Yesterday, the Centre For Inquiry Ontario made quite a faux pas. They invited their members to attend the local pride parade in drag in acknowledgement of unequal treatment of transgender people. If you’re LGBTQ you probably already know what happened. If not, stay a while. Trans activists, including notable freethought blogger Natalie Reed, assigned themselves to the case, patiently and persistently pleading with representatives of CFI not to engage in this ignorant, offensive exercise. Predictably, the straight cis people in charge did not like this much. For full documentation of the entire series of events up to about 2 a.m. June 22 EST, see Zinnia Jones’ article here. A brief rundown is as follows:
CFI posts the invitation with original wording, emphasis theirs:
This year we’re going to have a bit of fun- and show our support for the trans community BY DRESSING IN DRAG. Transphobia is an insidious and often overlooked problem which effects thousands of Canadians. Step out of your comfort zone for a few hours and into a pair of pumps- or sport a handsome handlebar mustache!
CFI amends their invitation thusly:
This year we’re going to have a bit of fun BY DRESSING IN DRAG. Step out of your comfort zone for a few hours and into a pair of pumps- or sport a handsome handlebar mustache!
Note the removal of any discussion of transphobia.
Jaimy Warner, apparent spokesperson for CFI then issues this explanation, quite unabashedly appealing to her own authority. Emphasis mine.
In another environment I can certainly see how ‘dressing in drag’ could quickly degrade into mockery- but this is not a frat house kegger nor are we a collection of close minded bigots. We’re a science educational charity marching in a Gay Pride Parade (with a professional drag queen helping us prepare, I should add) demonstrating we’re open minded and accepting.
Finally, Jaimy Warner issues an apology and says that CFI will not march in drag, adding that some LGBT people had signed off on it so it totally wasn’t their fault.
You’re right. My initial response was not an apology but a selfish attempt to explain the stance of my organization and our perspective. At the start of the planning phase for this event I spoke to a number of people in the LGBT community who thought this was a good idea-I thought it was a good idea- so it was easy for me to disregard the first negative responses I received here today.
This morning, CFI has their PR guy, who also hilariously happens to be a Mens Rights Activist (where do they GET these people?) issue a longer statement. In the statement, he toots CFI’s horn repeatedly about how awesome they are about LGBT people, why they even hired the son of a homophobe to speak for us! How could we possibly disagree with that?
As a vital component of the latter we have a long history of support of both the LGBTQ and transgender communities. (Heather’s note: Hey guys! Transgender is separate from LGBTQ did you know?) This is not just talk, but tangible. It includes for example our history of vocal support for Bill C279 and Bill 33, the federal and provincial legislation to amend our Human Rights laws with respect to gender identity and gender expression… Perhaps most interestingly, we also hired Nate Phelps, the estranged son of the notorious patriarch of the vehemently homophobic Westboro Baptist Church, to run our Calgary branch. Nate speaks for both CFI issues and LGBTQ issues.
I don’t even…
CFI Ontario’s major mistake was that they forgot that straight, cis people attending pride parades should be there in a strictly supportive capacity. Pride parades are neither for nor about straight, cis people. They’re our show. This is the difference between a church, business, or political group that shows up with a bunch of their LGBT members and employees riding on their float and the group who shows up in drag, or starts handing out pamphlets about the virtues of their organization. CFI Ontario assumed that, because they’re on our side politically, that the pride parade was about them as well. They assert that this faux pas is excusable because they’re in support of the right bills, they’re a science organization (whatever THAT has to do with anything), and they employed Nate Phelps (Again…), but they forgot to acknowledge that pride isn’t about them at all. You see, it doesn’t matter how many friends you have that are queer, or how many bills you support, or how you vote when it comes to pride day, because we’re not there to celebrate you. We’re there for ourselves. We’re there for no other reason than to celebrate how far we’ve come and how awesome it is to assert ourselves in spite of you. And maybe for beads from the Smirnoff float.
Does that offend you? Were you hoping there was going to be a public event honoring you, the person who voted in favor of queer people being people? Well, I’ll tell you what. The day those bills pass is the day you get your cookies, but not on pride. That’s ours. And you will earn no sympathy from us when you try to make it about what awesome allies you are. Oh, and atheist groups? You especially won’t earn our sympathy when you’re there to win the hearts and minds of LGBT people in your self-asserted war against religion. Being a gender/sexual minority has nothing to do with your agenda. Leave your fucking pamphlets at home. However tempting it may be to pit LGBT people against religion, you must resist. We are not pawns in your game. Same goes for you, Marin Foundation and your “we’re sorry” bullshit. Apologies for the actions of others are ineffective and disingenuous and will not reconcile LGBT people with Christianity in general to the express financial benefit of your church. So if you intended to go to pride to yank LGBT people a few inches to your side in your bullshit game of religion v. atheist tug of war, get fucked. Stay home. Don’t come.
If you’ve got a paternalistic feeling and you’re certain you know what’s best for queer people and how best the future of queer politics will play out, you are demeaning us. It’s dehumanizing. It’s wrong. If you were intending to show up at pride parades to tell us how best to continue our fight, be that in the arena of fighting religion or fighting for progress in whatever religious organization you’re a part of, then that’s you. Make no mistake of it. You are assuming a position of leadership rather than support; you’re not qualified, and you’re not welcome.
“But Heather,” you may be thinking, “I don’t want to do any of that, I just want to show up. How can I be sure that I won’t accidentally wear something that will offend you? It seems like that’s all CFI Ontario was doing!”
CFI Ontario messed up when they made their half-assed self-promoting apologies. They asserted that they’re truly our allies and they know this because they know what constitutes an ally, regardless of whatever we may tell them. But if you want a tip on dress code, I’m happy to help.
Rainbows are fine. A shirt that says “I totally dig gay people” is fine. It’s silly, and you’ll get stared at, but it’s fine. If you find yourself wondering what the hell to wear and you’re not 100% sure if it’s offensive, come in a your (clean) underwear and buy clothes from the booths at the parade. Don’t worry. Lots of people will be in their underwear (or less depending on local statutes!). They also usually have face painting, jewelry, flags, ribbons, capes, tutus, and all sorts of really fun stuff to wear. Don’t dress in drag. Drag is a complicated thing and the question of what constitutes offensive and inoffensive is currently in a state of flux. If you are cis and straight and not a regular drag performer, there is almost no chance you have any idea what you’re doing. So don’t.
Otherwise, come! Buy flags. Get free HRC or “Straight but not narrow” stickers to put on your car. Get beads. Get drunk. Have a great time. Don’t try to lead us. Support us.