Our sister city survives a football-free Pride parade. Barely

Editorial | by Stephen Whitworth

It was nice to see Regina’s LGBTQ community survive Pride Week, more or less. For a while there it looked like it might not.

Did you hear what happened, Saskatoon? There was some controversy over the choice of parade co-marshal Jon Ryan, the Regina-born punter for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Some in the community objected to Ryan’s selection by Pride because he’s a straight pro-football player ally who, while supportive of the LGBTQ community, hasn’t put in the kind of day-in, day-out, in-the-trenches, get-your-nose-bloody work others have.

It’s those others, said the Ryan-nayers, who deserve all the honours. A fair enough opinion. Not mine but that’s fine.

Pride Regina held a community meeting to work through objections. I’ve heard it was excellent and productive, arriving on a compromise that included Ryan. Unfortunately, criticism on social media and in online columns and news reports got back to him before it could be implemented, and he stepped down. This was fair, too — no LGBTQ ally wants to be the lightning rod for community divisions, and in his statement Ryan made it clear that was the rationale for his withdrawal. He did say he’d be open to Pride in the future.

Alas, this unsurprisingly led to a social media shitstorm as Ryan supporters and critics, gay and straight, beat the crap out of one another.

If you missed it, consider yourselves lucky.

Supporters called the Ryan detractors a pack of parade-raining-on whiners and militant social justice warriors [1] who were recklessly undoing decades of carefully built goodwill. ‘Stop alienating our allies by being so shitty,’ they said.

The “whiners” pointed out there’s still work to be done, especially on transgender issues and for queer people of colour. Perhaps their comrades could maybe do some of it instead of partying like idiots with pro athletes?

It was depressing but the way I’ve come to look at it is that squabbles like this are inevitable as movements mature and become more complex and diverse.

Younger members of Saskatchewan’s queer community weren’t active in the ’80s and ’90s when Pride parades began their transformation from outlaw events to mainstream festivals. They’re not blinded by past victories, and fairly point out that LGBTQ gains have not been equal for everyone. Parties aren’t much fun when you don’t get some of the cake.

At the same time many of us — gay and straight — were around when it was impossible to imagine pro athletes joining in a pride parade, so to us, the prospect of Ryan marching down in Regina was sweet vindication. [2]

I want to see all Pride festivals strive for the right mix of activism and celebration. It won’t be easy to untangle divisive issues — like participation by uniformed police, or commercialism and corporatization — on which there are many opposing but valid ideas. But maybe this year’s scrap gave people the tools they need to not strangle one another.

One way or another, the community will figure it out.

But if Regina’s LGBTQ community were to ask me, a Jon Ryan-liking straight busybody, for advice, I’d suggest keeping an eye on one very important prize:

When an idea pisses off the homophobes, it’s definitely worth considering.

[1] ^ I don’t like the insult “social justice warriors”. It’s a right-wing term used to bash activists. Social justice is good. Just call people idiots, jerks or assholes when you don’t agree with them.

[2] ^ It was also delicious that Ryan is Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s brother-in-law. Screw football; that’s reason enough to crown someone Queen of Pride right there.