“What Does Pride Mean to Me?”

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Salt Spring Pride 2018 runs from Sept. 5-9 on Salt Spring Island. Members of Salt Spring Pride’s 2018 planning committee, comprised of Diverse and Inclusive Salt Spring Island (DAISSI) members, provided their reflections on What Does Pride Mean to Me? for the Driftwood’s Salt Spring Pride pages. They are reprinted below: 

 

 

Thinking about what Pride means to me: It’s personal

By SHELLYSE SZAKACS

DAISSI PRESIDENT

I remember the first ever Pride Parade in Winnipeg, my home town, in 1987. It was unforgettable: frightening and exhilarating, coming as it did on the heels of a titanic debate about LGBTQ2S rights. 

Days before, we did not know if it would be a victory parade or an angry protest. We waited on tenterhooks to hear the decision the provincial government would make on the inclusion of sexual orientation in the new Manitoba Human Rights Code. At that time, I was the coordinator of the University of Manitoba Womyn’s Centre and had been invited to speak in support of the code at the legislative hearings just three weeks before the parade. That was an experience I will never forget.

I had read my draft speech to my beloved friend Michele. She astutely pointed out that I had written it in the third, not the first person. Yes, this was personal. And the personal is political, so . . . amidst TV cameras, microphones, loud groups of haters, ugly signage, I pushed through paralyzing terror and came out at the Manitoba Legislative Assembly: I spoke in the first person. Something that I would find terrifying today, I did in the context of the most acrimonious debate the province had seen since Nelly McClung led the fight to win the vote for women in 1916. If the new Human Rights Code were to be ratified, Manitoba would be the second province in Canada that gave any legal protection to our LGBTQ2S community.

For those who were not around in the 1980s, it is probably hard to imagine the precarity of the LGBTQ2S community. It was such a frightening time; how our community responded laid the foundation for the freedoms we now enjoy. It is probably hard to imagine what it was like to watch our brothers-lovers-sisters dying all around us while those whose intolerance was suddenly vindicated by AIDS condemned us all in the most vile of ways.

We were thrust into the fight of our lives. We had no legal rights. Life partners were denied access to their lovers’ death beds, while the so-called real bio-family made the life and death decisions — simple contact, never mind health benefits, empathy, were denied same-sex partners. The religious right told the world AIDS was God’s punishment, that we needed to be quarantined, thus leading the onslaught of ignorance, fear and loathing that threatened to occlude our very humanity. This climate of fear was so pervasive, even liberal-minded people were keeping a safe distance. 

Hearing the announcement that sexual orientation as prohibitive grounds for discrimination in Manitoba passed by a one-vote margin was an extraordinary moment. We were so afraid it would not pass. For me the outcome was hope, light dawning in a dark time. However the process, my personal experience of it at the age of 23 was the making of me.

I walked that parade with my best friend, co-conspirator and mentor, Michele Pujol, the bravest, smartest, most compassionate person I have ever known. She taught me that Pride is not only a political position, that Pride is personal; that when we stand in our truth even if we can’t feel our legs; speak our truth even if our voice cracks; mourn our losses and sing our joys and love despite the hate; walk arm-in-arm with our chosen family: our true family, we are truly empowered.

And since her passing, every Pride I walk, I walk with the memory of being with her in a tiny stream of love warriors, lavender balloons bubbling all around, undiminished by those wide streets edged with haters, and old edifices glazed with peering eyes towering over us, knowing that we were turning the tide of hatred and fear. And 31 years later, I can still feel the glow emanating from her. I feel her Pride. 

I walk in Pride for the many brave “others” who came before, who stepped up, risked everything to care for our sick, to develop and promote safe sex practices, to honour our dead, to explore an “other” sexuality, to stand in Pride and march and quilt and love and fight and speak and write and research and act-up and strategize, to guard our love and tend to our humanity.

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Living loud with courage

BY BILL TURNER

DAISSI VICE-PRESIDENT

To my dear Salt Springers . . . I have been asked to compose a few words on the topic of “What Does Pride Mean to Me?”

Well, as DAISSI president Shellyse Szakacs wrote so eloquently in her beautiful essay, Pride is extremely personal to me as well.

I only started to know what Pride felt like when I finally found the courage to come out of the closet at age 41. Until then I lived with huge shame and guilt for being born gay.

One of the biggest regrets of my life is not being able to tell my beloved mother my truth for fear that I would see disappointment in her eyes.

