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A ride in pride

A ride in pride

Another year, another extravagant and crowded Pride Parade. Commencing at Bloor and Church on June 23, the Parade made its way through the bustling streets all the way to Yonge-Dundas Square. Despite the extreme heat and delayed schedule, corporations, organizations, and university-affiliated groups, including some from our very own University of Toronto, marched in the Parade to celebrate the end of Pride Month. 

 

BEFORE THE PARADE: Floats and groups preparing to start marching

DURING THE PARADE: Celebration

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

U OF T PRESENCE

U of T Engineer’s annual float, created by the Blue and Gold Committee DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

U of T Engineers on their float
DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

University of Toronto Student Union presence at Pride DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

Students from Victoria College
DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

 

AFTER THE PARADE

Doug Ford doesn’t deserve to march at Pride

Premier has a record of disregarding the needs of minority communities

Doug Ford doesn’t deserve to march at Pride

Earlier this month, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that he would not be marching at Toronto’s Pride Parade on June 23 as long as uniformed police officers remained banned from the event. Uniformed police officers will not march at Pride for the third year in a row, following a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest at the 2016 Pride Parade.

BLM successfully demanded the removal of police floats from future parades and voiced the need for Pride to better include communities of colour. Since then, criticism over perceived police inaction and mishandling of several disappearances in the Church and Wellesley Village has also underlined the continuation of the ban. 

Ford’s decision not to march — calculated and political — is not surprising, considering his history of exclusionary policy-making, some of which reduced funding for healthcare, education, and social services.

These changes will impact the most vulnerable of our community and blatantly express a disregard for constituents who are unable to access these resources independently. His choice to march in the York Pride Festival on June 15 alongside the York Regional Police is just another reminder of Ford’s disregard for the marginalized in Toronto and raises the question of whether the premier was marching in support of Pride or in support of police.

Ford breaks six-year tradition set by Wynne in 2013

By contrast, Kathleen Wynne became the first sitting Premier to march in the Parade in 2013. Wynne, who led Ontario’s previous Liberal government, was unaware of this historical first, and said of her attendance, “Every year I take part in the Pride events. Jane and I go to the Pride and Remembrance run on Saturday morning. I go to the church service, which is always very, very moving, on Sunday morning, and of course I walk in the Parade.”

Wynne, who was the first Premier in Canada to openly identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, noted at the time that many of her constituents told her that Pride was like an annual family gathering, given that many of their own families had excluded them from important events.

On the other hand, in 2014, while running for the mayor of Toronto, Ford — alongside his brother, former Mayor Rob Ford — declined to march in the parade, infamously saying, “Do I condone men running down the middle of Yonge Street buck naked? Absolutely not.” He continued, “Maybe there are some people in this city that approve of that, and maybe they can bring their kids down to watch this.”

The Fords have long been criticized for their absence at the parade, and it is unreasonable to expect Ford to attend the parade now. Since taking office last summer, Ford reintroduced a regressive sexual education curriculum which, as discussed in a previous Varsity editorial, greatly threatened the ability for LGBTQ+ students to learn in an inclusive space.

After much backlash from Ontarians, including legal challenges by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Ford’s government backtracked on its plans, instead opting for a new sex ed curriculum that appears similar to Wynne’s 2015 version. However, though sexual orientation and gender identity are still in the curriculum, they will now be taught much later, and parents will also have the ability to opt-out their children from the curriculum.

Absence at Parade follows legally-challenged move to revise Ontario’s sex ed curriculum

In truth, Ford’s appearance at Toronto’s Pride Parade would be a farce, as his policies do not reflect the needs of the community. In practice, his reversal of Wynne’s sex ed policies is regressive and detrimental to students’ health education. A 2015 comparison by Global News revealed that the previous government’s policies brought Ontario’s sex ed curriculum closer to that of Canada’s other provinces and territories. 

