Today is the day before the big Pride march in Toronto. We are going down to join in the parade and we will march with Vita Community Living Services, the agency which employs me, the agency which welcomes me, the agency that respects my relationship with Joe. I can't express what that means to me, I will look around me at co-workers and members served by the organization and feel a shared excitement being there together. It matters that we are there. It matters that we publicly celebrate Pride. It matters.
I understand that it matters that everyone is there. I understand that every single person in that parade will have made a journey that brought them to be in that place at that time. I understand that the path we take towards self acceptance and expression of personal pride in surviving our own journeys will have all been difficult. Loving oneself is never easy. For anyone. Loving oneself when one is told over and over that one isn't worth love is nearly impossible. Loving oneself when you have lived with the lie that your heart, your very heart, doesn't work right is simply miraculous.
People with intellectual disabilities stand at the corners of sexuality and disability, of disability and intellect, of intellect and worth. It's a difficult intersection. Stepping off the curb and into life when the the curb was cut long after your sense of self took its first wound. I have been in a number of these parades with Vita's members and remember one fellow, crying, hard, as he walked down the street. People didn't understand. He simply couldn't believe that he was there. He took each step in a freedom that he never anticipated feeling. He took each breath understanding that he was alive, he was gay and he was free. His body had been caged in an institution, his mind had been caged in ignorance by others who denied education, his heart had been caged by a treatment program that sought to punish how it loved - but those cages, flew open that day, wide open. About three or four blocks in his hands flew to the sky and they stayed there, in celebration for the whole march. It. Matters.
It matters for every person in that parade who thinks that people with intellectual disabilities are not flesh and blood and do not have desires and needs. It matters for everyone who has a child or a sibling or family member who had until that very moment, when we in the parade pass by, had thought that they would never grow up, they would never love, our presence will say, 'We are here and alive and we celebrate our differences!'
The group at Vita that has worked so hard to organize this event are to be thanked, over and over again, for putting time aside to make this happen. This is more than a parade. It's an act of political rebellion. It's an act of defiance. It's an act that ultimately fulfills our mission, vision and values. We ARE community. We BELONG. We LIVE, LOVE AND LAUGH.
Pride is reclaiming the power we've had all along.
Hard as it is to say, knowing what this has meant to generations of people with disabilities:
Historically, outside of family, the only other person who would ever hold the heart of a person with an intellectual disability in their hands was a coroner.
Pride is more than reclamation of power, it's a determination that tomorrow will change because we have the power to change it.
And because it matters.
We will be there.