Three flags flying in front of the Tyee Plaza in Campbell River. The tallest is the Canadian flag and then two flags of equal height, the LGBT2SQQ pride flag and the British Columbia provincial flag, are caught flying in the breeze.
When we drove into Campbell River on Friday one of the first things we noticed was a sign announcing a Pride Celebration. We went by so quickly that we weren’t able to read the dates or times. We looked it up, kind of hoping it might be this weekend past, and found that it’s happening next weekend. We were busy, getting into the hotel, arranging to see various and sundry family members and organizing our suitcases which had become a little dangerous to zip open and almost impossible to zip closed, so I didn’t have a chance to think about the celebration and the flag, and we didn’t have a chance to talk about it.
The next morning began with Joe and I heading over to the laundromat to do piles and piles of laundry. The web site had been wrong about the opening time so we were there an hour early. I rolled down to the flags intent on taking a picture. We both chose not to make it a ‘selfie’ because, well, we couldn’t. Just couldn’t.
I know we are told to live in the present but any thinking, reflecting human being knows that the present has echoes of the past that will reverberate into the future. Joe had been horribly bullied in school with a nickname so vile I won’t even record here, except to say that it targeted his sexuality and his masculinity and his right to belong. I met Joe in CARIHI the high school here in grade 12, and that’s were our relationship began.
CARIHI apparently has done things to be more inclusive to lgbt2sqq kids now, but, then, violence, social, verbal, psychological and physical were to be expected if we were ever caught. Other kids, the straight ones were dating and making very public displays of their love, their orientation and their expectation of welcome. Everywhere you looked the constant celebration of heterosexual pride and privilege was on display.
The most common word linked to homosexuality back then was one we still don’t understand to this very day. It was ‘gearbox’ or more accurately ‘fucking gearboxes.’ People we knew, were never people who knew us, we couldn’t allow that to happen, we learned to pretend in public and live in private, but those we knew threw that word, and others around all the time, fully confident that there were none of ‘those’ here.
CARIHI was a place of welcome for most and terror for us. There were so many ways to slip up. So many opportunities to be suddenly seen. Every single day, every single moment, was one of either fear or terror or anticipation of social violence. High school was a dangerous place, high school should have been full of memories – happy ones, not the ones we carry.
Campbell River, too, was a mill town. Men were men and, when people say that as a good thing, I tremble. Those good men would turn evil at the suggestion that a fucking gearbox might be in the vicinity. Campbell River did not value diversity in a variety of ways, and so we lived on the margins trying desperately to exist without notice. Our love made us vulnerable. Think about that.
And now, there’s the Pride flag.
And now, there’s a Pride celebration.
We’re glad of that, the both of us, but … how can anyplace embrace Pride without the acknowledgement that Pride is not something gifted by city council, Pride was something that people fought to have, in places like this, and against all odds.
How can Campbell River celebrate Pride now when in inflicted Shame then?
Where is the apology?
Where is the acknowledgement of the damage done?
If you actively participate in smashing someone’s windows, you apologize and then you fix.
But if you actively participate in smashing someone’s soul, you look up at a flag and wonder at how far you’ve come.
We both wish the citizens, all the citizens, of Campbell River a happy Pride celebration. However as people who come from before, we know your hearts, show us that you’ve changed. Not by flying a flag, but by acknowledging your history, and pledging, no more.