They marched past a plaque for Douglas Stewart, the gay rights and anti-apartheid activist. They marched past a plaque for Michelle Douglas, who was dismissed from the Canadian army for being gay. And they marched past a plaque for Persimmon Blackbridge, an artist and writer who explores lesbian sexuality. LGBT legends, each of them persecuted or obstructed in some way for their sexuality.
The marched past the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill, where this year’s Winter Pride March started, because starting there, at the seat of Canadian governance, was a fitting reminder that until 50 years ago, it was a crime to be gay in Canada.
The occasion was Winter Pride, a new festival celebrating Ottawa’s LGBTQ population. Normally, the festival runs in August, but this year organizers tried something new with a mid-winter Pride fest that was affiliated with Winterlude. It was chilly, but organizers were treated to a large and enthusiastic turnout, many of them dressed to the nines and draped in rainbow flags and trans rights flags.
Pride, it is often said, is political; it is a message that risks being forgotten in an age where gay celebrities are visible, and where in many parts of the world people are accepted regardless of their sexuality. It is easy, say organizers, to get complacent; to see Pride festivals as ways to party away a summer weekend. And they are that. But, says Christian Garceaux, they are also so much more. Pride, he says, is “not just in August, but all throughout the year.”
“We wanted to create an opportunity for people to come out and celebrate and be themselves, even in February,” he says.
Celebration was on the schedule, even if protest was front and centre. As the parade snaked down Sparks Street, Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” blasted over the speakers, an anthemic reminder of what everyone was celebrating.
It came shortly after a reminder of what they were protesting, too: counter-demonstrators of a religious, fire-and-brimstone persuasion, camped out at the corner of Sparks and Elgin to jeer at the passing crowd and shout at them. The parade simply cheered louder, and it was easy to forget that the religious folks were there. By the end of the parade, nobody seemed to remember, or care.
The organizers say they want to see this Winter Pride repeated in future years — which will be a welcome addition to the annual Winterlude festivities.
Kieran Delamont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org