She Speaks Column

She Speaks: Whose pride is it anyway?

For want of a true ‘safe space’, Pride is so very close to what we need to heal as a community from relentless othering in a society that’s enforced a hierarchy we cannot ascend by virtue of being the amazing people we are.

Originally published by Huntsville Doppler.

As an activist, I’m all too familiar with politicians who don’t show up when needed and who do when unwanted. With regard to the former, MPP Norm Miller has been disappointingly absent from the actions raising awareness of the crises caused by the cuts from Doug Ford’s slash-happy government. My favourite example of this deliberate distancing of politicians from their dissenting populace was the response from Norm Miller’s office, regarding Muskoka Power of Many’s invitation to Justice Fest: after the event had concluded, the office emailed the organizer to say he had not been able to make it.

This had been, of course, conspicuously obvious and par for the course when it comes to our MPP addressing the needs of the many here in Muskoka.

Alas, I am all too disillusioned by this particular manner of politicking. Rub elbows with those in agreement, shift your support for the Premier from ‘no comment’ to saying you’re “feeling great about the Premier now” and collect your paycheque. Now, I know there are many in Muskoka who feel Miller represents them appropriately and that’s wonderful. There are also many who can only imagine that reality. My issue is when we have community members losing services, pleading for an ear, and they are being told, ‘yeah, I didn’t make it’. We know.

But let’s examine the second half of the dynamic I’ve introduced. It’s the politician (former, would-be, wannabe) who shows up where he’s absolutely not wanted. It’s Tony Clement at Pride Muskoka on July 28, 2019.

Only 30 minutes after Moose News released their reporting of Muskoka Pride’s second annual Pride March, I received two private messages from members of our local LGBT community drawing my attention to the chosen header photo: Tony Clement’s grin, flanked by several police officers in full uniform.

You would be right in assuming I have a couple opinions about this.

First of all, Tony Clement’s absurd and un-self-aware fall from what I’ll cautiously describe as grace still rankles me. As someone who works in the Violence Against Women sector, there are few lessons as concrete as ‘it’s never just once’. The cycle of abuse, fueled by male privilege, is described as a cycle for a reason—they go around and around and around. Abuse of power is not an anomaly—it’s built into the system, it’s rewarded, and it’s rarely sufficiently disciplined. I don’t think the dick pic to which Clement confessed was the first sent, nor do I believe the recipient of said pic was the first ‘woman’ to have received it.

The young women who found their social media activity pages inundated with ‘likes’ and comments from Clement would suggest to me that he appreciated an age discrepancy rife with power dynamics. As Jenny Holzer says, “Abuse of power comes as no surprise.”

On a completely unrelated note, young women and, to use modern LGBT lingo, non-binary AFABs/IFABs (assigned/identified as female at birth, a phrasing with roots in the intersex activist movement), are the most vulnerable to predatory behaviour in our community. Pride is supposed to be a space where these young women can be ‘out’ with others who feel the same way they do. As a lesbian who has worked hard to feel celebratory about her sexuality, I feel protective toward LGBT youth, and resentful toward any straight man with accusations of sexual impropriety. Young women learn quickly who has the power in our community and who remains silent. I, too, learned this unfortunate truth at a very young age, and it’s because I’ve been gifted with a platform as an adult that I feel these inequities cannot go unaddressed.

As I mentioned, two women who should have been at Muskoka Pride reached out to me to vent their disquiet over Clement’s attendance as well as the presence of uniformed police officers at our local pride event. I would come up short if I tried to describe how deeply their absence was felt. And that was just two women who know me well enough to share their concerns. I don’t have numbers of how many members of our community remained home because of uniformed police presence or that of known abusers, the names of whom circulate like reusable grocery bags among us.

Lest we forget our herstory, Pride began not as a celebration of our diversity, but as a protest against police brutality. On a summer night in 1969, decades of violence enacted by police against members of the gay community culminated in the Stonewall uprising, with Stormé DeLarverie, a butch lesbian, attributed with its incitation after being assaulted by police and then arrested. Her rallying cry: “Why don’t you do something?”

In case we falsely rest hope in the idea that liberation precedes us and that the past is past, consider the lack of police motivation to resolve the cases of gay men routinely slaughtered by Bruce McArthur.  Our community raised the alarm from the first days of missing men, ignored until the most recent two murders in 2017 were too obvious to dismiss—there are possible cold case victims dating backing to the 1970s.

These realities live at the forefront of my mind when I invoke Stormé’s call to action in considering the needs of my community. Marginalized because of sexuality, gender expression or lack thereof, vulnerable due to an only recently abated history of oppression, and often experiencing individual traumas, many members of the LGBT community are oppressed on a variety of axes, a theory known as intersectionality. For example, a lesbian woman of colour is oppressed because of her sex, her sexuality, her racialized status, possibly her class status, and possibly her non-conformity to gender roles.

When I balance her needs against the needs of an upper-class straight male, it’s time that she came out on top.

Am I saying that straight men shouldn’t be welcome at Pride? No—because I think there is a place for allies to use their power and privilege to uplift the voices of those lacking said unearned gifts. But do I believe that straight men and other heterosexual people or indeed those with privilege like myself as a white person have a responsibility to, as Stormé reproached, Do Something?

Yes.

So here’s me, using one of the avenues I’ve been granted, to ask that those accused of any type of sexual abuse or misconduct refrain from attending Pride. For want of a true ‘safe space’, Pride is so very close to what we need to heal as a community from relentless othering in a society that’s enforced a hierarchy we cannot ascend by virtue of being the amazing people we are. Here’s the thing, though—it may be too much to ask that these people stay home. Pride is playful, loving, welcoming, and a fabulous photo op—it must be hard to resist.

My secondary plea, then, is to the rest of you. Do something. Educate yourselves on LGBT issues. Understand why straight people don’t get a march (here’s a hint—you march down the street hand-in-hand with your partner every day without clenching their hand when someone looks at you a little off and having to silently decide between being safe and being Proud). Understand why uniformed police are, to put it politely, problematic at Pride events. Understand why brandishing rainbow colours does not alone make you an ally unless you wear that rainbow every single day to every single call—otherwise, understand it’s just marketing. No different than vodka brands or banks.

Not every member of my community agrees with me, by the way. I welcome differing opinions because I’m not about silencing anyone. However, those with more privilege simply speak louder. That’s the nature of the beast—privilege is a microphone. So I cup my hands around my mouth and shout—because I remember Stormé, and I remember my friends who remained at home, and I know what I have to do.

 

Note: I use the acronym LGBT because it’s what I came out into—there are countless ways of describing the “pride community” and this is mine.

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