Pride is a political protest, not just a big party
Whatever else Pride is, it’s a political protest highlighting the ongoing plight of sexual and gender minorities. Sure, it’s also a parade, a big party, a chance for gay guys to put on their most revealing clothes and hook up with other gay guys, but at its core, Pride is about the dignity and rights of sexual and gender minorities, which are still a hated and vulnerable group in Canada.
Events like Pride are important because Canada is a country where people who live outside the sexual / gender mainstream are regularly the object of abuse ranging from actual physical life-threatening violence to institutional and systemic discrimination and all the way down to daily micro-aggressions. Straight people often don’t realise that this still happens (“But we have gay marriage in Canada!”), or even worse, they sometimes try to paint themselves as the ones being oppressed. Being able to deny that this hatred exists is just one more privilege of being straight. Don’t forget: less than a month ago, the mayor of Toronto himself was doing his darnedest to keep the rainbow flag off city hall while the Olympics were being held in a country where non-straights are persecuted openly and explicitly.
This is why Pride is not just an exercise in frivolity and licentiousness. It is an important political movement. We haven’t “made it” yet.
The true meaning of
The point of Pride is emphatically not that non-straight people are just like straight people, and therefore they deserve to have equal rights and be treated with equal dignity. That is the opposite of what Pride is for. If that were the goal, it would be called the “Gay Integration Festival” or something like that. Instead, it is called “Pride,” as in “I’m proud of the fact that I’m different from the sexual / gender mainstream, and I don’t need to deny who I am or assimilate to the mainstream in order to be valuable.”
The point of Pride is to emphasize the fact that there are sexual and gender minorities that are different in a lot of ways, and even though you may be offended by the fact that there are people who are different from you, non-straight people are still human beings with rights and you still have to treat them like human beings—with a certain amount of respect and dignity.
Thus, prominently featuring drag queens, sexual fetishes, strippers, and people in various states of undress is a political statement. The fact that it is offensive to the mainstream is a part of that statement.
This means that the (semi) nudity at Pride is not gratuitous in the slightest. If you want gratuitous (semi) nudity, watch the newest Star Trek film. (That’s right. I said it. The varying degrees of undress in most mainstream films is less defensible than the varying degrees of undress at Pride. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, conservatives.)
“The gays would get their message across better if they cleaned themselves up a bit”
You hear this from ostensibly well-meaning “allies” or even from gay people themselves—the argument that straight people would be more likely to accept non-straight people if they were less flamboyant, or if they were less in-your-face about it.
What’s scary about hearing this sort of thing from straight people is that they don’t even see how utterly dehumanising it is to make their acceptance of us as humans conditional on us “cleaning ourselves up.” As if our benevolent straight overlords get to choose who is treated with dignity and endowed with human rights and who isn’t on the basis of how they perceive us. And of course, if we don’t act the part, they get to revoke those privileges. That is exactly the opposite of what Pride is about, and suggesting that Pride be “cleaned up” and made “family friendly” totally misses the point of the whole political movement.
To ask for a Pride that’s had all the offensive, lewd and sexual parts removed would be like asking a labour union that’s on strike not to mention the terrible wages or the unsafe working conditions.
To ask for a Pride parade that’s just a bunch of cute monogamous gay and lesbians couples holding their adopted children is to even further marginalise all the other sexual and gender minorities. What could be more cruel than telling someone who’s a minority within a minority that the festival that’s supposed to be celebrating his/her differences is embarrassed by him/her?
It’s even more disheartening to hear the “Pride should be cleaned up” line from gay people.
Maybe you would be okay if it were a “gay integration festival” rather than Pride. Maybe you want to find your masc-for-masc gay guy (no fems!), get married, buy a house in the suburbs, wear sweater-vests, adopt a kid and enjoy all the straight privilege that you can. (“You’re gay, but you’re just like one of the guys, you know?”) If you want that, go and do that. I sincerely hope the life you choose is fulfilling and happy.
But don’t you dare try to co-opt a political movement for your own narrow ends when its goals are broader than just extending straight privilege to those who “clean up well.”
“Won’t someone please think of the children”
The bigots on the TDSB have framed their objection to Pride in terms of upholding the laws regarding nudity and protecting children. How pious of them. (Have you ever noticed that in debates touching on sexual morality, there’s always someone who cries out, “Won’t someone please think of the children!” By the way, the answer to that style of argument is almost always: “We are thinking of the children, and some of those children happen to grow up to be the people that you’re demonizing.”)
Their argument is that if a person were to be naked in public in any other context, she would be breaking the law regarding public nudity. This may of course be true, but the fact remains, we’re not talking about any other context. We’re talking about Pride. I would presume there’s also a law against driving a truck down the middle of a street at 5 km/h carrying an extra-wide load with dancers on it, but we make an exception in the case of the Pride parade, because we all agree that allowing this kind of political expression is more important than always slavishly enforcing this (otherwise valid) traffic law.
The reason for a law against public nudity is presumably to protect vulnerable people from aggressors who might use nudity to threaten them. Nobody wants to live in a place where some creeper can make you feel unsafe by following you around and then flashing you from underneath his trench-coat on the métro. I’m not suggesting that the public nudity law needs changing.
That said, we should realise that the reason for the law against public nudity is not to stifle valid political expression. (Sorry, TDSB!) The lewd and offensive nature of Pride is not gratuitous and incidental. It is an essential part of the core message, and frankly, anyone who comes to Pride should know beforehand to expect to see some skin.
The right of non-straights to protest ongoing hatred, discrimination, intimidation, bullying and violence against sexual and gender minorities is more important than the right of a few prudes not to get offended by seeing the human anatomy while attending the Pride parade.
And if by chance there’s a certain someone from the TDSB reading this, say a homophobic trustee who thinks that he can hide his hatred and bigotry under the holier-than-thou camouflage of respect for the law, I want you to know—from the bottom of my heart—that you can go suck a bag of dicks.