The couple looked to be university age, certainly no older.
Both slight of build with dark, short-cropped hair and adorned in casual wear designed for summertime frolic, they were walking south on Broad Street, all the while holding hands, their fingers interlocked in an unguarded display of affection.
Nothing out of the ordinary. We witness it every day on the downtown sidewalks of Victoria, folks young, old and in-between strolling hand-in-hand.
So what made me notice this pair? Simple: No one else seemed to notice them.
These were two women, you see. Lesbians. Passersby flanked the girls to the north, the south, the east and the west and not one among them flashed a frown of disapproval. There were no arched-eyebrow double-takes. Nary a word of condemnation or the fires of hell was to be heard.
That’s why I smiled and felt a rush of joy as I watched the two girls go merrily on their way.
This was, by no means, the first time I had seen this scene play out. It was, however, the first time I noticed – really noticed – that no one else had noticed. Or cared. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps we have arrived at that happy place vis-a-vis gays blending in with the regular rabble. Finally.
If only that were true.
Sure, we’ve come a long way, baby, but as much as we use Pride Week in Victoria to celebrate victories earned in the ongoing crusade for equal rights, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that it can still be rather cruel and ugly out there. Especially for our gay youth and men.
The most recent McCreary Centre Society Report on adolescent health in B.C. (a survey of 30,000 students, grades 7-12) advises us that 64 per cent of lesbian students have been discriminated against due to their sexual orientation. The number was 47 per cent for gay males and 37 per cent for bisexuals.
Statistics Canada, meanwhile, has released its most-recent findings on police-reported hate crime in the True North and it is a most disturbing bit of business.
Whereas the majority of the 1,167 hate crimes in 2013 fell into the mischief file (graffiti, vandalism, etc.), a staggering 66 per cent of wrong-doing against the LGBT collective was violent (that’s compared to 44 per cent of race/ethnic-based crime and 18 per cent of religion-based crime). In other words, gay victims of hate crime aren’t merely required to wipe spray paint off walls –they’re going to walk-in clinics or hospitals.
Moreoever, 83 per cent of victims of homophobic crime from 2010 to 2013 were male, 48 per cent of whom were under age 25.
So, as much as it delights me to see two young women strolling down the sidewalk hand-in-hand, the McCreary Report and the StatsCan numbers serve as harsh reminders that the haters still hate, at the same time providing an answer to the oft-asked question: Why is Pride Week necessary?
Pride Week is a celebration of social victories not just earned, but deserved. It is a time for reflection and hope for the future. It is a coming-together of kindred souls who have battled the same demons and fears that once led to prosecution and still lead to persecution. It is about diversity and inclusiveness.
Pride Week isn’t just a gay thing. It is an everybody thing. It is a reaching-out of hands across the divide (it is an ever-shrinking divide, to be sure, but a divide nonetheless) in a quest to unite as one.
Trouble is, it’s hard to hold hands with someone whose hand is clenched into a fist.
Patti Dawn Swansson is a former Black Press reporter and proud winner of the 2012 Q Award for her writing about Victoria’s LGBT community.