Andrew Ference with my friend & colleague Marni Panas.
The Gay Pride Parade is the best parade: with great music, dancing, sparkly costumes and general revelry. The fun is guaranteed.
Over the past ten years, I’ve watched the number of people who attend the Gay Pride Parade go up and up. A decade ago, only a pocket of friends and families would show up to demonstrate support for their loved ones. This year, there were thousands of people at the parade. The sidewalks were packed, and our city’s main square was bursting with party-goers.
Even our conservative politicians were represented, which would have been unheard in the past. The captain of our NHL team was there, another first.
This was the place to be yesterday. Gay Pride has blossomed from the fringes into the mainstream. (There’s still a long way to go to secure equity and erase discrimination for the community, especially for people who are transgender).
I’ve thought to myself after going to the parade: gosh, the disability community really needs something like this. The Gay Pride Parade is a celebration of being gay, and an embracing of the gay, lesbian, transgender, queer and bi-sexual identity. It is fun, unabashed and unapologetic.
Those of us who love someone with a disability could learn from this. Andrew Solomon draws the parallels between the gay and disability communities. Here’s what he says the gay community did, as translated to the disability community:
1. Forge meaning in disability
2. Build identity in your disability.
3. Invite the world to share your joy.
There is great power in this philosophy. Yesterday’s Gay Pride parade was about the people who are LGBT embracing their identity and inviting everybody to share their joy.
How often do people with disabilities do this? I think back to the last time few times I saw a group of people with disabilities and their loved ones gathered together. One was (sadly) at our Legislature, at a rally protesting cuts to disability services. And the another time was just on Friday night, where kids who accessed the Stollery Children’s Hospital attended Dreamnight at the Zoo. It was a relaxed, fun night, and Aaron ran into many of his friends from the Stollery and Down syndrome world. It was like a great family reunion for him, and he hugged and high-fived his friends, and they ran off, unencumbered, exploring the zoo.
Events like Dreamnight at the Zoo serve to celebrate our kids with disabilities in a safe (and, yes, segregated) environment. There’s a need for that, and I want to do more of that internal celebrating and not take it away. One of the dads said to me: “I’ve never felt so relaxed at the zoo. I don’t have to worry about people staring at us, or judging my son’s behaviour.” I felt that way too.
Aaron on Friday night with his friends.
Let’s keep bringing our families together to celebrate our kids – that’s a part of helping them embrace their disabilities and form their own identities. I think the next step is to take the joy they have and share that with the world – unabashedly and unapologetically. This isn’t black and white. There is a place for families with children with disabilities to get together on their own.
But it also means taking the celebration of our children and our lives out of the closet. We can do this by: telling our stories in mainstream media, as Hamilton Cain did in Oprah Magazine; sharing disability research with the world, like Liz Lewis does; and moving out of church basements and into our community recreation centres.
These are examples of taking the celebration of our loved ones onto the streets – figuratively now – but maybe one day we will host a big sparkly fun parade too. Thank you to my friends in the gay world for showing us the way.