by Michael Cavanaugh

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The Canadian Association for Equality participated in the Toronto Gay Pride Parade for the first time on June 30, 2013. Iain Dwyer and I brought our banner to the staging area early in the afternoon and waited for the signal to join the parade, which was already well under way.

As we were waiting one of the marchers from the group in front of us walked up to us, looked at our banner, and said,

“Are you that creepy men’s rights group?”

Oh no, I thought, here we go again. For the last year our events had been marked by loud protesters shouting at us with bull horns, blocking entrances, setting off fire alarms and generally trying to prevent the public conversations we were attempting to have about men’s and boys’ issues from taking place. This young man had the same look of hate and contempt in his eyes as all the others who called us misogynists, rape apologists and other, ruder epithets.

“Well, I don’t know about that, but we have been focusing on men’s and boys issues in our talks at the University of Toronto.”

“Well what are you doing in the Gay Pride Parade?”

“Actually, a lot of gay people are men.”

Of course I knew what he meant, and all the biased assumptions behind his question.

“But why are you promoting men’s rights? Most rapists charged in court are men.”

“Well, first of all, we don’t think there is such a thing as men’s rights – there are only human rights. Freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination and equality under the law are for everyone. That’s why our banner says ‘Equality means equality for everyone’. We are not claiming special status for men and boys.”

“But men already control society, there is no discrimination against men.”

“Well, men are more likely to be homeless and much more likely to commit suicide than women. Boys are falling behind in school and are less likely to graduate from university. Fathers lose their children in Canadian family courts by a ration of 15 to 1. CAFE is simply trying to hold public conversations to talk about these issues.”

“But all those things are the result of the patriarchy.”

There is was, the dreaded P word. The ideology grenade thrown to destroy any rational or critical discussion: ‘Men and boys are discriminated against? Well, that’s fine in practice, but what about in theory?’

“Well, that’s one point of view. And we invite you to come to our discussions to share your opinions. But when we try to have that conversation some people try to shut it down and prevent any discussion on these topics. I mean, do you think it’s fair to not even allow us to bring these subjects up?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment and replied, “I guess not”. He seemed satisfied and returned to his group to begin marching. I wondered if this type of thing was going to go on all afternoon.

But once we began marching all the negativity dissolved into the glorious celebration that is the Gay Pride Parade. I was overwhelmed by the positive energy of the thousands who lined the parade route, cheering the marchers on. They truly were a rainbow of diversity, people of every gender, color, size and shape, hungry to celebrate just being together on that beautiful afternoon, hungry to assert the basic humanity common to everyone. I did see one group of people who recognized our banner give us a thumbs down, but others looked at it and gave us a knowing thumbs up. The only attacks we got on that sunny, hot afternoon were welcomed jets of water sprayed by parade watchers with big plastic water guns.

As we proceeded I tried to look into the eyes of as many people as I could. I began pointing at them, saying, “You are a superstar, you are a superstar!”  I began to feel this parade was a metaphor for life – everyone is a superstar in their own way and deserves the dignity of that recognition.

Participating in the 2013 Toronto Gay Pride Parade was a great experience for me and CAFE. It was so positive and yet it has taken decades of effort and commitment by the LGBT community to achieve this. To not live in fear, to not feel defensive about your essential self, to celebrate the gender and sexuality of each individual without prejudice – that is a lesson and a gift for all of us.