By reverting Ontario’s sex ed curriculum this year, he instigated a harmful discourse questioning the importance of LGBTQ+ identities. Eliminating references to sexual orientation, gender identity, and same-sex relationships — as Ford planned to do before the reversal — threatens efforts to normalize different gender and sexual identities through the public school system.

Not only did the previous curriculum aim to foster a community of inclusivity, but it also strived to eliminate gender and sexuality-based persecution and bullying in and outside of schools. In many situations, this curriculum may have been the first time many students below grade eight encountered issues related to the LGBTQ+ community.

The Ford government claimed that Wynne’s curriculum was too detailed in its description of certain elements of sexual health and reproduction and introduced certain concepts too early in students’ education. Rather than rewriting and introducing an alternative curriculum that would specifically remedy these issues, Ford wanted to roll back Wynne’s 2015 curriculum, a decision which the CCLA says “stigmatizes, degrades, and alienates” LGBTQ+ students and parents.

In addition, his cuts to public education threaten the livelihoods of teachers, parents, and students as schools will be forced to make cuts to specialized programs, elective courses, and classroom supplies. It also grossly increased class sizes, reducing face-to-face time between students and teachers. These disproportionately affect students who are not able to access programs outside of school due to financial, physical, or environmental factors.

Ford’s Student Choice Initiative has also threatened funding of LGBTQ+ student advocacy groups

Similarly, Ford’s highly controversial Student Choice Initiative (SCI) allows students to opt out of non-essential fees. Institutions must rationalize “essential” services according to the framework set out by the Ontario government. Student groups, such as The Varsity, will need to provide a fee opt-out option. The Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario and the York Federation of Students subsequently launched a legal challenge against the initiative in May.

The opt-out policy has the potential to defund or severely restrict funding for groups and services whose members may be otherwise without a community to depend upon for social support. Particularly at U of T, an institution that has been criticized for failing to foster a positive collegiate atmosphere, students rely on clubs and group activities to transform our university into a place of emotional and social growth and support. Minority students, many of whom may not be able to express themselves in their communities and homes — whether through their gender identity, sexual orientation, or cultural and ethnic heritage — will be without these support systems.

The SCI will potentially cut the ability of levy-funded student organizations, like LGBTOUT, Rainbow Trinity, and Woodsworth Inclusive, all of which advocate for LGBTQ+ students.

University is meant to be a place of growth and of self-discovery, and Ford’s SCI limits individuals’ and clubs’ ability to fully support this element of postsecondary education.

Ford’s funding cuts do not stop at the SCI. His reductions of OSAP funding threaten lower- and middle-income students’ ability to access postsecondary education. In particular, the decrease in grants for loans, the consideration of parents’ incomes up to six years after being in school, and the fact that the loans will accumulate interest immediately after graduation have detrimental effects on students’ ability to access funding. Just this week, many students took to social media to show how much funding they stand to lose in comparison to previous years.

According to Higher Education Today, a blog by the American Council on Education, “higher education has historically been and remains a positive location for students’ identity development.” Gender and sexual identity development should not be bound to an economic bracket.

Placing an increased pressure on lower-income students to find funding for school not only places these students in a compromising position, but uniquely challenges LGBTQ+ identifying students by limiting their access to a historically supportive space — and especially considering that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be in lower socio-economic brackets. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “Bisexual and trans people are over-represented among low-income Canadians… An Ontario-based study found that half of trans people were living on less than $15,000 a year.”

Doug Ford has never been for the people, and there is no reason to believe he has a place at Toronto Pride. His policies have increased financial and systemic pressures on the province in general and on the LGBTQ+ community specifically.

Ford continues to tout his adherence to his campaign base while ignoring and flagrantly opposing much of the social and financial support systems which aim to benefit marginalized communities and individuals. By limiting access to student groups, financial aid, and modern sexual health education, Ford is unduly challenging members of the LGBTQ+ community who rely on these services.

