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opinion

When it comes to the debate over Black Lives Matter and Toronto's Pride Parade, moral certainty on either side ignores both history and reality.

Sometimes, wisdom is found in confusion. This is one of those times.

Toronto's Pride Parade is glorious – a huge, friendly, in-your-face celebration of how far queer people have come in accepting themselves and being accepted. Toronto should be proud of Pride.

But anything that big gets complicated. Some complain that Pride celebrations in Toronto and elsewhere have become too commercial. Others see Pride as an opportunity for political action – against what some see as injustice by Israel toward Palestinians (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid), or injustice by whites toward people of colour (Black Lives Matter).

Pride should always resist becoming a vehicle for grievance. Holding up a parade, as Black Lives Matter protesters did, just to make a point is pointless. And their demand that police be expelled from Pride is not only wrong, but dangerous, after the killings in Orlando.

And yet…

Queers and their friends have marvelled at the speed with which homosexuals went from being persecuted to accepted, even embraced. Remember, it was a major felony to commit homosexual acts in Canada prior to 1969 (and in some U.S. states until 2003). As late as 1989, the Canadian Forces were still discharging members of the military for being "not advantageously employable due to homosexuality."

In 1994, when Ontario MPPs from all parties voted down government legislation that would have offered spousal rights to same-sex couples – why, it could lead to homosexuals trying to adopt children! critics complained – security guards wore rubber gloves as they confronted protestors.

We've come very far, very fast. Why? Because the gay rights movement was led by middle-class white men. And middle-class white men get what they want.

Even when they were forced to stay in the closet, homosexual men worked in the public service, on university faculties and in classrooms, on the bench, in the pulpit, in the boardroom and newsroom, in the arts. As the sexual revolution swept the West, gay men in positions of influence acted to advance their interests by demanding respect for their sexuality.

Sometimes, they broke the law. The Stonewall riots were, after all, riots. The first Pride parades were marches of protest. More often, they operated within a system they knew intimately because they were a part of that system. In the space of a single generation, they had laws struck down, human-rights codes rewritten, constitutions re-interpreted.

From the beginning, women were part of the movement. From the beginning, people of colour were part of the movement. From the beginning, people outside the middle class were part of the movement. But anyone who isn't a middle-class white male – isn't. Women and people of colour, transgender people, poor people have separate issues based on their gender, race, sexual identity or class – issues that remain unresolved after centuries of struggle. Today, many of these people feel the victory for same-sex rights is only a partial victory, because it doesn't fully include them.

For many of these people, the police officer isn't necessarily their friend. Neither is the politician or professor or employer. Or the middle-class white male.

This isn't political correctness run amok. This isn't left-wing or any-wing. This just is.

So we can be annoyed that a small group of activists held up the Pride Parade. We can be concerned that police – who used to arrest and harass queers, but have since apologized for that – will be offended if they aren't invited next year. We can urge Pride leaders to ignore promises made Sunday to appease blackmailers. And we can, and should, tell the people of Black Lives Matter that they don't get to dictate to the rest of us.

But everyone – especially middle-class white, gay men – should remember that they, too, were once on the outside, looking in.

Some of them, long ago, marched in protest against the prejudice they faced. Black Lives Matter is just doing what they once did.

And if this leaves you feeling uncertain and confused, there may be wisdom in that.