When I was a wee, small, boy Canada Day, or as we called it then "Dominion Day" was a very big deal. I always had a decorated bike in the parade. Every year it got more elabourate. The front room would be overtaken by crepe paper and glue and paint and glitter. When the day came, we prayed fervently for sun. Wet crepe paper is too sad a sight to describe here. In a small boy's way, I loved my country. I, of course, was aware of the great republic to the south - we traveled cross the border a few times a year, we watched American programming on television, and though we lived only a few miles from the border I knew that border made a difference. We were the country with French on our cans and on our Corn Flakes boxes.
As I grew older, I had a kind of defiant pride in being Canadian. I didn't know what it meant to be Canadian, I just knew that we weren't American. Now, don't read that as me being anti-American, it's just that when you have such a big and rich and famous neighbour it's not possible to define yourself as anything but in relation to the 'big guy next door.' And, we weren't that. I was beginning to see the subtle things that Canadian's are and was well on my way to embracing those things. Then something happened.
We'd just moved to Toronto, partly because we wanted a safe place to be gay. Small town boys learned very quickly that difference, particularly THAT difference, wasn't welcomed. Though Canadians may, by and large, express our prejudices in quiet ways, the violence behind the hatred peeked out often enough to keep me ever aware of the safety of silence. I wanted something different. It was Halloween, our first in Toronto, we had heard about the fun time to be had outside the Saint Charles Tavern. No one much told me, at work, what that fun time was, but it was to be seen to be believed.
We went with our friend Joan to see what was up. We lived on Alexander Street and the Saint Charles pub was down at the end of the street. As we approached we could hear the roar of a huge crowd. The sound shocked me, it didn't sound "fun" it sounded "hateful" and it was. People filled the sidewalks hands full of things to throw. Then when someone, usually a drag queen, had the courage to walk a few steps to the front door of the bar, people threw, with aim and force, whatever they had held. A roar went up at the appearance of someone going to the bar, a bigger roar surged when the "target" was hit. I felt nauseous. I left the scene. The image of police officers being there, joining in the taunting of anyone who opened the door, seared in my brain. I can recall it now, without effort.
I felt citizen of no country.
I felt as if the Canada that I loved, as a boy with a decorated bike, was gone.
I felt that the Canadians that I had known, worked with and liked, had revealed themselves to me. Halloween, here, is one where masks came off.
Tomorrow, for the first time, Gay Pride Day and Canada Day will be celebrated on the same day. Ruby is here, fully ready to hit the streets with a water gun along with a water pistol back up. She's got a dress picked out for the day and yesterday had her hair done and her nails too. It's one of her favourite days. She loves the colour and the spectacle and the great ride down Yonge Street. For me, it's always a very different ride. I'll be in my chair, with my yellow shirt on (many will know what the yellow shirt means) riding with staff and self advocates from Vita along with those from sprOUT.
Back, on that dark Halloween night, I never thought I'd be in a parade, with people with disabilities, openly part of an organization that openly celebrates diversity. Our banner reads "Living in Three D - Diversity, Difference and Disability." It expresses well how I feel. I live a fully dimensional life. I am who I am at work and at home, in my mind and in my heart, on my blog and on the street. I'm freer than I ever thought I'd be.
It's been a long journey here, to today, to a day where we celebrate the birth of my country and the birth of the civil liberties movement that began with police outside a gay bar in New York City. Today the police will be there, in the parade, joining in the fun. Today Canadians won't be throwing eggs and rocks and hate, they will be gathered, a million strong cheering the floats and the costumes and fat guys in yellow shirts on scooters.
And, me, well, I'll still remember the courage of those who walked into a bar, ducking whatever was hurled from the crowds. I'll still remember what it felt to be so completely disenfranchised as to feel citizen of no land. I'll remember all that, and hum "Oh Canada" with cautious optimism.