Ford’s last-minute decision to participate in York Pride was his opportunity to assure his base of his support of the police force, and, in the process, his prioritization of the needs of institutions over vulnerable communities and individuals. Supporting the LGBTQ+ community was never the nexus of his appearance. If it were, he would have attended the Parade during his time as a city councillor. Doug Ford chose not to go to Pride, but the truth is, Pride is better off without him.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

“To serve and protect who?”

Toronto Police should listen to marginalized LGBTQ+ folks and attend Pride — without the badge

“To serve and protect who?”

Last month, Olivia Nuamah, executive director of Pride Toronto, announced that the Toronto Police Service (TPS) will march in the 2019 parade in uniform, following their absence in the last two parades.

In the 2016 parade, a Black Lives Matter protest successfully demanded that police floats be removed and officers not show up in uniform for future parades. Some view the upcoming re-entry of police as a step forward for the community’s relationship with the TPS.

But it has also drawn ire, particularly among marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community, whose negative experiences with the TPS had made it difficult for them to attend the event in the past. They had been strongly supportive of the absence of the TPS.

One can understand the desire to portray a united front when trying to achieve reconciliation. The presence of the TPS at the Pride Parade might one day become a symbol of the triumph of community and love over injustice and persecution.

However, it is inappropriate to access this symbol until that triumph has actually been attained in an effective and permanent capacity. Many of the most vulnerable among us still feel as though their relationship with the police has a long way to go toward respect and repair. 

A demonstration in opposition to police in uniform at Pride was held in front of Pride Toronto’s headquarters on November 3. Organized by Ashley Cooper, the Facebook event for the demonstration drew support from over 1,000 individuals.

The event was attended by leaders in the LGBTQ+ community, including Nick Mulé, an associate professor at York University and the Chair of Queer Ontario, sociologist and activist Gary Kinsman, one of Canada’s leading academics on LGBTQ+ issues, and Alphonso King Jr., also known as DJ Relentless and Jade Elektra.

Their speeches were impassioned, focused, and reflected a bitter frustration toward the executive directorship of Pride Toronto for what feels to many community members like a severe betrayal of Pride’s history of resistance.

It is important to recognize that the Pride festival exists to commemorate the progress made by activists against decades of violence abetted and often executed by governmental and law enforcement bodies. 

Kinsman opened his address by introducing himself as one of the organizers of Toronto’s first Pride event held in  June 1981.

“I want to remind people a little bit first of all about the history of that first Pride. 1981 was the year of the bath raids and the mass resistance on the part of our communities to the police invasions of our lives, the arrests, and all of the horror that occurred as a result of those raids.”

37 years ago, on February 5, 1981, the Metropolitan Toronto Police conducted a raid of four bathhouses, arresting 286 men and prompting outrage from Toronto’s gay and lesbian community and its public allies.

Toronto Pride Week grew out of the mass protests that ensued, which were organized against not only the raids, but also against the systemic discrimination of the queer community perpetrated by the city’s police force. 

The insistence that the officers be allowed to march in uniform is accordingly troubling. The attempt to paint the social institution of policing as an ally in those achievements, as opposed to its historical role as aggressor and deterrer, is misleading.

“It’s right there at the top of their website: ‘To Serve and Protect.’ But to serve and protect who?” Cooper asked of those in attendance at the November 3 demonstration.

Recent interactions between the community and the police indicate that the relationship is far from healed.

In the fall of 2016, it was brought to the public’s attention that the police were engaging in an undercover operation titled Project Marie, in which police arrested 72 individuals after luring them into soliciting sex acts at Marie Curtis Park. The 89 charges laid were almost entirely bylaw infractions, a baffling choice considering that undercover operations are utilized primarily for cases of criminal activity.

This year, the arrest of Bruce McArthur for the first-degree murder of eight men between 2010 and 2017 dug a deeper schism between the community and the TPS. In December 2017, already months into an investigation, Chief Mark Saunders claimed that there was no evidence of a serial killer targeting the gay community.

Not only did the TPS publicly deny the connection of the disappearances to a serial murderer, but a statement released by Pride Toronto in April revealed that the community had earlier voiced their concern about the disappearances, only to be dismissed by the investigators.

