Every year, on the first weekend of July, Yonge Street closes for the annual Toronto Pride Parade celebrations. Now, before you continue reading this article, be sure to do one thing first. Go to Google and type “Toronto Pride Parade” into the search bar. What do you see?
The search results are overwhelmingly white men and women participating in the event.
Prior to the Feminist Lunch Hour, I never thought about how people with intersectional identities, such as “Caribbean and queer” fit into the picture. Or more specifically, how does the pride parade reflect their unique identity?
Last Thursday, professor R. Cassandra Lord, an assistant professor at UTM’s Women and Gender Studies department, led a Feminist Lunch Hour, titled “Sensations of Moving Across Space and Time: Black Queer Diasporic Desire ‘On De Road.’”
Lord began her discussion by playing the song “Togetherness” by Alison Hinds.
In this song, Hinds, a “Soca Queen,” promotes unity and diversity. This song is symbolic of how the Pelau MasQUEERade performances aspire to “de-racialize” the Toronto Pride Parade through the inclusion of Caribbean queer individuals.
In this discussion, Lord challenged “the ways in which certain groups are not included in pride.” She goes on to say that “queer theory, in and of itself, deduces a white theory.” The understanding of queerness, and especially how it is depicted in pride events, does not holistically reflect the entirety of the queer population. The very existence of Pelau MasQUEERade is to challenge the normativity of whiteness in both pride events and queer theory.
On June 30, 2002, Pelau MasQUEERade made its first appearance in the Toronto Pride Parade. Prior to this, queers with ethnicities other than “white” could not identify with the parade, insofar as performances and events excluded visible minorities.
“This name invokes a larger discussion in thinking about Caribbean-ness and identity,” says Lord.
Lord defined whiteness as “normalized,” “natural,” and “taken for granted.” She argued that the space in which the Toronto Pride Parade situates is “de-racialized” by failing to reflect the intersection of multiple identities.
While the purpose of Pelau MasQUEERade is to re-conceptualize the ways in which people identifying as “black and queer” perform in everyday life, it welcomes membership to all. In fact, Pelau MasQUEERade, despite its Caribbean roots, has Chinese, Indian, Filipino, and white members. Lord stated that “Pelau uses the Caribbean roots as an epistemology, a way of knowing, as both a site of history and knowledge.”
Lord employs the concept of “on de road” as the utilization of space to counter oppression. Pelau MasQUEERade, therefore, utilizes Yonge Street by both re-conceptualizing and transforming the perceived whiteness of the event.
The Pelau MasQUEERade draws on the annual carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. Historically, carnival “emerges out of the history of African slavery as a form of rebellion and celebration.” In other words, “it is an expression of freedom and unrestricted movement” and “a way to counter racism,” Lord says. Lord also emphasized the historical component of carnival to illuminate the ways in which “Pelau transforms Yonge Street as not just the street, but as ‘de road’ through its practice.” In one of the 20 qualitative interviews conducted by Lord as a part of her study, respondents indicated that Pelau provides them with a space of inclusion that simultaneously reflects their multiple identities.
Lord recounted the response of Alexis, a queer Chinese-Trinidadian, who stated that “being ‘on de road’ connects you—it’s not just about here and now and the moment. It’s about the history that we are pulling with us, whether we want to or not. It is part of the festival or part of the appreciation of who we are in the world, and of valuing and validating that in a public kind of way.”
The presence of music is central to the very idea of Pelau MasQUEERade. Lord offers the “goosebumps theory” to explain the euphoric feelings Pelau MasQUEERaders experience when the Soca or Calypso music starts to play. A MasQUEERader had previously explained the sensation as, “I tell you: as the truck turns left, kaboom! It feels good, there you go. You express yourself in many ways.”
Lord explained the “wining” dance is the way MasQUEERaders express themselves by “not behaving respectively.”
The audience was captivated. You could tell by the mere silence in the room that the information Lord had provided was new to many. After attending this lunch hour discussion, I was reminded about the lack of colour in the annual Toronto Pride Parade.