Last month marked the 40th anniversary of Stonewall. In 1969, trans people, prostitutes, lesbian, bi and gay individuals fought back against a police raid of a queer establishment. They stood together to say NO to homophobia/transphobia; NO to conventional thinking, and NO to discrimination.
This action sparked a movement that would change the face of the world, and the way heterosexuals saw queer individuals. Today, in almost every country, queer activists fight for human rights and dignity.
No other political movement has achieved as much as we have, in such a short period of time.
But, despite our progress, we as queer people face discrimination at home and internationally.
The truth is, we have not moved forward far enough. Our community continues to suffer more than any other in North America, and without immediate action, our queer brothers and sisters will continue to endure unacceptable anguish.
One youth told me that when he was living in a shelter, only a month ago, he was beaten up because he had a rainbow pin on his bag. At 14 his parents kicked him out of his home for being queer, and he moved to Ottawa from a small town outside the city. When job opportunities did not work out, and friends became unable to accommodate him, he moved to the streets. From there, he said his life spiralled, and for a few months, it blurred. Drugs and alcohol helped him escape reality, and prostitution financed his addictions.
He said: “My outsides hurt from the cold and the violence… Yeah, people would pick fights with me, other hookers, johns and pimps…sometimes I felt like a punching bag for those around me. But that was nothing compared to how I felt on the inside. My insides hurt, even now…. I had no friends no family, I was all alone. When I turned tricks, I felt like I was being used, like parts of me were being taken away without my permission. And then I would look down and there would be blood or cum or both, and I didn’t care. The worst is when they pretend, and make you pretend. They want to imagine it is love, and expect you to fake it too, to enjoy it. You have to or they won’t pay you. It hurts to fake something you want so much, and won’t ever get”.
Today his bounces from shelter to shelter, his future still uncertain.
His reality is the reality of many queer people in our community. Some Canadian studies have suggested that in cities, as many as 35% of homeless youth identify as queer. That is nearly four times the 10% benchmark we use to identify our community. The number one reason why queer youth end up homeless: because they no longer feel safe at home or in their communities, and feel they have no other option but to go live on the streets.
As pride season starts at the end of June in Toronto, I urge you to celebrate our victories: Same-sex marriage, Equal benefits, and many other Anti-discrimination laws; but I also encourage you to share stories of ongoing hardships, and work towards making our community better.
Forty years ago, we stood together to end oppression; let us stand together again and help each other.