Put your pride aside and show up for Pride

With the month long festivities of Pride Toronto right around the corner, many members of the LGBTQ2+ community are in the midst of deciding how they will celebrate. I could not think of a better day than today, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia to further discuss the profound impact our participation in pride has on the greater LGBTQ2+ community.

Pride Toronto 2016 CN Tower, photo by Na Jin Lim

It has been a year filled with divisive discourse regarding the participation of the Toronto Police Service in the parade and municipal funding as a result of last years sit-in by Black Lives Matter Toronto. Unfortunately, instead of actively working to better understand the lived experiences of people of colour and trans members of the LGBTQ2+ community, many of us have decided not to attend Pride as an act of defiance.

A weekend at the cottage would certainly be a nice alternative to the sweaty, commercialized Pride many of us know and love, however choosing to do so over the festival weekend to boycott the parade is not the answer to the problems our community faces. I am afforded a lot of privilege as a white male and as such, should be using my privilege to amplify the experiences of those who are not being heard; those still living in the closet, POC within our community, trans people, as well as LGBTQ2+ police officers (who have seen themselves virtually erased from this conversation completely). Skipping Pride this year to spite Black Lives Matter Toronto threatens the very opportunity that Pride affords us all; the opportunity to have our voices heard and positively contribute to solution oriented dialogue surrounding the challenges many of us face as LGBTQ2+ people.

Known for my squeaky clean reputation, few people are surprised to hear I have only ever had positive interactions with police. Having worked for the municipality in which I live since before I knew I was gay, I have experienced first-hand how workplace visibility can positively effect workplace culture. For some, coming out at work can be harder than coming out to family, especially when you work for the government or in public service and you depend on your colleagues to keep you safe. The role of a police officer, the uniform they wear, and the trust among colleagues to have each other’s back, is inextricably linked. For officers who identify as LGBTQ2+, that trust can be threatened when they come out at work. This is what makes the opportunity to celebrate Pride in uniform so important. While I recognize ones career is a choice, so is coming out; nobody should have to choose between the two.

I know empathy is difficult; it is difficult to understand, difficult to feel, and difficult to acquire, but just because something is difficult or uncomfortable does not mean we should avoid it. So please try and empathize with the officers who are so rarely afforded the opportunity to wear their uniforms while celebrating being a part of our community.

Now, just because I understand the importance of LGBTQ2+ visibility in the workplace, does not mean I cannot acknowledge the continued mistreatment of our community members who identify as trans and/or POC; these viewpoints are not mutually exclusive. It has taken me a lot of time and work to wrap my head around how it may feel to be threatened by police, it still baffles me that trans people and POC are still being harassed and abused by those who are supposed to protect them. Pride is an opportunity for our peers who our being oppressed by police, and our peers who are members of the police to connect affect positive change. By turning the conversation into “us vs. them” we accomplish nothing as a community; we are stronger together.

So now I task you with this, instead of choosing to prioritize one group over the other, further dividing ourselves, challenge yourself to recognize the validity in both perspectives. Put in the work to empathize with the lived experiences of those who are different than you. I would like you to think; think about how you felt when you were bullied for playing with the girls at recess, or made to feel that you couldn’t discuss your personal life at work, how about the time you and your partner were hospitalized after the beatings you received one night on your way home? I often find myself falling back to a favourite quote of mine, “be who you needed when you were younger” did you need someone to show up and show you it was ok to be different? I know I did. Attend Pride for that kid.

Your participation is such an easy way to recognizing, validating, and celebrating the diverse groups that make up our community, whether those are trans POC, gay and lesbian members of the police force, the gender non-conforming refugees, or the differently abled. We all come from unique backgrounds and experiences and it is those very experiences that make our community such a rich and exciting thing to be a part of.

This year’s theme is Pride plus, it is not the time for us to divide.