I console myself, however, by my belief that she would be proud of a son who finally had the courage to live authentically and perhaps be an example to others struggling like I did. In fact, one of the greatest compliments I have ever received was from a friend who told me that I inspired her to tell her mother that she is lesbian after I told my story to her.

I now live loud and proud and am happy that I was born gay. I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Shakespeare said it best: “To thine own self be true . . . .”  Through my work with DAISSI (and GLOSSI) I have found purpose and a sense of achievement that has meant so much to me, not to mention a huge circle of friends who have great parties!

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Pride: it’s about people claiming their right to be

BY THE REV. JULI MALLETT

PRIDE PLANNING COMMITTEE MEMBER

To exist is itself a perilous thing. To be able to exist, to have the opportunity to thrive, ought to be a given, an inalienable thing, an indestructible thing.

The world we live in, though, is one in which the mere act of taking up space is often criminalized, and to be the wrong kind of person or to have the wrong kind of body in public, daring to exist in the sight of others, is far too often a social crime of the highest order.

Ours is a world which expects the marginalized, the forgotten, the lonely and the impoverished to perform some act of contrition, of self-abnegation, to make some declaration of conformity and surrender and then to wait to be accepted as whole and valid, as welcome members of society. If you are an outsider, an outcast, you must wait your turn and this is a very slow thing.

Pride is to me a powerful act of public existence, of presence without being invited. “We’re here, we’re queer . . . .” has become a cliché, but it is the essence of the thing itself: Pride is about people claiming their right to be, and to be thriving rather than pathetic, to be proud rather than embarrassed. There is in that no small amount of defiance, but it is not fundamentally about opposition, not about being defined against something, but simply a community making plain the reality of its existence dispersed throughout the world.

I find in that some hope of a different world: a world in which people do not need to justify their existence, or define themselves in terms of some dominant culture; a world in which the public square rightly reflects not just the worldview of the most powerful: a life together in which nobody has to wait to be themselves, to their families, friends, and neighbours, to the community in which they live, or at the last to themselves. 

Pride is existence: here, now.

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Pride fest means we are not ‘the other’ in the room

BY JANET CLOUSTON

PRIDE PLANNING COMMITTEE MEMBER

I have been an openly gay person since the age of 19, when I was “outed” by my first girlfriend’s family — in a very painful and dramatic fashion. Thankfully, I have a family who were loving and supportive of me “no matter what” and thankfully they still are.

I have spent most of my adult life in long-term serious relationships, and when our federal and provincial governments showed the brave leadership to include same-sex couples in legislation to be legally wed, my partner and I were very proud to seek marriage. I think we celebrated as much getting the marriage licence as we did at the wedding. It seemed (and was) that important to us.

I have spent my working life in the business world, in and around small and big businesses, government agencies, non-profit leadership organizations, project management, on boards of directors and volunteer community groups. I have enjoyed many of the people I have worked with, and continue to feel proud of our work in making our communities better, in small ways and big ways. I am seeing the business world changing for the better, where we get to be human beings first and employees and bosses second, supporting people with families to attain work-life balance and supporting women in the workforce. More women around the board table has proven to be good for business and the bottom line.

I have also faced sexism and homophobia in the workplace many times. I have seen promotions vanish and watched as less qualified straight men get promotions I had applied for, despite my skills and commitment to my work. Being a feminist, who is not anti-male but is seeking equal rights for women, has also at times been a “mark” against me with my work colleagues. Only now can I also say I am an environmentalist without getting dirty looks. The times they are a changin’.

I have managed to succeed through hard work, developing my skills, by trying to be the most positive and enthusiastic person in the room, saying “yes” to taking on more, and striving to treat each and every person I meet with kindness. I have loved and have been loved, and in very many ways I am blessed. 

What Pride means to me is that for a few days every year I am not “the other” in the room.  I am surrounded by friends and strangers who are just like me and for a little while we are the 90 per cent and not the 10 per cent — what a relief! We get to share our stories of pain and joy, take over the streets for a few hours with friends and neighbours, dance to music from the ‘80s and ‘90s that led our revolution, hug and cry and send a burst of love up into the universe from Salt Spring Island. 

And at the end of the day, my hope is that all of us will realize that by embracing our differences and accepting and celebrating all of “the others” around us, the world is a better place for each and every one of us. 

 

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