Why LGBTQ Pride Month is more important than ever

“Why is there such a thing as gay pride but no such thing as straight pride?” I can’t tell you how many times, whether at the grocery store picking up a four pack of yogurt—or in the last minutes of a meeting at the office, that I’ve heard this come at me from an intelligent person.

Sometimes I’ll answer it with a quip along the lines of: “Because straight pride is every day of the year” and quickly point out that even though things are slowly changing in what some call our “ever-evolving society,” the fact is, most laws and services, products and ads, Hollywood films and pop songs still exclusively cater to heterosexuality. If I feel someone is genuinely interested in knowing the whys behind Pride, I get into the history of it all, and talk about how 46 years ago, global members of the LGBTQ community all came out in various cities to respond to the Stonewall riots in New York City. This momentous NYC incident spurred an international domino effect of demonstrations, which are linked to the patrons of a New York-based gay bar who were raided by the Police on June 28, 1969. Those members of the LGBTQ+ community were violently attacked and arrested for simply socializing, aka doing exactly the same thing that their straight counterparts were doing at a bar that was three doors away.

If I am in a bit of a mood and the “why no straight pride?” is brought up, I reply by shrugging my shoulders with a mock, calm smile and request that the question be relayed to one of the many bros I hear weekly using derogatory words like fag, dyke, cocksucker or ladyboy. These guys are easy to find. They’re at my gym, or in seats, waiting for a movie or concert to start, or in a cluster, casually walking down the street. They are in small towns and big cities, and Canada—for all of its progressive achievements with LGBTQ marriage, adoption and civil rights—is not immune to them.

I often think LGBTQ+ Pride month is specifically for these bros. Or, for people like my ex-boss, who referred to things she disliked as “gay” in weekly meetings, which typically held more than 25 people in them. Or Pride is for my newsfeed, which sadly features countless anti-LGBTQ encounters on the playground or workplace.

Yesterday, my friends and I rallied together to attend a moving vigil at Toronto’s 519 Community Center to honor the victims of the Orlando Massacre, a direct attack against LGBTQ members which took place in a gay nightclub called Pulse. A few key leaders in the LGBTQ community in Toronto and a dozen, concerned politicians quickly organized the event in a matter of hours, on a Sunday. It was impressive to see so many people drop whatever they were doing to make sure that the anti-homophobic, anti-xenophobic message of hope eclipsed all the speculations that come with tragedy.

At this gathering, my friends and I acknowledged that our own experiences with homophobic bullies—past and present—paled in comparison to the innocent lives taken by hate in Florida and around the world. The most stirring speaker, Alicia Hall, who is the current co-chair of Pride Toronto, gave me the best answer I can give to that often-asked question. Hall spoke passionately of discussions she had with a few elders in the LGBTQ+ community and how they fought fear every year so that they could not be treated like second-class citizens. Hall said that these older, seen-it-all community members believe the parade, the events, the parties and the demonstrations we know as Pride are all as vital today as they were yesterday. She concluded that “the pride movement was borne out of resistance,” a battle against inequality and ignorance that simply must continue. Before reading the names of the Orlando victims, Hall also said something that stayed with me. “It is so important that we take up space and that we are visible.”

It’s not so easy to be visible or to be vocal on our own—especially with so many threats in our midst. However, when you have the support of hundreds, sometimes thousands, which is what Pride brings to the table, it feels possible.

Here’s a look at a few key Toronto Pride events this year.