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How a "New Gay" Celebrates Pride

06/29/2012 05:34 EDT | Updated 08/29/2012 05:12 EDT
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The culmination of Pride Week is upon us. The Gay old guard in Cabbagetown, River and Rosedale are packing up to join Rob Ford for a weekend up north, the "new gays" and their hip allies are trying to figure out how to participate in Pride without waving a rainbow flag, watching a parade or venturing east of Yonge, and every straight person living in the golden horseshoe is descending on the village to get a glimpse of some totally naked Toronto men. In 40 years, Pride has evolved from a secluded picnic on Hanlan's Point to a series of diverse celebrations that reverberate throughout this very gay city.

The changes in the way we celebrate pride are the product of a colourful history of political struggles and the subject of thoughtful critiques. Many people who identify as LGBTQQ2ISA will argue that Pride is too corporate, or that it is no longer relevant to 21st century gays who have no need for an exclusively homosexual community, or that it congratulates the government's validation of sexual freedom without challenging its unfair treatment of other minorities. Some will reinforce these criticisms by glorifying the community's past -- when the "gay patrol" warded off bashers by roaming in packs and dressing in painter's pants and pink Lacoste shirts and when Michel Foucault commended the city's active bathhouse culture.

Today Lady Gaga and the McGuinty government's Bill 13 lead the "gay patrol" and Steamworks competes with iPhones loaded with Grindr and Scruff. Few recognize the relevance of Foucault to Pride. With these 21st century components of queer culture, and the dramatic rise of various factions within the queer community that stem from each letter in that irritating acronym, we need to welcome and consider such critiques in order for Pride to continue to be relevant to the community from which it was borne.

The challenges that we face in celebrating pride today are vastly different from those in the 1970s: How do we publicize a protest about the treatment of gay refugees alongside TD Bank ads with male couples in brightly-coloured shirts laughing about mortgage rates? How can we harness the freedom bestowed upon the queer community and use it for relevant minority issues? Finally, how do we recognize how far we have come while acknowledging how much farther we still need to go?

Pride is undoubtedly more complicated than it was when it began, which makes it more difficult to celebrate. Nevertheless, in the various ways that I have celebrated pride -- from watching the parade perched on a pedestrian crossing light as a "straight" 16-year-old to marching while wearing the leather vest in honour of a gay older friend that saw his closest circle of friends die from HIV/AIDS -- I have always seen a unique kind of joy at Pride.

At least in Canada, this weekend is a celebration of the most contemporary (and titillating) form of liberation. Pride symbolizes the recent end of a long history of oppression. So every time a drag queen steps up to a microphone or a family with same-sexed parents raises a rainbow flag or a trans person readjusts their packer, everyone cheers because they recognize their historical and contemporary challenges, praise their courage and welcome their "difference."

I am a 20-something city boy who came out at a relatively early age and received unconditional support from family and friends. In many ways I fit the so-called "new gay" stereotype -- I likely won't be attending the parade on Sunday but I likely will attend a pride event at a west end bar that is as hip as it is gay. It will be a fun night but I will likely not feel that pride-esque joy.

For me, that feeling arrived at the beginning of the official Pride week when I attended the premier of the Office of the Provincial Youth Advocate's film "You Are Not Alone." The film shows queer youth who have lived in government care encouraging others in the system to speak out about their experiences so that the provinces group homes and foster care facilities can better address issues of homo and transphobia.

The film represents both the limits of government legislation and the ongoing struggle for sexual freedom. There is great joy in watching these young people overcome discrimination and seeing the government's gay-positive policy reflected in an oft-neglected sector. But the joy is bridled by the daunting task of spreading this kind of freedom to all members of the queer community and beyond.

This is the new pride.