Has Pride devolved into a glorified beer bash? Is it forgetting that the point is the ongoing struggle for gay rights? Questions like these always come up at Pride time. This year, in the wake of the mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, they are more urgent than ever.
As head of Pride Toronto, a job that involves juggling demands from the many voices of a diverse movement, Mathieu Chantelois is facing pressure to make Pride more politics, less party. He has two responses.
First, Pride is and has always been political. Over the years, it has helped lead the fight on causes ranging from equal benefits for same-sex couples to marriage equality to trans rights. This year, Pride will run for a full month (June 1 to July 3) to embrace all its events, many of them serious and political: panels on trans rights, women's activism and the Toronto bathhouse raids; a talk by George Takei, the author, activist and Star Trek actor; a candlelight vigil for those affected by AIDS.
The traditional crescendo, the Pride parade, is being dedicated to the victims of Orlando and will include a moment of silence in their honour. If all of this were not political enough, Pride has made the militant organization Black Lives Matter this year's "honoured group," helping lead the parade.
Second, Mr. Chantelois says, partying is political. "When we dance in the streets," he says, "there is something really political in this. It is an act of activism."
In Pride's early days, especially, the dancing and cavorting were an in-your-face declaration that, "We're here, we're queer, get used to it."
It remains so even in more enlightened times. When people gathered at a Pride event in a Toronto nightclub on Friday night, he says, letting loose became a show of defiance – a way of saying, after Orlando, that, "We will take our clubs back. We will dance. The show must go on. Life must go on. We are not going to stop."
That is the best response to any act of terror: to get on with life. When terrorist bombers struck London in 2005, Londoners taught the world a lesson by calmly going about their business.
If Pride is a time to focus on the struggle ahead, it is also a time to remember all that has been accomplished. On Wednesday, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders will apologize for the bathhouse raids of 1981, when police stormed into clubs that gay men considered a sanctuary. It was an era when much of gay life was conducted behind closed doors and when gays and lesbians could lose their jobs, their families and even their freedom.
The world has changed. The chief will march in Pride. So will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Along with the Pride parade, there will be a Dyke March and a Trans March. It is not for nothing that U.S. author Lillian Faderman calls her history of the gay-rights movement The Gay Revolution.
Pride will have a different feel this time, of course. The horror of Orlando will be in the back of every mind. A measure of anger and frustration are natural. How can such a thing happen in 2016?
But Mr. Chantelois is right. If political protest is a part of Pride, so is dancing and singing and strutting and all the rest of the joyous tumult that draws people into the streets. The best way to remember the victims of Orlando is to keep calm and party on.