By Sanchari Sur
As a Pride Parade (and Pride Week) virgin, this year’s attendance on my part was a revelation in more ways than one. Don’t get me wrong. I have many friends who are allies and whom I support wholeheartedly. But despite being in Canada for six years somehow I always ended up being out of town during Pride Week.
Pride Week is a celebration of diverse sexual and gender identities, histories, cultures, families, friends and lives. Toronto’s Pride Week is the largest Pride festival in North America and the third largest in the world.
This year I made it a point to keep the weekend free.
Walking down the empty, cleared pathway for the parade I was surprised to see only a handful of South Asian faces dotted randomly throughout the multicultural crowd. They were shall we say, mute spectators? They were there to see the “show”. I never took South Asians to be shy. Face it; we are loud and sometimes downright obnoxious.
But when it came to a chance of fifteen seconds of fame, many South Asians I bumped into refused to be photographed. None provided a very clear reason why except that they were “only attending” or “We support but no pictures please!” I even met twin sisters (ironically named Seeta and Geeta) who smiled uncomfortably at the mention of photographs (visual evidence of their presence?) even though they had been to the parade “several times” in the past, and identified themselves as staunch supporters. I wonder whether South Asians are— Scared? Ashamed? Worried? A bit of everything?—of being associated with Pride Week.
The parade had South Asians marching as part of other groups. There was a South Asian female cop marching with other cops, and a South Asian volunteer from Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention (ASAAP) who was marching on behalf of the “Free Speech” group. And even though there were groups representing different ethnic communities, I failed to see even one group marching on behalf of South Asians. I had noticed this at the Dyke march a day ago as well, where women from different ethnicities were marching proudly on behalf of queer women of their communities, be it Hispanic or Asian, among others. Except South Asians. I wonder whether this self-exclusion of South Asians is deliberate or accidental, and whether it is exclusive to Toronto.
This evening I had a conversation with my dad. He stands by his “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He knows what I do. Who I hang out with. And what I believe in. Occasionally I try to make him see that being queer is OK. It’s NOT a deviation of the mind, or non-existent, as many South Asians I know would like to believe.
I have a South Asian-Canadian female friend who is bisexual and has been dating an American Caucasian woman for two years. Her parents would disown her if they found out. So she lives a double life. Many of us have to hide our true selves in fear of being disowned by our family and made an outcast by community and friends. In fact none of my straight ‘brown’ (or ‘black’ or ‘white’) guy friends were man enough to attend the pride parade this year. Many of them are quietly homophobic while some are just opening up their minds, but not enough to attend an event like the parade.
Children learn from examples set by their parents. It is easy to fear and despise what we have no knowledge of. Until we can change our attitudes, the South Asian representation will always be little to non-existent, and those who need courage most will stay away in fear of being kept out.
Instead of passing on homophobic attitudes as legacy, can we at least promise to learn and educate our children and ourselves? So that the Pride Parade does not become a “show” to watch but a true celebration of one’s sexuality and of being who you are without fear. Isn’t that what we want our kids to be? Do we want them to live a double life or be ashamed to support their friends openly? Do we want to maintain double standards because our predecessors have taken that route in the past?
At the least let’s promise to strive for a better understanding. The rest, we can only hope for.