I don’t often feel the need to defend Mayor Don Atchison, but some of the reaction to his lack of attendance at the Pride Parade and festival’s events is overblown.
Comments seem to hint at an intentional avoidance. It may be that things have changed, but a decade ago when I sat on council, councillors didn’t receive notices of flag raisings or pending community events unless, of course, the organization involved sent us notices or invitations. And there were times when events overlapped and choices had to be made on which events a councillor would attend. I do suspect the mayor was invited to Pride Week events and, when he could not accommodate them, he would have asked the deputy mayor or a councillor stand in for him.
In all the years I have known Don Atchison, I have never heard him speak a negative word about the gay community or exhibit signs of homophobia. (My bigger question is, when belt-tightening is currently in fashion for politicians, why was he in New York City at a mayors’ conference that all other mayors of major Canadian cities bypassed?)
Many in the older generation are uncomfortable talking about sexuality in general and in particular about homosexuality. This could be as a result of being indoctrinated in their youth with religious and societal dogma that, regretfully, taught that homosexuality was sinful and wrong. In generations past, gay citizens were discriminated against in the workforce, in access to housing, and were socially ostracized and subject to ridicule. In reality, some of that discrimination still exists today, but things are slowly improving thanks to a better educated younger generation. People are being accepted for who they are and the good they do without regard to their sexual orientation. Thankfully, today’s younger generation does not hold those old prejudices and are more accepting of people being who they were born to be.
Re-education of the older generation means society has to impress upon all its members that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) citizens do not choose their sexual orientation any more than heterosexual citizens choose theirs. In the same way you were born with an eye colour, you were born with your sexuality. It is not an issue of choice and you can no more change your sexuality than you can change your eye colour.
Where does that education come from? The Human Rights Commission has gone a long way in correcting discrimination in the workforce and elsewhere. Our schools are slowly getting better about attending to the needs of young gay students and teaching acceptance of all students regardless of race, creed, colour and sexual orientation. With more gay people “coming out of the closet,” most of the straight community realizes they already have gay friends, relatives or co-workers whom they like and admire, and that doesn’t change after they discover that person is gay. Actually, in many instances, it makes straight people defensive of gays when dealing with a homophobe.
Why is the Pride Parade important to both the gay and straight communities? It’s because it creates public awareness about a social issue that has been too long a taboo. It gets people talking and interacting about gay issues that were stored too long in the closet. It encourages gay people to celebrate who they are and invites straight people to join them. In that vein, I do wish the gay community would show a little more forbearance with straight people who might inadvertently use incorrect vernacular or make comments bred in ignorance, while they are trying to learn and understand LGBTQ concerns. In those circumstances, a polite correction or a reasoned discussion goes a lot further in bridging the gap than a hostile response.
I grew up with a man who I love dearly, and who is gay. We grew up in an era when gay bashing was the norm. I now think back about how painful life was in his youth and regret how little I did at that time to ease that hardship. Over the decades, he and I have had numerous debates about gay issues, including marriage and adoption, and, through reasoned discussion, he has opened my eyes on a number of those fronts. Most importantly, I really never think about him being gay. I just think about him as being a good man who loves his family, treats his friends well and who has spent a lifetime helping other people. What more can you ask from a human being?
I didn’t attend the Pride Parade because I was out of town. But had I been in town I wouldn’t have made an effort to attend because I don’t really like parades of any kind. It has nothing to do with lack of support for gay rights; I simply don’t like parades. But I am pleased that the celebration is growing and that more people, both gay and straight, are participating.
Wouldn’t it be nice to reach the day where such awareness activities aren’t necessary because, as a public, acceptance of people’s sexual orientation, along with race and creed, isn’t an issue?