2SLGBTQ+ Newcomer Pride: Celebrating Identity, Resilience, and Inclusive Communities

By Pallavi Suresan, Community Health Worker – LGBTQ+ Newcomer Initiatives, Access Alliance
Participants showing off their artwork at the Access Alliance Pride Picnic (AccessPoint on Danforth)

What is Pride?

June is Pride Month. Pride is a celebration of 2SLGBTQ+ (2spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) people and community. Pride is about 2SLGBTQ+ people being proud and unapologetic about who we are. It’s about fighting stigma, shame, discrimination and abuse. Pride is about saying there is nothing wrong with being 2SLGBTQ+, there is nothing that needs to be changed or fixed. Pride is about recognizing that we are part of a family and community of people who are beautiful and resilient. Pride is about recognizing that there are many different ways people can exist, there are many different ways that we can love ourselves and each other.

We celebrate Pride during the month of June to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising, a series of protests that happened in New York City. On June 28, 1969 New York City police raided The Stonewall Inn, a well-known gathering place for 2SLGBTQ+ people. Patrons of the bar were used to raids like this but that night, tired of the constant harassment and violence from police, they fought back, starting a riot. Most of the patrons were 2SLGBTQ+ people of colour, many were homeless young people who had been kicked out of their homes and were doing their best to survive and exist as their true selves. The people at Stonewall were defiantly saying that they were tired of being abused and assaulted. They were fighting back. In Canada there have also been protests against police brutality, abuse and targeting of 2SLGBTQ+ people, including the Toronto Bathhouse Raids in 1981 which lead to Toronto’s first Pride celebrations.

Canada and 2SLGBTQ+ people

It has been decades since the Stonewall Uprising, decades of protests and rallies, of organizing and advocating, of 2SLGBTQ+ people bravely living their lives in the face of stigma, discrimination, abuse and violence. 2SLGBTQ+ folks have made huge gains in the fight for our rights since Stonewall and the Bathhouse Raids. In Canada, 2SLGBTQ+ people are protected under Canadian law and we are lucky to have the protections that we have. Many Canadians believe that because of this Canada is completely safe for 2SLGBTQ+ people, and that homophobia and transphobia do not exist here. However, as 2SLGBTQ+ people have become more visible and have gained more rights, there has been a growing backlash against us, especially against trans people.

Recently, we have seen an increasing number of anti-2SLGBTQ+ protests across the country, school boards are voting against flying the Pride flag, lawmakers are creating policies that can out trans students, and drag events have been targeted. 2SLGBTQ+ folks face harassment, hate speech, abuse and violence online and in person when we speak out for ourselves and our communities. Many homeless youth are 2SLGBTQ+, and street harassment and verbal abuse towards 2SLGBTQ+ folks is common, even in Toronto. And people still face discrimination when accessing housing, healthcare and other services, as well as at work and school.

Just this week, on Wednesday June 28th, a professor and two students were stabbed in a gender studies class at the University of Waterloo. According to police, “this was a hate-motivated incident related to gender expression and gender identity.” While many people are shocked by the attack for 2SLGBTQ+ people in Canada it is not surprising. Many of us face violence in our daily lives and have been speaking out about the harassment and abuse that we deal with. Unfortunately, we are not taken seriously, which only allows the hate to increase leaving us unsafe.

2SLGBTQ+ newcomers preparing signs and t-shirts for the Pride Parade at AccessPoint on Jane’s drop-in program

Unique challenges facing 2SLGBTQ+ newcomers

For 2SLGBTQ+ people of colour, especially Black and Indigenous peoples, the violence can be more extreme and there are often less supports available for us. 2SLGBTQ+ newcomers can often struggle with finding a place where they feel they belong. Many are still exploring their own sexuality and gender, or are unsure how they fit into Canadian ideas around what it means to be 2SLGBTQ+. For others, they are learning how to navigate the complicated ways that homophobia and transphobia manifest in this country while simultaneously dealing with other issues linked to race, immigration status, poverty, disability, and mental health.

