On Saturday, tens of thousands of folks will enjoy the 25th Halifax Pride Parade. The parade and the week of events around it are listed in tourist guides. It will be broadcast live on TV. Banks and governments and businesses will have floats. I won't be there.
Back in 1987, the date thought of as Year One for gay pride parades in Halifax wasn't really a parade. It was a march, a very small one, with maybe 50 people, some of whom walked with paper bags over their heads. There were no rainbows. The march ended at the Public Gardens, and since no plans had been made, everybody milled around for awhile and then went home.
This made no difference to me. I was living on the south shore, in Hubbards, carrying on an affair with a married Chester matron, not in the closet, but living in a don't-ask-don't-tell bubble where whatever gossip there might have been when locals noticed her car in my driveway overnight never reached my ears. Nor did any gay news from Halifax or the world beyond.
By 1990 I was more awake. Debbie's Dinette, a lively restaurant and bakery I opened in Hubbards, is one of the capers I look back on and wonder how the hell I ever pulled them off. It had Silence = Death posters, k.d. lang for music ambiance and advertised in Gaezette, which is what Wayves used to be called. I began meeting LGBT people and as I learned more about the gay movement, I wanted to be be more involved.
In 1993 I moved to Halifax and became political. I volunteered for Gaezette. Became a host on CKDU's The Word is Out, a spoken word queer show. I had no straight friends. Everyone I spent time with was queer. Everything about my life, including holding hands on the street or cleaning the cat box, seemed to be a political act. Every time I came home there were messages on the phone. It was non-stop. It was all about the fight. I was openly contemptuous of closet cases. I dismissed anyone who had anything better to do than be in the parade. I was on a million call-in radio shows answering stupid questions and trying to deflect homophobia with humour. (Caller: Why do you people have to dress up so outrageously and make spectacles of yourselves? Me: I think we saw too much of Toller Cranston in our formative years.) I made queer videos. Hosted lesbian brunches and dances. Made posters. Spray painted graffiti. Demonstrated outside TV studios. The number one way I identified myself ? Gay. 24/7.
A bunch of us took a van to the march on Washington where a million LGBT people massed. It was electrifying. We brought back armloads of discarded placards and used them in the Halifax march. It used to be a very different thing to march in a smaller parade in the town where you live, where your lessor, boss or neighbours might see you, react badly and you had no laws protecting your rights. The march ended at Rumours, the gay club in the Gottingen Street space that's now the Global studio.The glass doors were painted black, all the better to hide. Folks filed in, happy to have survived, and ate homemade sandwiches in the dank atmosphere of stale beer and cigarette butts ground into the carpet.
The first Halifax parade to end outside was in the mid-90s. By then I had been the janitor at Rumours, then a controversial president of the Gay and Lesbian Association, impeached and then re-elected, leading a board accused of causing Rumours to founder. There were terrible, terrible feelings, and to this day there are people who do not talk to me. My rehabilitation included becoming chair of the Pride committee; moving the after-parade reception to the great outdoors is my favourite thing to remember. It was sunny. The parade (a few thousand strong by then) flowed down Sackville Street to a gathering area by the waterfront. Rainbow flags had been ordered in. It was a great feeling to look back up the hill and see that mass of people and banners coming down. They're everywhere now, but it's a tremendous moment the first time you see an armada of rainbows. There was a sound system and as parade goers came into the square Parachute Club's "Rise Up," a song of invigoration, began playing and everybody was hopping and happy. Halifax queers had an outdoor sock hop. Members of PFLAG, an organization for families and friends of lesbians and gays, had free hot dogs and pop.
This year the parade will be huge, and thousands of LGBT people will be among the crowds watching, which is different than when we all walked in the parade. It's definitely a parade, and not a march. It's more corporate. As I missed the parade in 1987, I will miss this year's parade. Without ever giving one thought about when Pride might be this year, I booked a plane ticket out of town, on the day of the parade.
I don't know how some people keep working for a cause long after most burn out. Dan MacKay, Lynn Murphy, Hugo Dann and Chris Aucoin are all of that certain age and still strongly involved in the community. I had to take my ball and bat and go home. As I age, and feel so tired, other things besides the salvation of queer people have taken hold of me---abiding grief at the death of my mother. My own health. The decayed veneer of my patience and tolerance for others. Gay as a way to identify myself is much further down the list, somewhere way behind depressive and slightly ahead of brown-eyed. I am, as I began, absent.