Activism and Pride, Trans and Edmonton
On June 12th, Edmonton kicked off their 30th annual Pride Week with the parade and we were there. Every year we grow a little more, and every year we look to include more in the celebration, emerging from the fear and shame projected onto trans people.
Last year’s march was incredibly memorable for me. It was the emergence of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta, which is a non-profit grassroots organization that is provincial in scope. Alberta had just delisted health care coverage of gender reassignment surgery, and we had a small 4-person group marching with signs of protest. Albertans, too, often supported our position, as they got to know our stories and glean more understanding through the press.
So as the parade lurched forward, the van in front of us would move, a new section of onlookers would see us, take a moment to read our signs (“reinstate funding for gender reassignment surgery” is such a mouthful), and there would be a spark of recognition and the crowd erupted with cheering. Being in the parade, I don’t know if we had the best reception of anybody there, but I’m sure the cheers we received were among the loudest.
This year was different. Our group had grown, and another trans multi-inclusive group, Reflections, had also added to the trans presence. But while TESA, members and allies were carrying signs urging support of Bill C-389 and reminding of the GRS funding cut, the response from the crowd was mostly quite indifferent. It didn’t help that we were following behind one of the local bar’s floats, with a rowdy, party type of ambience, and people with protest signs are sooooo unentertaining after that, but all in all, we were almost an afterthought.
Waymon Hudson recently wrote about putting the activism and politics back into Pride, and certainly, with things that are happening on the trans side of LGBT, there is opportunity and need to do that. In Canada (and possibly elsewhere), this is hampered by the fact that any non-profit that gets political becomes ineligible for charitable status, so many orgs avoid political-style activism now because of how it could affect their survival. Not to mention how that could affect corporate sponsorships, which go a long way to fund Pride events and associated orgs.
But in the party atmosphere that draws participants and onlookers, does old-fashioned activism really have a place anymore, and what does that say about Pride? And is it any wonder that groups like QuAIA are turning to shock to get a message across? It seems to me that the Pride community needs to return to its roots, but doing so opens the potential for conflict and reduction, unless a way can be found to make that more interesting, engaging and visible.
Something else disturbed me this year. While other groups were largely happy to add our placards to their floats showing solidarity for support of C-389, I was encountering a number of people in attendance who were declining my fliers and saying (sometimes bluntly) they were not interested in trans rights. This echoes the fact that other than GayCalgary magazine (which has carried action alerts about C-389 as far back as January) and Xtra, the LGBT media in Canada have been largely uninterested so far (although they are welcome to take up the challenge).
I don’t mean this to slag Edmonton. E-town has probably been the most open-minded and friendly place I’ve lived in, in this Province. But where is the political will among LGB allies and organizations to actively push for something as simple as human rights for transgender and transsexual people?
There will be people in the trans community who will be responding to this post with questions like “are you surprised?” because of their own experiences. I ask this not to dig up old dirt, and I also want to acknowledge that there are LGB folks who have certainly stepped up to the plate to support us. But for others, obviously the challenge needs to be put out there to take a new direction.
Some thoughts. Hopefully by the time the Calgary Pride parade rolls around on September 5th, I will be able to report something very different.