PM makes our na­tion proud at Pride events

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL - BY EMMA TEI­TEL Emma Tei­tel is a na­tional af­fairs colum­nist for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

Last sum­mer, Justin Trudeau made his­tory when he be­came the first sit­ting prime min­is­ter to march in the Toronto, Van­cou­ver and Mon­treal Pride pa­rades (not all at once, of course).

The PM made his­tory again when he be­came the first sit­ting prime min­is­ter to par­tic­i­pate in an­other more un­der­stated, but equally im­por­tant cel­e­bra­tion: the Hal­i­fax Pride pa­rade.

Some say Trudeau is all style and no sub­stance. This may be true, but some­times style counts for a great deal.

Thanks to the PM, norms are slowly shift­ing to a point where it’s stan­dard for a prime min­is­ter to at­tend not only a ma­jor city’s Pride cel­e­bra­tion, but a smaller city’s cel­e­bra­tion as well: a city such as Hal­i­fax, where Pride isn’t an in­ter­na­tional tourist draw.

This means that when some­one new is elected to the of­fice of prime min­is­ter - a Con­ser­va­tive per­haps - the na­tional ex­pec­ta­tion around ma­jor Pride events will be one of at­ten­dance.

It will be un­usual for a sit­ting PM to skip a well-known city’s Pride pa­rade, not com­mon­place. This is a good thing. This is real-world progress that you can see with your own two eyes and ap­plaud.

Or, if like a num­ber of LGBTQ ac­tivists in this coun­try you’re de­ter­mined to be mis­er­able un­til the day you die, you can lament Trudeau’s pres­ence at Pride in­stead, and la­bel it “pinkwash­ing” - the LGBTQ equiv­a­lent of “white­wash­ing.”

Not ev­ery­body thought Trudeau’s at­ten­dance at the Hal­i­fax pa­rade was a wholly pos­i­tive thing. Some, such as Ke­hisha Wil­mot, head of Hal­i­fax’s Mount Saint Vin­cent Uni­ver­sity Queer Col­lec­tive, be­lieve Trudeau’s par­tic­i­pa­tion was a dis­trac­tion from the event’s more marginal­ized par­tic­i­pants.

“We have peo­ple of colour do­ing things in this pa­rade,” Wil­mot told Hal­i­fax mag­a­zine The Coast this week, in a story head­lined “Trudeau Pinkwash­ing Pride pa­rade.”

“And the big thing we’re cur­rently now look­ing at is we brought down a white guy in a high-po­si­tion role to be our fo­cus.”

I don’t want to di­min­ish the work done by groups such as Wil­mot’s be­cause it is im­por­tant work. Yet a re­minder is in order that a world leader’s pres­ence at an event does not im­pede ac­tivists from mak­ing their voices heard.

Trudeau was in at­ten­dance at Toronto’s Pride pa­rade in 2016, where Black Lives Mat­ter Toronto man­aged not only to stage a suc­cess­ful protest that ef­fected tan­gi­ble change, but to dom­i­nate me­dia cov­er­age in the event’s af­ter­math.

More­over, these ac­tivists are ever ea­ger to iden­tify priv­i­lege in other peo­ple, but they are ut­terly blind to the priv­i­lege they en­joy them­selves: they have in­te­grated into a com­mu­nity of like-minded peo­ple. Yes, they are marginal­ized in so­ci­ety at large, but they have found a place where they be­long.

Not ev­ery­one en­joys this priv­i­lege. Take, for ex­am­ple, my friend Yvonne Jele, a gay refugee from Uganda, who is prac­ti­cally brand new to Canada (she fled her na­tive coun­try last year). Jele, who lives in Toronto, was over­joyed when she learned that the leader of her new home was march­ing in her city’s Pride pa­rade.

“Peo­ple who are mad (that Trudeau par­tic­i­pates in Pride events) don’t know what it’s like to not be ac­cepted by your lead­ers and gov­ern­ment,” she told me re­cently.

Jele has some thoughts about cor­po­rate in­ter­ests in Pride, too: “I think ev­ery­one can show sup­port dur­ing Pride,” she said. “It’s im­por­tant for busi­nesses to do so be­cause it shows that the busi­ness is in­clu­sive.”

These broad ges­tures of sup­port by politi­cians and busi­nesses mat­ter a great amount to peo­ple who aren’t yet in­te­grated into a tight-knit queer com­mu­nity, and they mat­ter to clos­eted kids who are watch­ing and read­ing about Pride from a dis­tance, ab­sent the sup­port of such a com­mu­nity.

It’s a very good thing for these kids to know that their banks, hard­ware stores, cof­fee shops, in­ter­net providers and, yes, their lead­ers, take a pub­lic stance in favour of their rights.

No, these busi­nesses and politi­cians aren’t by any means per­fect. Yes, some of them make er­rors and false prom­ises.

But their par­tic­i­pa­tion in Pride pa­rades across the coun­try is a ges­ture of good­will felt deeply by those who have not yet found their home away from home.

The prime min­is­ter’s pres­ence at Hal­i­fax Pride will not mat­ter most to the out and proud, but to LGBTQ peo­ple who are nei­ther. And the ac­tivism of the for­mer should not ex­tin­guish the hopes of the lat­ter.

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