Vancouver Pride: Queer folks attracting more straight allies
Why do straight people fight for LGBT rights? The question was recently put to Seth MacFarlane, creator of the hit television show Family Guy and a prominent and straight gay-rights activist.
“I like a good ass fuck as much as the next guy,” was MacFarlane’s response. Raucous laughter ensued and the liberal audience—MacFarlane was on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher—cheered the writer and actor’s subsequent arguments in favour of gay marriage.
But MacFarlane struggled to answer the question that Maher—another straight man who routinely speaks in favour of queer rights—had posed.
For many straight individuals, the fight for LGBT equality begins when they learn that a close friend or family member identifies themselves as queer. For others, the connection is not as personal but no less strong.
Katrina Cheney, a straight 17-year-old resident of Langley, told the Georgia Straight that homophobia simply struck her as wrong, which made fighting for equality right.
“I just graduated from high school, and every day of it, I noticed more and more discrimination,” Cheney said. She decided to do something about it.
Cheney is now a volunteer for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. “I’m going to be helping the booth at the Pride parade on Sunday,” Cheney said enthusiastically. “It’s going to be interesting.”
Not so long ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a straight high-school student speaking out in favour of queer rights. Today in B.C., many high schools have gay-straight alliances, which serve as after-school clubs where kids—gay and straight—can talk.
Jane Gill, a high-school teacher in Langley, has long been involved with GSAs. She told the Straight that groups like the B.C. Teachers Federation have been instrumental in establishing LGBT-friendly groups at high schools throughout the province.
Straight students are attending these meetings, Gill said.
She noted that this year, for the first time, a transgender student—who was born a male but identifies as a woman—requested that Gill call her by her female name. “I was like, ”˜Wow, that is super brave to do that in high school,’ ” Gill exclaimed. “Ten years ago, I can’t imagine having seen that.”
The provincial government has also proven itself supportive of LGBT-related issues. On July 8, 2003, B.C. became the second province in Canada to legalize same-sex marriage. (Ontario was the first.)
Ryan Clayton, a facilitator for Gab Youth Services, an arm of Qmunity that works with LGBT youth, agreed that more straight people are fighting for queer rights.
For Clayton, straight people’s involvement in gay-rights advocacy is the result of a natural progression. He said that more people who have no contact with the LGBT community are simply viewing homophobia as wrong.
Susan Harman, president of PFLAG, echoed Clayton’s words.
“A time just comes for things,” she told the Straight. “One hundred years ago, it was women trying to get the vote. Then, in the ’60s, it was the civil-rights movement. And now it is this.”
Harman’s son came out in 2003. She conceded that it was not an easy time for the family.
“As a parent, you worry that it means that your child is going to be less safe on the streets. You worry that they are going to be subject to harassment, to discrimination,” she explained.
But Harman said that in other ways, she was relieved when her son openly identified himself as gay. “I thought, ”˜Maybe my son wasn’t very happy, and it might make him happier to know where he is in life.’ ”
This year, PFLAG Vancouver is celebrating its 20th anniversary. At the same time, Harman said, the organization has begun to question its relevance.
She explained that in the six years that she has been with PFLAG, the number of people attending meetings has decreased. “I think part of that is that there are a lot of parents that don’t feel any need to go to an organization,” Harman said. “They are perfectly comfortable with it.” She also noted that the number of groups available to the LGBT community has increased.
Many regard entertainment as a primary source of this new level of acceptance, the Straight found.
Over the past decade, Will & Grace—a sitcom featuring a gay man and his straight female friend—was a prime-time hit. HBO’s The L Word made lesbian sex the envy of every heterosexual woman with cable. And megastars like Madonna and Sean Penn came to speak regularly in favour of gay marriage.
Hollywood is playing a role in bringing straight people onto the LGBT community’s side, Clayton said. But he emphasized that there is still a long way to go and cited education as the key to acceptance.
“I work in high schools,” Clayton said. “There is this steady violence of constantly hearing, ”˜Oh, don’t be gay,’ or ”˜Oh, don’t be such a fag.’ That’s present no matter where I go.”
It was this “constant violence”, as Clayton described it, that Cheney noticed in high school.
One week, she kept track of every homophobic remark she heard at school. The number was between three and nine offensive comments a day. “I just felt like there was something that I could do that would be easy to get involved in to help change things,” she said.
Look for Cheney at this week’s Pride parade. She will be one of thousands of straight people celebrating equality.
You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.