It is no surprise that Canada, Vancouver in particular, is leaps and bounds ahead of most places in terms of the rights and freedoms of the LGBT community. As somebody who was very much involved with the small gay scene in Ireland, I was curious and excited to see what Vancouver had to offer. Lady Luck was on my side, as I got a job at Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium, (the adult store). Little Sister’s is synonymous with the gay scene, and is highly valued for all the amazing work they do within the community. I was honoured to be hired there, and swiftly thrown into the hustle and bustle of the upcoming Pride of 2012. I was overwhelmed with the sheer amount of events and amenities this city had.
I saw my first Vancouver Pride parade not long after I arrived on Canadian soil. I had a brilliant view, right from my balcony. It was staggering, as big as our St Patrick’s Day parade. It went on for hours, and the number of spectators matched – if not outnumbered – the people marching. The parade itself was a show, entertaining its audience . The floats were incredible, and it was obvious that a lot of money was pumped into the event. The floats noticeably , were all accompanied with a brand name. Each one represented something: the banks, the supermarkets, the retailers, the sports teams. It seemed like all of Vancouver wanted a piece of that rainbow pie, and wanted to ensure they were seen eating it. This made me envious and proud, but it didn’t escape me that some businesses saw this as free marketing campaign to haul in a nice percent of Vancouver’s LGBT demographic.
Not only were brands prominent, but also each group that made up the wide spectrum of the LGBT rainbow . Foreskin, trans, leather, over 50’s lesbians, support groups – the list was endless. In Ireland, the parade consisted of people marching in the streets, and anyone can participate. We all held a huge pride flag that stretched on for a mile. We donned our rainbow clothes and facepaint. Since there are no gay rights established in Ireland, our march is one of not just celebration, but of hope, and changes that have yet to be made.
The Vancouver parade thrilled me and my friends, as they excitedly watched on via skype. They were given a window into this world that we could only hope to someday achieve in Ireland. It was only next year, when I was partaking in the parade with Little Sisters, that I heard the whispers of licences and fees required for entry in the parade. But I guess measures need to be taken with an event this big. The notion that someone might be denied participation due to finances or a lack of invitation seemed unfair.
I regaled my friends back home of the incredible events in Vancouver, the west end, the stores, the festivals! However, as the shock and awe subsided, I started to realise that while the luxuries were vast, the drawbacks were evident. The most blatant being the segregation. Social events in particular were heavily divided into very particular niche groups. Each event was categorised: an event for bears, for twinks, for trans, for femme lesbians, for butch lesbians, for recovering alcoholic gays, for young or old gays, for the kink scene, the leather scene. And while it makes sense to meet and interact with similar people with shared tastes, I couldn’t help but notice that if you didn’t belong to a clear cut category, you were cast out of many cliques and parties.
In Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, there is no choice but to stick together, with only a handful of full-time functioning gay bars. It doesn’t matter what category you fit into, you’re a part of the community. I’ll admit that population, manpower and lack of better choices sees to this being cemented, but I believe that everyone being in the same boat, sparks an empathy that threads a community.
In Canada, I have had many a conversation highlighting the deterioration of this sense of togetherness. I once had a conversation with a customer in work after the 2013 pride parade. She commented that she had not participated in the parade as she was wearing a rainbow t-shirt, which she felt did not reflect her stance in the way a trans t-shirt would have. I did not comment in fear of over-stepping my place, but I couldn’t help but wonder when did everyone stop being on the same team?
Perhaps that’s easy for me to say, coming from a country where we have no choice but to knit together in the hopes of achieving our rights as a group still.
When I talk to a gay man of my age group in Canada, compared to one in Ireland, it’s both amusing and a little saddening to see the contrast in their outlooks. While a gay man in Ireland might desperately hope that he can someday marry his partner, a gay man of the same age in Canada will probably have never endured these thoughts,. and may deplore that he is “so sick of the rainbow”, or some other petty grievances. Ireland is far from being the worst country in terms of gay rights – when I see the tragedy playing out in Russia I know Ireland is lucky by comparison – but we still are lacking in rights that Canadians have luckily possessed for some time now.
We have much to learn from Canada. As a country, you have managed to obtain a very fruitful and successful haven for the LGBT community. It is peaceful and welcoming, with many inspiring groups and individuals. I hope to bring some of the values I have learned here back home with me. I also feel I have seen what can happen in the community both pre and post freedom. I can only hope that one day in my lifetime, I can see changes in my country like those in Canada. I hope I can attend my friend’s weddings and see them start families that are respected and recognized. I want to see our corporations publicly support us and I want us to grow in terms of numbers, opportunities and amenities. But I don’t want this to result in a loss of community for us either, I don’t to see us all separated into groups, apathetic of one another. Most importantly, I don’t want us to forget how much we have overcome.
But these are just some of my thoughts, a mere fly on the flag…