrontation was coming, the signs were waving, the vitriol was flowing. That’s why we went down to support it.
If people stop supporting freedom and rights, if we allow beatings to happen, if we reduce bigger issues to immature arguments about who’s having sex with whom, that’s when we’re in trouble.