At the demonstration, it was made clear that many feel that the decision to once again extend the invitation to police is primarily based on a threat to Pride of losing its government funding.

“‘It has come to threaten our very existence as a publicly funded non-profit community organization.’ That is a direct quote from their statement,” Cooper cited from Pride Toronto’s announcement. 

To insist that the LGBTQ+ community be the first to extend their hands in friendship to the police, especially in invitation to an event that is such an emblem of rebellion against oppression, is neither fair nor reasonable when reciprocal efforts toward reconciliation have not yet been appropriately rendered.

“The people who wear the badge are welcome,” Cooper said. “It is the badge we have asked to stay at home.”

Anna Osterberg is a first-year Master of Teaching student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

The corporatization of queer liberation

Pinkwashing at Toronto’s Pride Parade

The corporatization of queer liberation

H aving some sort of Pride celebration during the summer months is now par for the course for many major city centres, and more and more, the festivities are spreading into even smaller urban areas. Owen Sound, Ontario, had its very first pride parade this year.

As queer events garner broader attendance, they have also become sought after opportunities for corporate sponsorship and advertisement. However, these advertisements often provoke widespread criticism — can Pride demonstrations stay true to their founding spirit of queer liberation when they’re bankrolled by major corporations?

To spectators at this year’s Pride Parade in Toronto, a corporate presence was extremely visible. Most of the large scale floats sported rainbow coloured logos of large companies like Canada Trust or Bud Light. Yet, while these corporate floats loomed large over the pedestrian element of the parade, many groups on foot carried signage protesting that same corporate involvement, with slogans such as “You Can’t Buy My Pride” or “The ‘T’ in LGBTQ Doesn’t Stand for ‘TD’.”

For some, corporate sponsorship is a benign and necessary aspect of contemporary Pride movements and celebrations. For others, it’s pinkwashing big business trying to appear queer-friendly in order to seem progressive and gain new marketing opportunities, without necessarily caring about or contributing to the community.

While complaints against corporate involvement in queer events are becoming more frequent, the political environment has changed dramatically. With government funding for queer non-profits already scarce and potentially becoming more so (if the recently scrapped LGBTQ+-friendly sexual education curriculum is any indication), there’s also the question of whether these groups can continue to do work for the queer community without relying on private and corporate funding.

Origins of Pride

The origin of these mid-year celebrations and most contemporary queer organizing is usually acknowledged as the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

In 1969 New York, it was illegal to ‘solicit homosexual relations.’ On June 28 of that year, police conducted a series of raids on bars in Greenwich Village that were thought to be gathering places for the queer community. This culminated in a raid on the Stonewall Inn, which broke into a queer struggle against the police, who ended up barricaded inside the inn.

While members of the community deserve to be highlighted in the events of that night most notably, trans woman Marsha P. Johnson, who is credited with throwing the first stone of the riots much of the lasting significance of that night was the lesson of how the queer community could band together to fight their diverse oppressions.

After that night, queer liberation movements gained visibility and momentum. More locally, Toronto Pride celebrations grew out of the Bathhouse Raids of 1981. The Toronto police forces coordinated raids on four major bathhouses that they suspected of prostitution and ‘indecent acts’ — read: queer sexuality.

After a whopping 286 arrests, the raids marked a turning point in Toronto’s queer liberation movement. The queer community grew increasingly politicized and refused to be swept under the rug by police, media, or the public.

Both these events occured, of course, long before large companies would have had any interest in sponsoring queer movements. So how do the events of 1969 and 1981 compare to our modern Pride celebrations, where corporate sponsorships feature prominently in queer organizing?

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Contemporary Pride

While both the Stonewall and Bathhouse riots were protests, modern Pride has incorporated more and more celebratory aspects, as milestones of LGBTQ+ liberation become more frequent.

Now that larger corporations and even governments wish to share in Pride celebrations, there is often more competition for visibility.

