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  • Writer's pictureDouglas W. Judson

Kenora Miner | To fight hate, Pride needs to return to its roots in outrage

Updated: Feb 27

The below column by Douglas W. Judson was published in the Kenora Miner & News on July 14, 2023. It is also available online and in PDF.

Pride was born of outrage.

June is observed as ‘Pride Month’ to honour the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York. That year, in the early morning of June 28, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular spot for the LGBTQ+ community. Outside, the crowd became enraged at the police harassment and violence. Their outrage ignited a days-long rebellion that is credited with transforming the global Pride and LGBTQ+ rights movement.

Today’s Pride is far removed from that sense of rebellion and resistance, emblazoned instead with messages of acceptance and love. But this year, LGBTQ+ community leaders and organizers are reflecting on a Pride Month that was darker than any in recent memory. Top of mind is whether equality platitudes and corporate rainbow-washing can secure our community’s safety in the current political climate.

For the first time in a generation, a long shadow has been cast over the idea that “it gets better” – the notion that social and political conditions for queer, trans, and gender diverse people are improving, or that we can count on allies to grow in number and stand up for our community.

The setbacks have been unrelenting. With almost-daily news of political, legal, and physical attacks on the equality and social inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community, it has been difficult to remain optimistic about what lies ahead, especially for our most marginalized members and gender diverse young people.

Last week, the conservative majority on U.S. Supreme Court legalized the ability of businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community by refusing service where the service is of an expressive nature that is contrary to the views of the proprietor. The decision, even in its most narrow reading, wedges open the possibility of further license to discriminate and ostracize LGBTQ+ people in the United States.

The ruling punctuates a troubling six months for LGBTQ+ people. So far this year, 560 anti-trans bills have been introduced by Republicans in legislatures across 49 U.S. states. 85 of those have passed so far. Those bills have attacked everything from the performance of drag, to restricting teachers from acknowledging LGBTQ+ people or issues in the classroom, to restricting the ability of trans youth to participate in sports, to banning trans kids from receiving gender-affirming healthcare. Some bills would send parents to prison or label them as child abusers for seeking out gender-affirming care for their own children. The effort is clearly geared toward making it impossible for trans people to exist in public.

Sadly, it appears to be working. Legislating hatred based on harmful myths about LGBTQ+ people has had far-reaching consequences. By embracing anti-LGBTQ+ political rhetoric, the right has normalized discriminatory and hateful conduct in wider society. It has stretched the Overton window – the range of political views acceptable as “mainstream” – in a depraved and violent manner. Utterances that were once unspeakably deplorable are now par for the course, thanks to Ron DeSantis and his ilk.

The tenor of the attacks on drag story times are especially troubling. The right’s messaging has veered into meritless tropes about child-luring, reminiscent of 1970s “Save the Children” crusader Anita Bryant, who led a hate campaign that was explicit in its portrayal of gay men as pedophiles seeking to “recruit” children into homosexuality. Similarly today, anti-trans policies championed by Republicans can be directly linked to spikes in online “groomer” rhetoric targeting LGBTQ+ people.

These actions have been spurred on by a cowardly bandwagon of athletes and influencers who have started using their own platform to voice opposition to basic Pride and inclusion initiatives. A notable example is the NHL’s Staal brothers, from Thunder Bay, who refused to participate in the Florida Panthers’ Pride Night despite having both previously done so with other teams. The NHL itself – a troglodyte among professionals sports leagues when it comes to inclusion and anti-racism – has now banned Pride jerseys from the league in response to outrage from bigots.

Well-known brands like Anheuser-Busch (which came under attack for partnering with a trans influencer) and Target (which has been attacked for its Pride-themed merchandise) have also kowtowed to right-wing backlash and distanced themselves from Pride and the LGBTQ+ community. The clear victory for anti-LGBTQ+ activism is motivating further protest, while demonstrating to the queer community that corporate allyship can’t be counted on in the fight to protect hard-won LGBTQ+ rights.

Canadian politics is not immune, with our karaoke right taking its queues from kindred spirits to the south. A byelection in Manitoba saw Conservative candidate Branden Leslie rallying anti-LGBTQ+ voters. Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre has railed against “wokeism” and defended Jordan Peterson, the psychologist turned “incel hero” whose fame is built on transphobia. A municipality in southwestern Ontario has banned Pride flags. New Brunswick PC Premier Blaine Higgs is defining his leadership with a dangerous policy that forbids teachers from using a student’s chosen name and pronouns without parental consent.

It should come as little surprise then, in this climate, that a recent stabbing at the University of Waterloo is said to have been motivated by opposition to “woke” gender expression. The federal Conservative leader has not yet commented publicly on this attack.

Closer to home, those in positions of LGBTQ+ community leadership and advocacy have taken the brunt of localized hate and harassment, including online behind the scenes. Many have reached a point of exhaustion and frustration – hampered by the docile norms and tone-policing of the modern Pride movement. This movement is awash in “love is love” messaging that won support for same-sex marriage, but is completely is ineffective in the face of algorithmic, weaponized, and legislated hate.

Some commentators have remarked that if June is for an unobjectionable Pride, July is for another deadly sin: wrath. They may be on to something. So long as progressives and self-proclaimed “allies” choose to sit on the fence, it is increasingly clear that the LGBTQ+ community’s only effective resolve may be forged in anger – a return to the roots of Pride in outrage, protest, and organized rebellion geared towards exposing bigotry, rooting out fair-weather political allies, and demanding better legal protections against harassment, hatred, and gender-based violence.

“Love is love” simply isn’t enough when bigotry is on the march and our allies look the other away. Get mad, and then get organized.

Douglas W. Judson (he/him) is a lawyer based in Northwestern Ontario with Judson Howie LLP. The opinions expressed are his own. Connect with him at @dwjudson.

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