I am not generally a fan of parades, but if you're going to get me out to one, it's Gay Pride. It's a colourful show, a pumping party, and who doesn't love to cool off by supersoaker?
For people who are LGBTQ, Pride is an unabashed celebration of identity and community. For others, it's an easy way to show support. The parades began in the United States following the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which are widely credited for sparking the gay rights movement. (The riots were a reaction to regular police raids on gay bars such as the Stonewall Inn in New York.)
This year, the community needs support – and a celebration – more than ever. After Orlando, it will feel cathartic, no doubt, to march (okay, dance) in the parade or stand and cheer at the sidelines, whether you're gay or straight. But this year, I think we need to go deeper. Everyone loves a parade (well, maybe not me), but for true understanding of the LGBTQ community, there's more. There's art. Art is one of the best ways in – one of the clearest routes to understanding people whose experience has been different in some way.
The art exhibition Drama Queer: seducing social change, on now in Vancouver as part of the Queer Arts Festival, is a revelation. It explores the "messy, incoherent, contradictory realities of queer life," writes Jonathan D. Katz in a curatorial statement. Katz, a pioneer who set up a PhD program in Sexuality and Art at the University at Buffalo, took as inspiration for the show Gene Swenson's groundbreaking 1966 exhibition The Other Tradition, which offered an alternative to mainstream views of art. "While he can't say in 1966 that that's the straight tradition, that's what he means," says Katz, while touring me around the show – which includes three monumental anti-war paintings by Vancouver-based artist Attila Richard Lukacs and fellow Canadian Kent Monkman's celebrated video installation Dance to the Berdashe.
Viewing the exhibition in the wake of Orlando brings a new level of edge to it – Lukacs's portrayal of devastation and blown-up bodies after a market explosion; or Montreal-based artist 2Fik's Fagger-Rangers versus Musulmen, in which a group of men wearing colourful underwear fights a group of men dressed in traditional Arab clothing (2Fik, who was born in Paris to a Moroccan Muslim family, poses as all the characters). "Staging the conflicts of his own identity," is how Katz puts it.
I was curious about the audience the Queer Arts Festival draws – are there many "others" (meaning, in this case, straight people) who attend? The answer, from artistic director SD Holman, was disappointing if not surprising. "It's been a lot the queer community," she says. But, she adds, it's starting to change.
It needs to change. This exhibition may have some difficult, adult content but it is not meant for queer eyes only. If you do not identify as LGBTQ, consider attending Drama Queer or any other Pride-related shows wherever you live. It's not just a parade. And it's certainly not just for gay people.
I had a brief moment of elation last weekend on my way in to host the inaugural Western Canada Jewish Book Awards. I noticed that there were quite a few Asian people in the parking lot of the venue. Could it be that for once I would attend a Jewish Book Festival event that wasn't attended primarily (if not exclusively) by Jewish people?
I was wrong – turns out there was a show in a neighbouring theatre presented by the Fountain Theatre Christian Society (their mission: "to bring people a step closer to God through drama"). So off I went to the book awards with a room full of other Jewish people while an exclusively Asian crowd lined up to watch some Christian Chinese theatre. I thought: How much could we all benefit if a few of us changed places? Cultural communities have a tendency to flock to their own events. It's not an unusual story. But imagine bursting out of those cultural bubbles. What could we learn about the others?
It is time that we try to break free from our cultural silos. In Vancouver, if you're not of Indian descent, attend the Indian Summer Festival (which gets only about half of its attendance from the South Asian community). In Ottawa, check out the Capital Ukrainian Festival. In Toronto, if you're not aboriginal, go to the ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.
Go to your own stuff, too – it's fantastic to take pride in your own community, to surround yourself with art or subject matter that is familiar and reflects your own experience. But is it ever enlightening to learn about other traditions – into which their art gives us immense insight.