A few weeks ago, I packed up the wife and took off to her Tennessee home for a visit with the in-laws. It was my first time that far south in the States, and I was caught off-guard by how very different it was south of the Mason-Dixon Line. As a butch Canadian woman who has never had to hide my light under a bushel, if you will, I knew, intellectually, that ‘I’m here, I’m queer’ wouldn’t fly very well in small-town Tennessee, but I was unprepared for how hard that reality would hit me. I had prepared a laundry list of reasons it sucks to be gay in the South, but the truth is that, while a minor inconvenience for me for a couple of weeks, it is a harsh reality for some people for their entire lives.
So instead I present to you the reasons not why it sucks to be gay in the South, but why it is awesome to be gay in Canada. Toronto, specifically.
I Love The Nightlife
The people! The parties! The clubs! The bathhouses! Okay, so I haven’t actually been in a bathhouse (yet), but I hear they’re awesome. There are queer-friendly spaces all over the city, and not just in the Village. While the Church-Wellesley village is Toronto’s gay headquarters, we are everywhere. It isn’t uncommon to see boyfriends holding hands strolling down Queen West, or a couple of lesbians sharing a milkshake in the Beaches.
Our public schools have GSAs, our teachers and politicians and military personnel proudly march in Pride parades across the country. We’re not just here and queer – we are legion.
I Like To Boogie
103.5 PROUDFM. Yes – Toronto has an all-gay radio station. I don’t tune in all the time, as my musical tastes tend away from the thumpathumpa of house music and more towards, well, Gordon Lightfoot. But the music isn’t why I listen. It’s because the DJs, the advertisers, the reporters, they’re all talking to me. About me. About my people. Occasionally it’s over the top and queeny, but it’s more gay than you’ll hear on the CBC. Unless you’re into David Suzuki/Peter Mansbridge RPS. Which I am now writing in my head. First person to start the Suzbridge Tumblr wins a prize.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
I get to hold my wife’s hand in public.
Just stop and think about that one for a moment. Think about being out, strolling with your sweetie. Think about grabbing his/her/hys hand as he/she/hy starts to cross the street without looking. Stealing a kiss while you wait for the light to change. Just the small simple gestures that proclaim ‘This is mine’ to the rest of the world. Now imagine that you can’t do those things, because there is a very real chance you will be hurt or threatened.
Sure, we get stared at sometimes. A lot of times. We’ve had teenage boys take pictures of us with their phones. But most people just don’t care. Which is awesome.
One Hand In My Pocket, and the Other On Guard For Thee
Here in the Great White North, I have rights. The same rights as every other person in my country. I can serve in the military, I can marry the person I love, I can even, as a gay woman, donate blood. The Canadian Red Cross is re-evaluating the current ban on blood donations by gay men, so even the sanguine times are a-changing. The Canadian Armed Forces have never had a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy; gay men and women have been allowed to openly serve since 1992. Here’s an interesting reprint of an article from 2000 about the follow-up report on lifting the ban on gay recruits. Same-sex marriages were legalized in some provinces in 2003, with Ontario and British Columbia taking the first steps; they even retroactively legalized ceremonies performed in 2001. In 2005, the government passed the Civil Marriage Act, which made gay marriage legal in the entire country.
Now, it’s not all rainbows and gay penguins. The current Prime Minister, the Honourable Stephen Harper, leader of the Progressive Conservative party, has sought to reopen the issue of gay marriage more than once during his seven-year-and-counting reign as Prime Minister, even suggesting that the existing laws be amended to explicitly forbid it. Sound familiar? Luckily, the Canadian public has put its foot down. Following a referendum on reopening the issue in 2006 (as part of which all Members of Parliament were allowed to “vote their conscience”, without having to toe the party line), Harper said “We made a promise to have a free vote on this issue, we kept that promise, and obviously the vote was decisive and obviously we’ll accept the democratic result of the people’s representatives. I don’t see reopening this question in the future.” The “defense of religions” problem that has blocked similar same-sex marriage initiatives in the States is a moot point in Canada; the refusal to perform gay marriages is already assured by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the equivalent document to the American Constitution. The vocal minority against same-sex marriage remains a minority, facing a vast majority of people who don’t see what the big deal is about.
My favourite quote on the issue, and one that has stuck in my mind, is from an article series that ran in the Toronto Star several years ago; the reporter, a gay man, travelled from coast to coast to gather people’s opinions on the subject of gay marriage. In Nova Scotia, he very reluctantly approached an old, grizzled fisherman who was working on his boat, and asked him what he thought about the legalizing of same-sex marriage. The old man listened to the question carefully, grunted, and replied, “As long as they don’t make it mandatory.”
Why is it awesome to be gay where you live? Why is it awesome to be straight or single or a flying purple people eater? Brag about it!
(Photo Credit: QueensQuayLife.blogspot.com)