2SLGBTQ+ newcomers can often have trouble trying to figure out how their sexuality or gender can fit in with their culture and religion. Throughout history, 2SLGBTQ+ people were acknowledged, supported, and honoured in many different parts of the world; we were seen as valued members of the community. European colonization brought in homophobic and transphobic laws and beliefs that still exist in many of our countries and cultures today. In some countries, this has escalated to imposing the death penalty on 2SLGBTQ+ people, including in Uganda, which put this into law just this year. It is a horrifying, heartbreaking reality for 2SLGBTQ+ people across the world that simply existing as they are puts their lives in danger every day. Despite this, 2SLGBTQ+ people are still fighting for their rights and their communities even under the threat of death. Activists across the world are advocating for themselves and their right to live with dignity.

All of this means that many people come to Canada in order to be safe. But for a lot of 2SLGBTQ+ newcomers, especially 2SLGBTQ+ people of colour, it can feel like you have to choose between being 2SLGBTQ+ and being a part of your cultural, ethnic, and religious communities. In our cultural communities we often don’t tell people about our sexuality or gender, hiding who we are so we can connect with others and get support and care. This includes not telling our families, because doing so can mean that we could lose them. It’s a difficult place to be, being constantly afraid that our families and communities will find out who we are while still needing to be able to live our lives in a way that is true to ourselves. 

But we don’t have to choose. 2SLGBTQ+ folks can be many different things all at once, and we have always existed. It can be hard to find places where we feel like we can be all of ourselves, but those spaces are out there, spaces where we meet new people as well, people with whom we can learn and grow and heal. Access Alliance’s LGBTQ+ Newcomer Drop-In program, held weekly, offers a space where we can explore who we are and make connections, and find community and family with each other.

Pride at Access Alliance

This year at Access Alliance, our LGBTQ+ Newcomer Program held several events to celebrate Pride. Our Pride Picnic was a packed event at our Danforth location, offering food, art, music, games, bike rides and a vogue workshop. Our weekly LGBTQ+ Newcomer Drop-In had Pride themed topics all month. The Community Lunch Program at Jane had a special Pride edition.

We also marched in the annual Pride Parade, showing our pride as 2SLGBTQ+ newcomers walking down Yonge Street on a gloriously sunny day. Marching alongside other organizations who support 2SLGBTQ+ newcomers in Toronto, such as Toronto Neighbourhood Group’s Rainbow Connect, was empowering. Toronto Pride organizers also centered international human rights activists and organizations as honoured positions and groups this year. For example, the International Grand Marshal of this year’s Pride Parade in Toronto was Tarek Zeidan – a renowned sexual and bodily rights activist from Lebanon who leads the first LGBT rights organization in the Arab World. Recognizing and building these global and local networks and systems of support for 2SLGBTQ+ community, in particular for newcomers and refugees, is critical.

Access Alliance marching along with other groups in Toronto’s Pride Parade

We have always been here

As June ends it’s important to remember that Pride is not finished once the month is over. 2SLGBTQ+ folks deserve to celebrate ourselves all year long. From 2spirit Indigenous peoples who are reclaiming their sacred roles after centuries of colonization, to queer Muslims who are finding peace and solace in their faith, to trans elders who become parents to 2SLGBTQ+ youth who are kicked out their homes, we are still here even after companies put away their rainbow flags. We continue to fight for each other and take care of each other. Even with all the things that we deal with, we are still proud of who we are. We fight against homophobia and transphobia every day, simply by living our lives.

So, as Pride Month comes to a close, remember, we have always existed, throughout all of human history, in every part of the world. No matter how hard people have tried to erase us, to change us, to kill us, we are still here. No matter the time of the year, 2SLGBTQ+ folks will choose how we live our truths, we will create families and communities that are full of acceptance, support, love and joy. No matter the time or place, we always find a way to make a home. 


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