Let down by Pride parade organizers, queer communities took charge

اخبارالعرب 24-كندا:الأربعاء 10 أغسطس 2022 11:00 صباحاً This column is an opinion by Zahra Haider, a writer and activist based in Montreal. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

After two years of pandemic-related crises and lockdowns, so many of us in Montreal's queer community were looking forward to the celebration that reflected our collective struggle: Pride, and especially, the parade.

Historically, Pride has reflected the struggles of a marginalized community and also those marginalized within that community. Pride serves as a reminder of those who came before us, such as Marsha P. Johnson and other survivors of the Stonewall riots.

As a queer Muslim Pakistani-Canadian, I understand this struggle deeply. Being Muslim and queer is one of the most precarious identities to embody. The Pride parade is a space for folks like me to come together, see each other and remember that we are not alone in this struggle.

A person holds up the peace sign in front of a rainbow flag.
Marlyne Désir, also known as Carmen, is the founder of Sweet Like Honey MTL. The group put on an event at Parc La Fontaine Sunday after the Montreal Pride parade was cancelled. (Submitted by Zahra Haider)

The parade serves as more than a physical space or event. It reminds us that, while our existence may reflect our resistance, at least we have each other. It is a space so important and liberating that it has transcended Western borders. Pakistan celebrated its first trans Pride parade in 2018, and Malawi — where homosexuality is a crime — held its first Pride parade just last year.

In Montreal — where I and many other racialized queer folks live — that desire to congregate and share our collective joy and struggle looked a lot different.

Many of us awoke Sunday morning to the news that the Pride parade had been cancelled. Social media accounts flooded with questions. What happened? Even the mayor continues to ask this. For a city that boasts about its queer-friendliness, many were let down.

Pride started as a response to unjust cruelty and violence. But what happened to Sunday's parade should serve as a reminder of its capitalist, nationalist evolution. It's an event that is now a subject to pinkwashing and rainbow capitalism — ways of appearing to show solidarity for queer people while ignoring the radical foundation of Pride and its objective of liberation.

As a racialized person who is actively involved in QTBIPOC (queer, trans, Black, Indigenous and people of colour) spaces, I am very familiar with how unwelcoming white-dominated Pride spaces can be, so much so that often I refrain from going to certain events or spaces where representation is not emphasized.

There's still much unknown about what happened Sunday. But clearly for the organizers in Montreal, the parade wasn't the priority. Perhaps in Montreal it's easier to forget why it was so important to march in the first place.

In Pakistan, where I grew up, the annual Aurat Azadi feminist march brings thousands of people, mostly female-identifying folks, together for the cause of women's liberation. These marches are often targeted by religious fundamentalists who have ties with the Tehreek-e-Taliban (Pakistan's Taliban), yet marchers still proceed with fearless determination.

What is Montreal's excuse? A Pride parade is at its essence a protest, not a bureaucratic event. How often do organizers hire security at, say, protests for Palestinians?

Three people smile beside a banner that reads South Asian Pride.
The group South Asian Pride had planned to march in Sunday's parade. Nidhi Shukla, left, organized an impromptu meetup after the parade was cancelled. (Submitted by Zahra Haider)

But there are always silver linings and — as history has proven time and again — fearless determination in the face of adversity within our communities. Many folks decided to proceed with a Pride parade anyway in downtown Montreal. Others from the queer and racialized spaces in which I am an active participant met up at nearby parks.

Sweet Like Honey, a well-known organizer for lesbians of colour, put together an event at Parc La Fontaine in lieu of the Pride parade. Around 130 people came to gather and share queer joy — a warranted "f–k you" to the parade because bureaucratic negligence won't stop us from celebrating our shared identities.

Similarly, South Asian Pride, which would have marched in the parade, instead had a meetup at Parc des Faubourgs. A handful of folks came together, danced to cultural music and made the best of their afternoons.

Pride reflects our historical resistance and simultaneous struggle as a community. The parade is an essential part of facilitating our collective liberation. I wish the organizers of Montreal's Pride parade, the city in which I — a queer, Muslim Pakistani — and many others with similar identities reside, felt the same way.


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