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Pride month: Looking beyond the glitz and glamour

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June is widely recognized as Pride month in large part to commemorate the Stonewall riots of New York City.  They were a series of spontaneous and violent demonstrations initiated by the gay community in response to an early morning police raid that took place on June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn. 

Prior to the riots, police raids on gay bars were quite frequent and often involved violence and physical force. They are widely considered one of the single most important events in the gay liberation movement and the ongoing fight for equal rights. 

Canada has its own history.  The most well-known is “Operation Soap” which was a series of Toronto raids that took place on February 5, 1981.  Toronto police stormed four gay bathhouses in the city and arrested just under 300 men.  Many of the charges were either dropped or dismissed but rallies were held in response to this injustice.  These rallies paved the way for what is known today as one of the largest Pride festivals in the world. 

Today “Operation Soap” is not only referred to as Canada’s Stonewall but it is also one of the largest mass arrests to ever take place in this country.  In 2016, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders formally apologized for the raids. 

“Let’s look beyond the glitz and glamour that many have come to know and expect from Pride events and festivals,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “This is an important time to remember the obstacles that the TBLGIAPQQ2S (trans, bisexual, lesbian, gay, intersex, asexual, pansexual, queer, questioning, two spirited) community continue to face today in the form of discrimination and targeted hate crimes.”   

Moreover, the current COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the inefficiencies of our healthcare system when it comes to providing necessary supports to the TBLGIAPQQ2S community.  “Reports have shown increased rates of depression and mental illness from within a community already susceptible to isolation and being ostracized from society” said Morgen Veres, Co-Chair of OPSEU’s Rainbow Alliance arc-en-ciel.  “We must all do our part to ensure that no one is left behind” she added. 

Pride is also a time to celebrate the sacrifices and achievements of the TBLGIAPQQ2S community in their ongoing fight for equal rights for all.  Throughout history, such accomplishments have included:

  • The decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada with the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act on May 14, 1969;
  • The addition of sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination to the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1986.  When the Code first took effect in 1962, it was the first of its kind in Canada because it dealt with diverse forms of discrimination;
  • On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality as a mental illness from the International Classification of Diseases.  This paved the way for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) which is commemorated annually on May 17;  
  • On June 30, 1993 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that gays and lesbians could apply for refugee status on the basis of facing persecution in their countries of origin;
  • On May 24, 1995 Ontario became the first province to make it legal for same-sex couples to adopt;
  • The official inclusion of sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1996;
  • In 1999, Blockorama made its appearance as the very first black queer space in the Toronto pride festival.  Today it is an all-day event during the Pride festival to celebrate Black Queer and Trans history, creativity and activism;
  • In 2005, Canada became the first country in the Americas to legalize same sex marriage. To date, there are 28 countries in the world that legally recognize same sex marriage;  
  • In 2012, the incorporation of discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code;
  • The passage of Bill C-279 in the House of Commons, which officially extended human rights protections to transgender and transsexual people in Canada in 2013. Kathleen Wynne – Canada’s first openly gay First Minister – was sworn in as Premier of Ontario in 2013; and
  • On June 19, 2017, Parliament passed Bill C-16.  The bill updates the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression.” The legislation also makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression.  It also extends hate speech laws to include the two terms, and makes it a hate crime to target someone for being transgender.

Due to social distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many events have been cancelled or altered for the foreseeable future.  Nevertheless, TBLGIAPQQ2S communities from across the province are using this opportunity to get creative in how they will connect with locals during the 2020 Pride season. 

“Our community has a rich history of demonstrated resilience in times of great strife and COVID-19 is no different.  We will still celebrate one another while still ensuring everyone’s safety during this time” said Billie Bridgewater, Co-Chair of OPSEU’s Rainbow Alliance arc-en-ciel. 

For more information: https://www.queerevents.ca/canada/pride/history