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Joyful, messy, chaotic: big love for free speech at Toronto Pride

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Joyful, messy, chaotic: big love for free speech at Toronto Pride

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A first-person account of marching with the yellow and pink
Under the scorching sun, in the glaring eye of the straight media, with a million of our closest friends watching live from Yonge St, the city of Toronto pulled off a tiny miracle of civility, joyfulness and downright gaiety.

From my vantage point at the front of the Pride Coalition for Free Speech contingent — the group with the yellow and pink signs — the parade was a love-in. As sunscreen-infused sweat dripped down my forehead, we chanted, over and over, "We're sexy. We're hot. Censorship is not." I wore a yellow marshal T-shirt with the softest free-speech slogan I could conjure: "Talk to me like lovers do."

We danced. We chanted. We even sang "Stand By Me." As we made our way down Yonge, those on the sidelines clapped and grinned. There was roaring applause for us just before Wellesley. For a few blocks, spectators chanted along with our call-and-answer, “4-3-2-1. Free speech is for everyone.”

A little more than two weeks earlier, I became an unlikely organizer of the Pride Coalition for Free Speech's parade contingent. At an evening meeting at Ryerson University, the consensus from 80-odd Coalition volunteers was: we want to march in the Pride Toronto parade. But none of the existing leadership had the energy to take the project on. So a group of 10 volunteers and I struck a committee. Planning began in earnest immediately. I also became a part of the Coalition’s safety-and-security crew. Along the way, I changed the email signature on my personal account to "PS: Do you have a megaphone I can borrow on July 4?"




Parade day started out calmly enough, as a small group Pride Coalition volunteers ferried 750 signs, 450 sticks, cardboard, paint, markers and two much-in-demand staple guns to George Hislop parkette at 11 in the morning. Blockorama had agreed to let us use a patch of grass to assemble both ourselves and our signs.

The mood was convivial. Some quietly sipped coffees while others inked signs, altered T-shirts and practised songs on their guitars. Yawns gave way to clapping as the first group of about 80 left for the parade's staging area on Bloor St.

They took piles of signs — most saying simply “My Pride includes free speech” to distribute to other groups, many of which had asked for them in advance. I waved them off, staying behind at Hislop to direct stragglers and clean up.

Shortly before 2pm, I headed over to Bloor St with another organizer and two armloads of signs. Walking up Church St, we got a call: "Something's going on here. Can you please come?"

The Coalition marched directly in front of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid; in the staging area the two groups milled around together. Many in the Coalition have no position on the Middle East — or have opinions that diverged from QuAIA’s. But the coalition was formed out of opposition to QuAIA’s ouster, so there were good vibes between the two groups.

We picked up the pace. The call turned out to be related to a skirmish with hecklers. It was heated but non-violent. Those who were waiting to march didn’t engage, and volunteers who had been trained in de-escalation stepped in.

After the initial altercation, the Coalition's safety crew fanned out along the parameter of the contingent to keep an eye out for more trouble. About five groups of nay-sayers came to visit us in the staging area — mostly just to scope us out — and they kept a respectful distance.

As the free speechers finally inched into the parade shortly before 4pm, the safety crew began scanning the crowd to see if there were any more troublemakers. There weren’t any; by halfway through, the safety crew was more concerned with keeping the chants alive than anything else.

I arrived at the end of the parade route around 5pm, exhausted but happy. Volunteers collapsed on the sidewalk beside piles of the pink and yellow; one rad dyke energetically humped the signs on the curb. We downed bottles of water and surveyed our sunburns. Gradually, folks dispersed to look after their aching bodies. Even as I type this, my fingers are slick with a second drenching of moisturizer.

Toronto gave big love for free speech; what a joyful expression of queerness. Happy Pride, everyone.

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Comments

Are you nuts?
When Dan says: "you would be the first transgendered person I've encountered (and there have been many) that hold your views that religion is benign and full of love. I frankly stand in disbelief that you can seriously hold that view and be trans, so I have doubts about who you claim to be."

Are you bananas? Do you seriously believe there are no trans people who are religious? If so, let me disabuse you. The United Church just ordained its first openly trans minister. Bear Bergman writes movingly about hir experience as a trans Jew. I know a trans woman in Washington, DC, who is a devout, though non-traditionalist Muslim. And I know scads of trans Pagans. Obviously, many traditional religions have been full of bitterness and hatred for trans and queer people, but this doesn't go for *all* religions, nor does it mean there are no trans people who are religious and value their religion as part of their lives. If you think that all religion is irredeemably homophobic, not only do you make queer religious people invisible and devalue their struggles, you let homophobic religions and religious figures off the hook -- "after all, what do we expect from them?"
Right on Mr. Roman!
Totally agree with you.. while being at and watching the parade is something everyone should do once or twice, it's much more fun to march in the parade! The feeling is electric, and it's great fun to watch the watchers - the suburban straights with their cameras screaming for free stuff.
Oh Adrian!
...it's always more fun when you actually get invovled! Find a cause, join a group, create your own group, support a business on their float, volunteer. There is so much you can do other than simply standing by waiting to be entertained.
Am I the only one who found it boring?
I have to say that this year's parade was the most boring Pride parade I've ever attended.

