Walking down Richmond street — past the rainbow flags and posters hung up for London Pride Week — my girlfriend and I are unable to hold hands without attracting some sort of unwanted attention.
Sometimes older couples stare at us wide-eyed, eyes peeled back as though they’ve just seen a very gay pair of ghosts. Other times, we receive cat calls, men howling from their cars as they drive by. On rare occasions, people shout obscenities or homophobic slurs. Regardless, our sexuality is always on our minds when we walk down the street, mindful (and often afraid) of the people around us.
The street harassment we face is an everyday manifestation of homophobia in our lives. It's a common and routine part of our days, like buying coffee or brushing our teeth. However, while the slurs and stares are frustrating, what we experience pales in comparison to what other members of the LGBTQ2+ community go through.
In North America, LGBTQ2+ individuals are disproportionately impacted by suicide, homelessness and acts of violence. This is especially true for LGBTQ2+ people of colour and trans individuals, who are far too often the victims of discrimination and harassment in their communities.
Despite everything from the everyday brand of street harassment that exists in London to the constant fear the LGBTQ2+ community experiences, people tend to shrug off the importance of Pride. People often scoff at rainbow flags and Pride parades, uttering mantras such as “what about straight pride?” or “gay marriage is legal — why do we need gay pride, anyway?” As the LGBTQ2+ community is increasingly represented in the media and in pop culture, there’s a tendency to believe that homophobia has been solved. And while I love Queer Eye as much as the next person, we’re a long way from equality.
Don’t get me wrong — in some ways, things are getting better for queer Canadians. At Western University, strides are finally being made on campus for students to feel more comfortable. This past year, Western finally implemented gender-neutral washrooms in the UCC, and Spectrum created a safe and friendly atmosphere for queer students. Beyond that, we’re lucky to be in a country where the government openly celebrates and encourages Pride celebrations, with London Pride coming up on July 19th.
However, the good doesn’t negate the bad. LGBTQ2+ people are still suffering. Brushing off the importance of Pride because “things are different now” is an irresponsible and privileged way of looking at an often marginalized group.
While Pride events won't necessarily solve homophobia, they provide a space for the LGBTQ2+ community to come together and incite change. Events like panels can shed light on the importance of inclusivity or on specific aspects of queer culture, while parades and parties allow individuals to feel a sense of belonging.
The reality is that Pride is about more than being accepted or fitting in. Pride is also about the struggle and oppression that the LGBTQ2+ community has faced to get to where we are now. It’s about celebrating living openly while speaking up for individuals who have suffered in silence. It’s about the fact that acts of oppression and discrimination against queer people continue to happen, even here in Canada. We’ve come a long way since Stonewall, but we’re not there yet.
In short, Pride is about celebrating how far we’ve come while acknowledging how far we still have to go. Chances are, if you’re wagging a finger at your local Pride parade or complaining about the rainbow flags in your city, you’re a part of the problem that we’re trying to work through.