This was clear in the summer of 2016, when Black Lives Matter (BLM) Toronto staged a protest in the Pride Parade over the growing marginalization of the Black queer community within Pride celebrations.

Pride Toronto ultimately agreed to Black Lives Matter Toronto’s demands. That same year, Justin Trudeau marked the first time that a Canadian Prime Minister ever walked in a Pride celebration, but Trudeau did so without ever publicly acknowledging the BLM protest to which he was in such close proximity.

These events raise questions of who should be privileged and visible at events of queer celebration. As the signage shows, many protestors at this year’s Pride parades and marches argued that corporate sponsorship didn’t belong. However, at the same time, Pride is a non-profit organization. Since it charges no admission to its events, sponsorships are vital to its ability to create queer spaces.

I wrote to Undergraduate Director and Lecturer Dai Kojima from the University of Toronto’s Sexual Diversity Studies Program about the dilemma that queer non-profits find themselves in.

When asked about the potential benefits and risks of major corporate sponsorship, Kojima responded that he viewed the situation as “more complicated than good/bad.” In Kojima’s opinion, “it is too easy to blame non-profits as being complicit in capitalism — as if they can ‘refuse’ to take the money.” He continued, “Many organizations are barely getting by and fighting over small pools of money to fund their programs, pay minimum salaries to their dedicated staff, and rent a basic work space to gather and organize activities.”

Kojima said that not all queer non-profits would even have the option of relying solely on non-corporate funding, especially non-profits that serve the most marginalized elements of the LGBTQ+ community, such as “racial and ethno-specific communities, homeless youths, sex workers, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, to name a few.”

He explained that “in the context of Toronto/Ontario, governmental support for these intersectional, queer non-profit organizations is shrinking rapidly — a dire situation made worse by the current Premier’s attack on social supports and public education on gender and sexual diversity.” This means that many more organizations are forced to turn to corporate support to stay viable.

Further, Kojima wrote, “We really have to understand the ambivalent and conflicted ways in which queer organizations — both big and small — work with corporations and governments to fund their work.”

Noulmook Sutdhibhasilp, Executive Director of the non-profit Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS), echoed Kojima’s call for nuance in these discussions. He noted that issues of corporate sponsorship are directly linked to “a bigger social justice issue” — that is, the “neo-liberalism agenda that shrinks government’s welfare state and continues to direct the responsibilities of social, health, education and other services to be dictated by the market.”

For Sutdhibhasilp, this makes corporate sponsorships essential in providing services to marginalized communities in Toronto and elsewhere.

Sutdhibhasilp also expressed that while “many people are turned off by corporate logos and conditions they impose,” the “PRIDE spirit is in celebrating who we are” and taking up space in the mainstream.

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

Who are the sponsors?

Sponsors vary widely in industry and how actively they support the queer community, outside of the weekend of Toronto Pride. One of Pride Toronto’s most noted sponsors is TD Banking, which sponsors 83 Pride festivities around North America while also supporting over 160 LGBTQ+ organizations and initiatives.

On the flip side, Bud Light is a major sponsor of Pride Toronto, yet was also a major sponsor of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. This move was widely criticized due to reports of Russia’s recent and well-documented persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly its anti-gay purges in Chechnya.

There are also sponsors like Remington’s Men of Steel strip bar, which supports Pride while arguably promoting cisnormative views of beauty and pleasure.

Nevertheless, all of these businesses are willing to put their profits into funding initiatives like Pride Toronto. Is this contribution enough, in return for all the benefits that they get through exposure at Toronto Pride? Or do corporations that can appear accepting and progressive through sponsoring events like Pride have more of a responsibility to engage with the queer community, as TD Bank and other sponsors try to do?

Kojima argued that the debate should not focus on whether corporate money is “always already bad” so much as on questions such as “which agendas are deemed safe and worthy in the eyes of corporate philanthropic programs and which voices remain on the margins?” and, “what systems of value and valuation are at work when corporate and government money is unevenly distributed?”

