As Pride rolls into town, questions and criticisms inevitably rise about whether we still need the Pride parade and accompanying festivities. Vancouverites who are outside of the LGBTQ community often wonder why we still march and celebrate, assuming that the legalization of same-sex marriage simply erased the discrimination and unfair treatment that LGBTQ individuals face on a daily basis. Within the LGBTQ community, criticisms also rage surrounding Pride for the opposite reason: LGBTQ individuals, especially trans people, are over-represented in statistics for suicide, homelessness, and poverty, and a parade does little to address or surface discrimination against LGBTQ people. Following years of working with LGBTQ organizations worldwide, we, as Oxfam, believe that participating in Pride is both necessary and insufficient for advancing LGBTQ rights worldwide. We hope that Vancouverites will join us and countless other organizations on August 3 both to celebrate Pride and to remember the origins of Pride as a civil rights protest.
Why do we participate? As Oxfam, we participate because LGBTQ rights are still routinely undermined, both in Canada and in the countries we work in overseas. We support the movement because trans activist Ricky Nathanson was jailed in Zimbabwe for using a women’s washroom, because gay men in Pakistan are routinely denied access to safe healthcare, and because lesbians in South Africa are still at risk of “corrective rape”, a practice in which male family members will assault a lesbian in the hope of “curing” her sexuality.
We participate because we must celebrate the ground we have gained. We celebrate that Nathanson advocated for her rights, was freed from jail, and continues to advocate with an Oxfam partner, the Sexual Rights Centre, for better sexual rights for all Zimbabweans. We celebrate that within 10 short years, the LGBTQ community in Vietnam has grown from near invisibility to widespread recognition and tolerance thanks to incredible organizations like ICS (Innovative Communication and Services on Sexuality). We celebrate that a growing number of lesbians are turning the tide on “corrective rape” through advocacy work, legal battles, and tremendous courage and resilience.
We were reminded of the importance of Pride this past June, when a number of Oxfam partners from around the world joined us in Toronto for World Pride. We saw how powerful, how affirming it can be for people like Mojalifa Mokoele to see rainbows proudly displayed across the city; as the first openly gay male to be interviewed by Zimbabwean media and a program manager with the Sexual Rights Centre in Zimbabwe, Mokoele has spent most of his adult life advocating against the discrimination that he faces on a daily basis as a result of his sexuality. “I was overwhelmed with experience and information that was available,” Mokoele said. “At the same time I was inspired by the support, and the commitment that people have towards the work. I’ve learned a lot about the history of LGBTQ organizing in Canada, to the point where today you are hosting World Pride. But I understand there were a lot of challenges that people have gone through in the LGBTQ community. The fact that today, you are able to celebrate so many gains, gives me hope and courage to keep fighting for our rights in Zimbabwe.”
Celebrating Pride, though important, is simply not enough. That is why, as Oxfam, we support partner organizations around the world in advancing LGBTQ rights through diverse strategies, but we also sincerely hope that Vancouverites will not be content to stop at pink garbage cans. We hope that you, too, will not be content to only participate in Pride one week of the year. Whether through supporting Amnesty International, Egale Canada, Jer’s Vision, Oxfam, or other organizations that are working to end discrimination in your community or abroad, we urge the Vancouver community to remember that LGBTQ people deserve to be celebrated and protected every day. Whether as a donor, supporter, or volunteer, we all have a role to play in ensuring everyone has the right to pride.
Come find us at the Sunset Beach Pride festival to learn more about the work that Oxfam is doing with the LGBTQ community abroad and find out how you get involved.