by Ken Setterington
Each year, Pride is celebrated in June and the rainbow flag is raised and flown proudly. Even in this pandemic year, people in Canada and many other parts of the world understand the importance of Pride, whether they are members of the LGBTQ+ community or simply a friend or ally. In 2021, we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the emergence of the queer liberation movement in Canada. On August 28th, 1971, the “We Demand” rally in Ottawa was the first large gay rights demonstration in this country.
As a gay man, I think it is important that we celebrate Pride with an understanding of just how far we have come. There are a multitude of books that show families with same-sex parents, teenage romances with queer characters, and graphic novels that illustrate the power of questioning sexuality and discovering one’s true self. We have come a long way in 50 years. Yet there has been little to honour our past. Women and men struggled and suffered for years so that we can celebrate today. They marched, protested, and were jailed in the struggle to achieve recognition that they were equal citizens and deserved the same rights as everyone else.
As a writer, I believe it is important to honour the struggles that have taken place in the LGBTQ+ community, to remember some of the victims of past injustices, and to recognize the survivors. That was the reason that I wrote Branded by the Pink Triangle for Second Story Press. Telling the story of the men who suffered at the hands of Nazis simply because they were gay was important to me. They seemed to have been forgotten victims of the Holocaust. The pink triangle was worn by homosexual prisoners in the concentration camps and was a symbol of shame. In the 1970s, the pink triangle was reclaimed by gay activists and turned into a symbol of pride! Pink triangles became the signifier of gay freedom and a cause for celebration. The rainbow flag has replaced the pink triangle as the main gay symbol, but the pink triangle and the men who wore it must not be forgotten. Everyone in the LGBTQ+ community has to celebrate the great strides we have made and honour ourselves and each other, but we also have a responsibility to remember our collective past and honour the men and women who came before us and suffered for their love and desires. The challenges of the past are not gone, but we are now able to celebrate Pride month with the acknowledgement of just how far we have come.
Actually, I believe that we need to do this every day and not wait for June to celebrate Pride. We have much to be proud of!
Ken Setterington is a storyteller, author, children’s book reviewer, and a librarian. He was named the first Children and Youth Advocate for Library Services for the Toronto Public Library. He has been on the award committees for the Newbery, Caldecott and Sibert awards. Ken received the title Librarian of the Year in 2000 from the Ontario Library Association and won the prestigious Toronto Arts Award for Writing and Publishing in 2001. He has been an active storyteller with Queers in Your Ears and others, and published retellings of The Snow Queen and The Wild Swans. He is the co-author, with Deidre Baker, of A Guide to Canadian Children's Books. He is the author of Mom Marries Mum!, Mom and Mum are Getting Married! and Branded by the Pink Triangle. A regular reviewer for CBC Radio and several publications, he lives with his partner in Toronto.