For 15 years, the end of July in Montreal is denoted by its Gay Pride festivities. It’s a week where all gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people come out to proudly show that they are happy in their sexual and gender identity, an identity they did not choose. It’s a moment where community groups gather on the streets to show these services and their hard work. It’s an occasion for Montreal to show to the world its open-mindedness, and to welcome tourists from all over the world who come to celebrate their difference. It’s an opportunity for the media to discuss and debate queer issues. Even though these days are celebrated in joy and fun, Gay Pride means a lot more than a simple parties on the street.
Until recently, Divers/Cité was the organisation responsible for organising the Gay Pride festivities in Montreal. It’s started as a parade where gays could claim their rights; then Divers/Cité evolved into a festival with a strong cultural and artistic component. With concerts, outside movies, dance shows, and many parties organized in night-clubs, Divers/Cité became a festival that could not be overlooked among the summer festivals in Montreal. To me, Divers/Cité was then a great representation of the gay community as a whole, presenting its cultural aspects, its community / volunteering aspects and even its sport features.
Unfortunately, I am writing this article in the past tense because lately Divers/Cité has decided to change its social mandate to become solely an artistic and cultural festival, giving up entirely the organisation of the Gay Parade and its Community Day, two events that are for me essential in the definition itself of the Gay Pride. In fact, Divers/Cité no longer refers to its festival as the Montreal Gay Pride, but a “very unique LGBT event”.
From what I understood, marketing studies conducted for Divers/Cité revealed that two types of people participate in the festivities. On one side, there are those that come for parties, raves and to spend their money in Montreal. On the other side, there is a group mostly montrealers and families who are more interested in the Parade and the Community days. Instead of letting these two groups cohabit, Divers/Cite chose to target the first group only. We have to admit it, holding a Parade and a Community Day does not bring money in. And holding a festival featuring a lot of activities costs money in advertising, logistics, security measures, etc… But shall we remind Divers/Cite that its social mission is not to make money? Perhaps we should also remind our government that the financing of Divers/Cite ought to go hand-in-hand with community events, such as the parade and the community day? Has Divers/Cite decided to limit its scope and visibility to better please its private sponsors that might not appreciate the bad press associated the controversial parade?
Giving up these events is for as me the proof that Divers/Cité has sold its soul. It’s like a Just-for-laught Festival with no humor or a Jazz Festival without music. Throughout the world Gay Pride is best celebrated by its Pride Parade. After all, that’s how it all started in 1969 when gay people decided to break the silence and claim their rights in the street of New York. Has Divers/Cité completely forgotten about his own past? Because gay people can marry in Canada, does that mean that all fights are over? How about the fight against homophobia? How about all these homophobic acts and attitudes that still hurt and prevent so people from being who they are? Is Gay Pride solely T-Dance parties and outdoor shows?
Before completely give up its social responsibilities, Divers/Cite met with community groups to try to find a compromise, and help them to get organized to create a new group that could hold these events. It did not work… well, this is not entirely true.
Seven weeks ago, everybody thought that they would not be a Gay Pride in Montreal in 2007. Yet, with the leadership of some community organisations, a new attempt to organise something happened. This time, without Divers/Cite, the groups came out with a plan. From that day on, a new group was born: Célébrations LGBTA Montreal, for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and their Friends (amis).
Living proof of a strong community, and mostly well organized, the gay community for Montreal successfully turned the table around. By gathering over 60 community groups and inviting them to participate in the new gay pride parade, the organisers of Celebration LGBTA also succeeded in negociating with the City of Montreal to hold the Parade during the day time this week-end. On top of that, the old long-standing quarrels between Divers/Cite and businesses in the Gay Village over money issues vanished. This year, these private businesses, bars and shops, will participate in the parade and will use their visibility to promote Célébration LGBTA Montreal.
Pervers/Cité: An alternative of the White, Mainstream and Corporate Pride
I am not the only unhappy with Divers/Cité to give up its leadership role for organising the Gay Pride. And the participation of the Village businesses – or the corporate world – does not please everyone. A few days ago, a new groupe, called “PERVERS/CITE” got organized to opposes racism, sexism, capitalism, transphobia, body fascism, colonialism, classism and all other forms of oppression and marginalization. On their website, www.perverscite.blogspot.com, the group lists its objectives : “we aim to oppose the queer community’s total assimilation into mainstream kkkanadian culture, as well as to foreground both a local history of queer radicalism and social issues faced by queers today that are consistently glossed over by the gaystream media in favour of double-groom cakes and shopping holidays.” Pervers/Cite invites all to come help reclaim the parade’s roots as a political protest by marching in the Pervers/Cite pink bloc.
I do not wish to call for a boycott of Divers/Cite. But I am asking a maximum of citizens, boys and girls, queer and straight, to come out and join the party with Célébrations LGBTA, to show loud and proud that the Gay Pride parade and its community day still has a reason to be, and the celebrating the Gay Pride go far beyond few culturals activities and night clubs parties.
Happy Gay Pride to all!
Marc-Olivier Ouellet is AlterHeros founder. It is also co-founder of the Montreal Youth Coalition Against Homophobia. Still active in the queer community, Marc-Olivier has been involved in the Quebec Alliance for Queer Youth. He now lives in Paris.
For more information about Celebrations LGBTA Montreal, click here: www.celebrations-lgbta.org