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The History of Pride

A Talk at Sudbury Pride by Laurel O'Gorman

by Scott Neigh

Laurel O'Gorman preparing to present a talk on the history of Pride as part of the 2013 Fierte Sudbury Pride week.
Laurel O'Gorman preparing to present a talk on the history of Pride as part of the 2013 Fierte Sudbury Pride week.

Laurel O'Gorman wants people celebrating Pride Week in Sudbury, Ontario, to remember that "from Stonewall right to current Prides, it's a party but it's also a fight."

Her talk on the history of Pride -- see the player at the top of the post for the full audio -- was a session at a conference held this Wednesday, one of the twenty-four events that constitute Pride Week in the city this year.

O'Gorman acknowledged that the history of queer people and queer struggles goes back millenia, but she began her account with the 1950s. In those days, she said, "You could be arrested for having same-sex sexual encounters or for dressing in a gender that didn't match with your genitalia as perceived by the police." The organizing by queer people to change things often styled itself as "homophile" organizing in those days, and it tended to be polite lobbying, low-key demonstrating, and other activities that emphasized the desires of the organizers for acceptance by mainstream society.

However, she said, the African American civil rights movement and the other movements that surged to prominence in the 1960s inspired a seachange in how gay men and lesbians organized: "It went from 'mental illness' to 'please accept us even through we're not like you' to 'fuck you, we're not like you, and that's okay, we're pround of who we are.'"

She talked about the pivotal 1969 riot at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in response to a police raid, the event commemorated in Pride Marches to this day. And she drew the connection to the first Pride actions in Toronto, which came out of the massive police raids on gay bath houses in the city in 1981 and the militant responses by gay men and their allies.

Pride did not come to Sudbury until 1997. She joked, "We didn't have a huge type of riot leading to Pride -- unfortunately, because that would probably be a great story to tell." However, she emphasized that "it wasn't just organizing from people within the queer commuinty" that made the first Sudbury Pride happen. She pointed to the environment in the city in that moment, which included vigorous organizing by the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty, the labour movement, and other groups against the Conservative provincial government of Premier Mike Harris; an active campaign that crossed sectoral and community boundaries in defence of a woman named Mary Ross, who was fired from her job because she was gay; and the active involvement of a number of organizations that still participate in Sudbury Pride, including the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre and Reseau Access (formerly Access AIDS). It was people and energy from all of these movements and organizations, as well as others, that made the first Pride happen in Sudbury. The organizers expected 60 people at that first march; over 300 participated.

In the course of presenting this history, O'Gorman challenged listeners to reflect on the increasing corporate sponsorship in many Prides. She also drew attention to the distinction between a "gay liberation" approach and a "gay rights" approach.  She asked, "Do we want to just think about the rights that we have, the rights that we want, and try and expand them" in ways that are incremental and continue to exclude? "Or do we want to think abouty really fundamentally changing the way things are socially organized, so that we actually have a movement that fights for the liberation of all people against all forms of oppression? And it's not for me to decide, or to tell you that we have to liberate everyone -- though that's clearly where I'm coming from. But I want people to have this information and to think about where Pride came from. The people that fought before us to get where we are now, what did they want? Why did they go through all of the stuff that they went through, and how can we honour that in future Prides?"

The other sessions at the conference included a discussion by workers in anti-violence organizations about domestic abuse and sexual assault in same-sex relationships, a session in which several trans people shared their experiences and analyses, and a moderated panel discussion on the use of the word "queer" as a way of identifying.

The events continue until Sunday, when they culminate in a festive day in Memorial Park that starts at 11am and includes the annual parade, which leaves the park at 1pm. The day -- and the week -- end with the closing ceremonies at Tom Davies Square at 6pm.

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Topics: Sexuality

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scott.neigh (Scott Neigh)
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I am a writer, parent, and activist living in Sudbury, Ontario. For more of my writing, see my personal blog (at and the site devoted to the work I've done focused on the voices of participants in Canadian social movements (at which so far has resulted in two books looking at Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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