Monday, 17 June 2013

"I Love a Parade!"

Instead of attending the Memoir Writing Group this afternoon, I accepted an invitation to attend the LGBT Seniors' Pride Party at the 519 Community Center. As we partook of the delicious sandwiches and nibblies that were provided, films were being shown on the big screen at the back of the stage in the auditorium. At first I was not paying too much attention but I did towards the end of the program and was pleased to see that the subject matter was about a Pride Parade in Vancouver.
This brought to mind some of the early parades in the 1970s and '80s. One of the earliest of those celebrations was not held in Vancouver but  out on a farm in Langley - well to the east of the city. If my memory serves me correctly, the earlier Toronto celebrations were also held away from the city. The organizers in both cities were nervous about negative reaction so the celebrations were held away from the public eye. My - how times have changed - and much for the better!

One of my younger friends met a man to his liking at a later festival in Vancouver and the two of them began kissing quite passionately. Neither of them particularly noticed the cameraman standing nearby but soon found out that their families elsewhere did see the clip as it was shown on the CBC News (The National) and thus they were outed! 

When I became the Pastor of MCC-Vancouver the church board rented a convertible and I was requested to ride up on the rear with my feet planted on the back seat. At that time the parade was granted only half of the street to travel along and the only negative encounter happened when we turned from Denman Street onto Beach Avenue and became caught in a traffic jam.

On the other side of the street was a highrise apartment building and some Yahoo threw a raw egg from away up near the top of the building only he missed me - the egg landed upon the hood of a Camaro bearing Washington State license plates that was stopped in the other lane and unable to move. The driver of that car was also caught in the traffic jamb and, needless to say, he was not amused!

This was the morning after our nuptials and - although you cannot see it - the pole in my hand had the Canadian flag attached while Ric was carrying the American flag. All the people crowded into the background will give you an idea of the tremendous throngs that the Gay Pride Parade attracts.

Now Gay Pride Parades are a part of the life of the city and - here in Toronto - are watched by more than 1,000,000 people lining the route and thousands  more who are glued to their TV sets in their homes. For me, Gay Pride is the most energizing day of the year. My partner, Ric Reed, is not all that enamored with them but - being the 'good sport' that he is - he joins in with me when he is here.

I have marched with various organizations and, most often, that is with Toronto PFLAG. The other organizations are MCCToronto,  the LGBT/Police Liaison Committee, and the Leather/Levi Community. The last time that I marched with the Police Liaison Committee, we were given pamphlets  and small gifts to hand out along the way. In the photo posted above you can see the density of the crowd. We approached the throng with the small items to hand out to the watchers. Mostly that did not work as many of the folk in the front row were Asians and could not understand English. We would ask them to pass the items to others who were behind them but most - and especially the elderly - did not understand so they simply pocketed the items and did not share. Frustrating!

Before my time of involvement with PFLAG some enterprising folk created placards printed in languages other than in English to be carried in the parade. Usually I chose which placard that I wanted to carry but Ric - the first time that he marched with PFLAG - just grabbed the first one that he came to and with startling results. It so happened that it was in Farsi - one of the languages spoken in Iran. While we were walking down Yonge Street Ric noticed a beautiful young woman standing in the crowd. She noticed the sign that he was carrying, her eyes lit up, and she elbowed her young male companion while pointing towards Ric. We presume that they were Iranians and Gay people are persecuted there.

This photo was taken at the marshaling area. The placard which Ric is holding is written in Farsi. I have one written in English.

I was moved by this so, the following year, I grabbed the same sign to carry in the parade (Ric was not here) and, like he, I received a startling reaction from two bystanders.The parade begins at the corner of Bloor Street East and Church Street (the marching units are lined up along Bloor while the motorized units are down along Church Street North, Park Road and the Rosedale Valley Road). The two groups are melded together at the corner of Church and Bloor. From there the route is along Bloor East to Yonge Street, down Yonge to Gerrard Street East and then one block east to Church Street where the marching units turn north while the vehicles continue on to Jarvis Street.

I had an odd circumstance this afternoon when I received a message from a friend via Facebook. When I opened the message I discovered that the left sidebar contained dozens of photos of myself.
Now this photo has appeared suddenly. Yes - I am carrying the sign written in Farsi and that is Pei who is walking beside me (the photo following this paragraph).

In the parade following the one that Ric had marched in carrying the sign in Farsi I made sure that I had the Iranian sign myself. When the parade reached the corner of Yonge and Gerrard East two middle aged men left the crowd and approached me. They were two more Iranians and they were deeply moved that I was carrying a sign printed in their language!

The following year saw the publisher of one of the leading Gay magazines creating a contest. He encouraged a half dozen Gay and Lesbian couples who were contemplating marriage to enter the contest, have their bios and photographs published, and see which couple would garner the most votes. The winners were a woman whom I have known for a long time (Brenda) and her new partner (Georgie). They were married on the float as it progressed along the parade route  and Brenda invited me to attend the reception at the Sheraton Hotel in the early evening.

The Sheraton is on Queen Street a short block east of University Avenue so I walked down there. As I arrived at the intersection of University Avenue and Armoury Road (just north of the Court House) I encountered two men who looked to have been in their 30s or early 40s who were having their photograph taken. If I had continued in the direction in which I was walking I would have been in the middle of the photo so I stopped. After the photo was taken these men approached me and introduced themselves. They were from one of the Emirates that are along the southern shore of Arabia. Yes - they were Gay and they spoke English. Both were overwhelmed by the scope of Gay Pride - there was nothing anywhere like that where they came from!

For the parade (the year following my encounter with the Arabian men) I walked up to the marshaling area with a Chinese acquaintance. I saw somebody whom I knew standing in the middle of the street so I walked over to him while Pei remained on the sidewalk and began chatting with a stranger. When the chat - in which I was engaged - ended I returned to the curb and Pei introduced me to the tall stranger. Pei attended a group for new Canadians which met at the 519 Community Center once a week and that was where he had met the other person.

The stranger was a newcomer from Morocco so I asked him if he would like to walk in the Parade? His response was a quick and emphatic "YES!!!" so I took him to the PFLAG booth, handed him a t-shirt and showed him the pile of signs. There were none in Arabic so he chose one that was in French (the second language spoken in Morocco).

The parade always begins in fits and starts as the marshals blend the walking units with the motorized ones. Each time that we recommence our move forward there is a cheer from the marchers but this ends once we have crossed Church Street and move forward fairly steadily. However, about once in each block, our Moroccan guest would jump up (he was quite a tall young man to begin with) and yell, "YAHOO!!" It took a few blocks before the penny dropped in my head - he was celebrating who he was without any fear of consequences and, probably, this was the first time in his life that he could do so!

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