In that framework, organizations like Pride seem safer and less controversial than organizations serving more marginalized elements of the community, and therefore receive more corporate funding. This leaves organizations serving ethno-culturally specific or poverty stricken aspects of the queer community struggling for funds to keep their services going.

For anyone wanting to support some of those organizations who receive less governmental and corporate funding and remain on the margins, here are a few places you could start:

  • Rainbow Railroad: an organization helping LGBTQ+ people from around the world escape state-sponsored violence
  • Casey House: Canada’s only stand-alone hospital for HIV/AIDS patients
  • Youthline: a completely anonymous hotline for queer youth that provides referrals, support, and recommendations for resources
  • ACAS: mentioned briefly above, this organization works to make HIV/AIDS information, as well as general LGBTQ+ resources, available to East and Southeast Asian Communities

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

Symbolic appropriation?

On a broader scale, questions regarding the effects of the widespread use of queer symbols by large corporations remain. While it can be positive for queer symbols to be more widely accepted and mainstream, Kojima noted that “we must be skeptical of the belief that circulation of symbols and mass consumption of them will somehow lead to some kind of liberation.”

The recent controversy surrounding the new Philadelphia Pride Flag, which incorporates black and brown stripes into the traditional rainbow flag to represent inclusion of queer people of color, highlights this. As Toronto recently experienced with the 2016 BLM protest, this is a much talked about issue in current queer organizing — the drive to ensure that people of color are not ignored when we talk about the queer community, and that this intersectionality is acknowledged.

It’s important to note that as of yet, no corporations have used the Philadelphia flag instead of the traditional rainbow colours. Perhaps the more frequently used “Love is Love” and “PRIDE” are safer, more consumer-friendly options, rather than embracing the contemporary face of the queer community and accepting potential controversy.

Kojima presented an ideal scenario, one that he stressed is only theoretical and not currently the way that corporate sponsorships work: “Ideally corporations should work with queer communities in order to first find out what the pressing needs of that particular community are and ask how their sponsorship will help that cause. Not the other way around.”

“Corporate donors need to let go of the expectation that their sponsorship and donation for queer events and programs will produce direct beneficial return (e.g. corporate visibility, increased positive public perception, monetary gains etc.), and instead should offer financial and other material supports because supporting these initiatives is the right thing to do.”

In Photos: The 2018 Toronto Pride Parade

In Photos: The 2018 Toronto Pride Parade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A love letter to Pride

A reminder that regardless of how far we have come, there is still more that needs to be done

A love letter to Pride

There are few places where one can strip themselves of any veil and express the unadulterated version of themself. Throughout the years, Pride has become one of these safe havens.

Pride highlights the LGBTQ+ community in all of its glory. The carnivalesque themes and harlequin atmosphere project and celebrate the years spent hiding from oppression and fighting for basic rights the right to love, to express, and to simply be.

LGBTQ+ individuals fight, whether in public or private, to be a part of the fabric that creates and connects societies worldwide. Pride allows members of the LGBTQ+ community to defend their feelings, protect their right to resist social stigma, and promote the rich diversity that defines the community.

There is a fearlessness to Pride, backed by a history infused with tenacity and courage, that leaves me in awe. June 16, 2017 was the first time I attended the Pride parade. People of every age, shape, and ethnicity filled the streets. The crowd was as polychromatic as the flags that they carried, and the atmosphere was filled with glitter and charged with ecstasy.

Amidst the bombastic music and vivid rainbows, all I saw was the unreserved emotion — the wide smiles that make eyes gleam, and the tears running down faces, filled with nostalgia and joy.  Coming from a country like Pakistan, where many aspects of society are censored, I had never had the privilege of experiencing something like this before.

I have always been a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, possibly even before I understood how sexuality and gender are constructed in our world, but in those moments at Pride, a newfound appreciation for the movement grew in me.

The spectacle of ‘come as you are’ is terrifying for most people, myself included. We fall into a façade that we feel will be accepted, rather than letting the world adjust to accommodate, or simply accept, us.