Of course every year there are politicians, students, and a few unions, which is cool, but this year it felt like "statement" after "statement", with very few fun and joyful floats

I know some people have an issue with "corporate pride" but if I knew it would be that long and boring, I would have gone to Church Street instead. Pride should be about joy, fun, and celebration. Instead, I kept looking at my watch as I felt I was being preached to.

If Pride 2011 is anything like this year's I'll be giving the parade a pass.
dan
dan, that was my point. you are genearally attacking groups, individuals make up those groups, and they are not all homophobes. Why am I bothering, to re explain anything to a a nrrow person like you. Regarding your "doubts" I am transgendered, knowing some loving religious people, who accept my LGBT status. Come meet my family and friends....what your afraid. Well, take off your blinders man, and I'll show you my transgendered self. Get a life!!! Please, dont hide your hatefulness in this blog, come out in public. Where and when danny girl?
@Jamie - group vs individual
Jamie, you need to improve your reading comprehension. I CLEARLY stated that I was referring to these organizations AS A GROUP. As an example, you may meet a Catholic person (i.e. AN INDIVIDUAL) that is perfectly lovely and sane and doesn't think gay people are intrinsically disordered. That doesn't matter one bit to the Catholic Church (i.e. THE GROUP), who believes gays are some sort of abomination in the eyes of their god. (As an aside, that the "lovely and sane" individual supports such an organization and its insanity makes them complicit in their organizations activities, and therefore is not a true friend to the community.) The same applies to the right wing religious organization I've mentioned earlier: individually they may be nice people, but the organizations at their core are hateful towards the LGBT community and need to be revealed as such. Some, like B'nai Brith and CJC are more subtle about it, but their associations reveal their true, bigoted nature. These people have ALREADY judged us harshly and endeavor to interfere with our lives SIMPLY BECAUSE WE EXIST. That's what the LGBT community has fought against for all these years. That these groups become offended when we fight back against their hate is to be expected - however, WE aren't the ones trying to deny anyone their rights.
@Jamie
Jamie - re: "supposed transgenderism" you would be the first transgendered person I've encountered (and there have been many) that hold your views that religion is benign and full of love. I frankly stand in disbelief that you can seriously hold that view and be trans, so I have doubts about who you claim to be. Anyway, I'll leave that alone in any future "attacks" (really, you think these are attacks?).
dan
dan, your posting is worse then a"Huge generalization". First of all to say "my supposed transgenderism" suggests you can't find enough to attack,when anyone disagrees with A particylaer point of view. yes their are loving and accepting people within all religiuos communitites towards lgbt people. Stating they are ALL hateful, is nothing short of ignorant. If you are liberal, and hang with conservatives, you wouldnt trash them with hateful language because you funadmentally differ on some views. People go to Narth, narth doesnt come and get you. these are people that try living good lives like many of us, and are made up of differing aspects to their personalities. If they are Judging us harshly, maybe it is because we attack All of who they are? Grow the F...up!
@Peter - your cluelessness ain't pretty
Wow. I point out how right wing religious groups (including, but not limited to, B'nai Brith, the JDL, CJC, Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists) are enemies to the LGBT community and all you can muster is "So what?" That's the fucking point! Organizationally, these groups hate the LGBT community and work in concert to screw with our lives and force their theological worldview on all Canadians. The hatemongers here are the right wing religious groups - their rhetoric emboldens attackers to bash us, and the fear and lies they spread poisons the public mind.
@Jamie - Sigh
Oh Jamie, grow up indeed. AS A GROUP (you know, the ideology their leaders preach and the actions they take), Christian Evangelicals and their allies, including Israeli/Jewish lobby groups like B'nai Brith, the JDL and CJC are united in their hatred for the LGBT community and work actively to fuck with our lives. B'nai Brith has worked closely with Canada's most prominent anti-gay activists, including Charles McVety of the Canada Family Action Coalition. CJC's Reuven Bulka (once co-president, on the board) is a homophobic rabbi who sat on the scientific advisory committee of the U.S.-based National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which advocates conversion therapy for queers and supports the re-listing of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder. These are clearly enemies to our community (and even to apologists like yourself). It's wonderful that you have found people in these circles who are accepting. But AS A GROUP, they are completely vile hypocrites messing around in other people's lives. That you think this is a "Huge generalization that is hate speech" is fucking hilarious, and another sign that your kind cannot handle criticism, labeling anything you don't agree with as "hateful." As a supposed transgendered queer you REALLY ought to be aware of what actual hate speech is - and criticizing domestic policy of a State is not it.

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