With limited access to safe spaces, celebrating Pride is more important than ever

·6-min read

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Pride may be moving online, but visible support is still important. (Getty Images)
Pride may be moving online, but visible support is still important. (Getty Images)

I went to my first Pride parade in Vancouver when I was 18. I can still remember sitting along Beach Avenue in awe and amazement, taking in all the rainbow flags, copious amounts of glitter and endless floats passing by. It was a magical time where it seemed like the whole city had come together to show their support for us. Time paused as traffic was stopped, the beach was reserved and Davie Street, the hub of gay community in the city, came alive.

The sight of the thousands of allies and LGBTQ+ folks cheering on the parade, the amount of pride and energy of people living authentically provided me with a feeling of respite and comfort as a young gay man who, at the time, was still figuring out his sexuality.

Growing up gay in suburban B.C. as a first generation Chinese-Canadian wasn't the easiest journey. It wasn't until I moved to Toronto for university that I finally found my chosen family, friends and a safe space in Church-Wellesley Village. 

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I met my partner, an Irish man, in 2020 when I traveled abroad to London for graduate school. We made plans before my visa expired to travel to Canada in 2020, where I hoped to introduce him to the life I had built for myself and treasured so much. We landed in Toronto in mid-July, and after a two week quarantine, we managed to explore my old stomping grounds in The Village. We became engaged this past April, and although we've been together for almost three years, we've never celebrated Pride together as a couple. Although it's been cancelled due to the pandemic, this year would have been our first Pride together and the first time in my life that I've had a significant other to share it with. As we start planning a life together here, it was important for me to show my partner that he has a place in this country.

Garry Ho and his partner. The pair became engaged in April 2021. (Image courtesy of Garry Ho).
Garry Ho and his partner. The pair became engaged in April 2021. (Image courtesy of Garry Ho).

Pride Toronto is held virtually again this year to help mitigate the spread of COVID. However, for those who have been living in isolation and others, like me, who seek togetherness within the LGBTQ+ community, the absence of access to safe havens, like The Village, continues to be felt. Trying to recreate the same feeling as being in those physical spaces with message groups and Zoom calls during COVID hasn't been enough. 

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Many queer people have grown up hiding different sides of ourselves. Safe spaces are crucial for life as an LGBTQ+ person. Attending my first Pride event allowed me to see that there was a place for me in this world and there is an outlet for my authentic self. The ability to seek refuge in queer-friendly spaces provides an opportunity for us to fully present all sides of ourselves and live authentically in society.

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Despite its move online, it's more important than ever to be inclusive as a community and celebrate Pride. The past year has exposed many issues in our country that need to change — fast. 

Just recently, a gay man was attacked and beaten at Hanlan's Point Beach in Toronto. The past year and a half has brought a sense of despair and uneasiness to the current climate of our country and the city I live in. 

A photo during a June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Toronto, Ont. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
A photo during a June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Toronto, Ont. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

During a time of closed bars and community spaces, Hanlan’s Point is one of the remaining queer spaces that our community can safely access during lockdown. With our own spaces being attacked and threatening our limited source for community, many people have begun to feel less secure to simply be ourselves and feel safe in our own city. Chances are, attacks like these will likely happen again in a park, in a shopping centre, at school - anywhere.

We know that isolation exacerbates people’s well-being and mental health, but add discrimination and distress on top of that and you have a better understanding what some LGBTQ+ people face in their daily lives. Through Pride, and a vibrant LGBTQ+ scene in our cities, we can show queer people that they can find acceptance, inclusion and safety. But we need to ensure that all queer people have a place in our community.

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The events from the past year provided us an opportunity to start a dialogue, and it has certainly helped that my friends who are allies, had proactively educated themselves about what it means to be queer, and a person of colour.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution to inclusivity, but stopping the erasure of queer spaces and ensuring that they thrive post-pandemic is a start. We need to protect vulnerable groups such as Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Non-Binary (TGNCNB), who often face the most amount of discrimination and violence. 

As individuals, you can do anything from volunteering to providing monetary support for LGBTQ+ causes, to checking-in on your LGBTQ+ identifying friends, knowing that they may have experienced uncertainty a lack of safety throughout the past year. 

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease across the country, I hope we keep in mind that things can't simply "go back to normal." We’ve experienced too much over the past year for us to revert back to our old ways of living.

A photo from the 2018 Toronto Pride Parade (Xinhua/Zou Zheng via Getty Images).
A photo from the 2018 Toronto Pride Parade (Xinhua/Zou Zheng via Getty Images).

It's important to remember that for LGBTQ+ people, Pride is a lived experience every day. How we feel about our identities and how we live our lives openly in our own circles shows the world our individual pride. We also need to be mindful that there's work to be done beyond Pride month, and that people around the world never have the opportunity or freedom to live authentically and be with the person they love. After all, Pride was meant to be a protest against unjust systems, and that’s why we get to celebrate

Around the world, 70 countries have anti-homosexuality laws, of which discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In 10 countries, same-sex intimacy can be punishable by death. One charity from Canada, Rainbow Railroad, makes it their mission to help persecuted LGBTQ+ individuals safely relocate safety and seek refuge from government-enabled harassment and violence.

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While I’m also excited for this year's Pride celebrations to watch Tynomi Banks as a headliner in this year’s Phygital Festival (we loved Canada’s Drag Race!) I plan on introducing my partner to all the issues and adversities minority groups have faced domestically .It's important to share stories of continuous change, like in 2016 like when a Black Lives Matter protest stalled the parade to demand more equity for people of colour, resulting in action which included the reinstatement of a South Asian Stage and more support for Black Queer Youth.

This year, my partner and I will be watching the virtual Pride Toronto parade and gathering with a few close friends. After a tumultuous year separated from our spaces and our community, I’m sure we’ll have a lot to gab about.

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