Although I have experienced discrimination as a Muslim woman of colour, I also identify as cisgender. I cannot claim to completely understand the struggle of being constantly mislabeled by heteronormative culture, as I have never had to justify who I’m attracted to or the identity that I adopt.

But as I marched alongside all the supporters who had come out to celebrate Pride, I realized that this community has every right to be heard. A flicker of hope sparked in my heart that one day people in my country could do the same.

Freedom of expression is a relative term in Pakistan, but so are all the other freedoms that we take for granted in the West. Pakistan is a country submerged in years of turmoil and deluded by biased religiosity. There is a lack of free will, despite citizens being charming and humble. Even social activists are often afraid to advocate for the inclusivity of various sexualities, genders, and identities.

The monochromatic city walls retain the stories of people who are desperate, but afraid, to be themselves without discrimination. I have seen my friends struggle because we come from a society laced with conservatism, which leaves them unable to live their truths.

Narrow-mindedness bred through education paves a predetermined path for every generation, before its members even realize who they are or who they love. People have to think twice before touching, and the simple act of interlocking fingers turns into hushed shadows. They begin to live in the darkness — secretly existing, but never really seen. Where I am from, this is all too often the narrative of the LGBTQ+ community.

Standing at Pride, I wanted more for my country. I wanted ruffled feathers, ostentatious costumes, hopeful slogans, and liberation. It was all right in front of me people reveling in the light as they walked through the streets of Toronto.

For me, that felt like the importance of Pride. It is not just a celebration, but a remembrance of the journey that led to these moments and the road moving forward. That is, a road for further inclusivity that dispels the latent bigotry and gives rise to equity.

While the West has made strides, there is still a vast amount of LGBTQ+ culture that needs to be taught and mainstreamed. It goes beyond a day or a month — paradigms need to be shifted worldwide.

The LGBTQ+ community has always faced adversity with love and resilience, from Stonewall to the fight for transgender rights. Members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community keep marching to retain the rights given to them, with the hope that we can spark change in a countries where these rights do not yet exist.

This year, Pride encompassed not only the vibrant festivities, but also highlighted the violence that has recently struck the community. Pride serves as a reminder that regardless of how far we have come, there is still so much that needs to be done.

Rather than touting what I have done for the LGBTQ+ community which is little in comparison to what the community has taught me this is my love letter to Pride.  

U of T students’ guide to 2018 Pride

How to join the parade with U of T student groups

U of T students’ guide to 2018 Pride

In celebration of Pride Month and in preparation for the Pride Parade on June 24, several student groups at U of T are holding events on campus that students are encouraged to attend.

Ahead of the Pride Parade, student group Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) will be hosting a Pride Float Decorating Party. Students are encouraged to bring any kind of arts and crafts material to help design the float. The decorating party will take place on June 23, from 5:30–8:30 pm, in room 523 of Wilson Hall.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is holding a Pride Picnic on June 24 at 10:00 am in Hart House Circle. During the event, the Architecture and Visual Studies Students Union will be joining to host a pancake breakfast, followed by face painting, t-shirt decorating, and snacks.

Other Pride Toronto events that U of T groups are participating in include the Trans March on June 22, the Pride & Remembrance Run and the Dyke March on June 23, and, of course, the Pride Parade on the afternoon of June 24.

All students are encouraged to attend the parade and march with the U of T affiliated groups. The Sexual and Gender Diversity Office (SGDO) and LGBTOUT will be meeting students at 3:15 pm on Bloor Street and Ted Rogers Way in the “J 18” section. For students who missed out on the SGDO’s Pride T-shirt Painting Party, extra t-shirts will be available on the day of the parade. All students are encouraged to march with them, either on the float or beside it.

The Faculty of Engineering will also have a float in the parade and encourages all engineering students to join them. While the UTSU does not have a float this year, it will still be marching in the parade and invites students to meet them at 2:00 pm on the front lawn.

Students are asked to bring plenty of sunscreen and water, and wear comfortable footwear to the parade.