Yesterday was Pride Day in Winnipeg, when members of our city’s LGBT community and their allies come out (heh) to celebrate with a rally at the Manitoba Legislative Building, a march through downtown and an afternoon festival at The Forks. Mother Nature graced this year’s event with some beautiful weather — a welcome treat after a week of rain — and a fun time was had by all.
Winnipeg’s Pride parade is unique compared to those of other Canadian cities because anyone who wants to participate in it can. As a result, instead of having a bunch of elaborate corporate floats with spectators corralled behind fencing, watching, you get thousands and thousands of citizens walking in the streets. Some people dress up in colourful costumes (RAINBOW BONANZA YOU GUYS) and let their freak flags fly; others walk with friends and family and look exceedingly normal and boring. There is always an abundance of adorable kids and dogs.
The vibe is warm and welcoming, with an incredible amount of demographic diversity on display: toddlers, senior citizens, furries, high-school GSAs, drag queens, topless women, almost-naked men, etc. Anything goes. This year, for example, I saw a women’s roller-derby team, two-spirited people in traditional regalia, a guy dressed as Cruella de Vil and a woman wearing an amazing, giant, homemade papier-mâché Jesus costume.
I figured today offers a good thematic opportunity to address a question that often arises every year around Pride time, usually expressed by uncomfortable straight folks. There are many variations of it but basically, it goes as follows:
Why are some gay people so in-your-face about it? Why do they need to parade through the streets in their underwear? Heterosexual people don’t do this — why do gay people think this is appropriate? I DON’T WANT TO SEE A MAN IN A SPEEDO/IN A DRESS/KISSING ANOTHER MAN/ANYTHING SEXUAL OH GOD WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!
(The variation I encountered this year came courtesy of a local columnist who wrote a very nice, supportive piece in advance of Pride but still felt the need to ask: “Why is there such a visible drag queen and leather boy presence at the parade? Doesn’t this fuel anti-gay prejudices?”)
As an ally, it’s not my place to speak on behalf of the LGBT community — which itself is extremely diverse and therefore, impossible to speak on behalf of, anyway (QUEER FOLK: NOT A HOMOGENEOUS GROUP). But I have some thoughts I’d like to share.
- Heterosexual people totally push their heterosexism in everybody’s face ALL THE TIME. See: the wedding industrial complex and the heteronormative assumptions that go along with it. See: almost all prime-time TV shows and Hollywood movies, which commonly feature heterosexual relationships, heterosexual kissing, female nudity for the male gaze, heterosexual sex scenes and on and on and on. See: the fact that a straight couple can hold hands on the street, put pictures of their partners up at work without fear of reprisal and/or exist openly in the world without being shot in the face.
- Some straight folks are just as kinky as some gay folks. It’s not like it’s only gay guys who dress up in women’s clothing or have anal sex (mainstream porn, anyone?). It’s not like it’s only queer folk who like to cut loose and indulge in a little exhibitionism once in awhile (see: Spring Break; bachelor parties and stagettes; most music festivals).
- There’s definitely a visible drag queen and leather boy presence at Pride, but it’s miniscule compared to the presence of “ordinary-looking” people wearing jeans and sandals and pushing strollers and walking dogs and whatnot. Tens of thousands of people took part in this year’s festivities — I’m bad with crowd estimates but yesterday’s event seemed huge; possibly the biggest I’ve ever seen — and I would guess maybe 20 to 30 men showed up in drag and maybe 50 people were wearing nothing but their skivvies. Just sayin’.
- Historically (and still to this day) people who identify as part of the LGBT community have been targeted and discriminated against because of their sexuality or gender expression. Like, SPECIFICALLY because of their sexuality or gender expression.
By way of analogy, imagine if having brown hair was treated like a sin and brunettes were persecuted because of it – bullied as kids, harassed as adults, denied jobs, victimized by violence, SHOT IN THE FACE etc. Imagine you had brown hair and you were made to feel ashamed of it from childhood. Maybe you even felt the need to hide your brown hair in order to be safe or stay employed.
Then imagine a grassroots movement was founded by brave brunettes who began standing up to their oppressors, at great personal risk to their own safety. These men and women said enough is enough and stopped hiding their true hair colour (CYNDI LAUPER REFERENCE). They started demanding that their human rights be respected.
If that movement honoured its community with an annual parade, you can bet your ass a lot of people who participated in it would be wearing their hair as brown as possible, as publicly as possible.
It doesn’t surprise me that, on a day for celebrating the LGBT community, some members of that community choose to be overtly sexual. I don’t see it as pushing their gayness in my face (WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN). I see it as proudly celebrating a part of themselves that’s worth celebrating, not hiding.
Happy Pride, Winnipeg. You be you and fuck the haters.