In recognition of June as Pride Month, we sat down with a series of queer individuals and couples to ask them about the evolution of their pride and how they have grown over the years. And from June 20th to 24th, $1 from the sale of every Evolution product will go towards the Tegan and Sara Foundation, a charity that fights for health, economic justice and representation for LGBTQ girls and women.
We met Marg at The 519, a center in Toronto’s Church Wellesley Village that supports the city’s LGBTQ community. The 519 offers counselling services, free and safe coworking spaces, workshops, and more. For Marg, the center was a “beacon of hope” for her as a questioning teen and continues to provide that same sense of sanctuary for her today. We spoke to her about the work she does now to support the LGBTQ community and to learn what Pride was like in the 70s and 80s.
How are you celebrating Pride this month (if at all)?
I sit on the Board of Directors for the Pride Run, which is on June 23rd. The run is so important because of the money that is raised. We are able to provide funding for the Women’s College Hospital, which offers care for trans individuals coming out of surgery, as well as funding they could not afford and is not covered by the government. We also support the Rainbow Railroad, which is really good. They are founded here but look for gay people in dire straits around the world and try to find them and save them from danger. That’s what I celebrate—knowing this contribution during Pride goes to important charities and makes a difference in the lives of LGBTQ people in the community.
Are you comfortable sharing your coming out experience? If so, what was it like?
Well, when you’re a young teenager, you know something’s different and you’re trying to sort that out. I remember coming down [to the Village] when I was fifteen or sixteen. Just to walk by The 519 was a big thing, but it was a beacon of hope. Just walking by helped bolster my courage and helped me not to be so afraid about coming out. Not long after that, when I was 17, I sucked up the courage and went to a gay bar. It was like coming home. It was like, “these are my people.” It’s pretty neat to find your people.
What was Pride like during that time?
Pride during that time, the 70’s, was scary. My first march, I was really quite afraid of being caught in a picture. There was still a lot of bigotry and you were a bit afraid of people watching you march. You weren’t sure of their intentions. It was still a bit of a party, but nothing like it is now. It was more cautious. Everyone was getting drunk and there was some good music and things, but it was more guarded and cautious because you weren’t quite sure what could happen.
The big whammy was when AIDS started up because so many of our friends died. A lot of the people we would hang out with started to get sick. It was devastating. Everything we had worked for and had done was falling apart. The community didn’t want to touch them or talk to them because they were afraid of catching it. It was devastating.
When the Florida shooting happened [at Pulse nightclub], I had to stay home from work for two days because I was so upset. You think you’re safe, but then something like that happens. But The 519 — this is where everyone gathers. It was such a shock to think of how far we’ve come. Even now, there’s so many issues in different countries around the status of different individuals and them being murdered. There’s still so much that needs to be done.
When you think back on who you were at that time, how have you grown? What’s changed?
I think I just came to an understanding of who I was in my twenties. I was comfortable and confident with being gay. So the 519 played a pivotal role because it was that place where you always knew, if sh*t hit the fan, you could always go there and they were your people, so you would be comfortable there. I went to university [in a smaller city a few hours away] and there was a lot of growing that went on there, too, being on the fringe. There was only one gay bar there, but it was a lot of fun dancing with the guys and gals.
What does it mean for you to be proud?
Being proud is about feeling comfortable at the table. And one of the reasons you’re at the table is because of privilege. There are a lot of gay people who are not at the table. The trans community is the most marginalized community and most likely to experience violence, sexual violence, lack of employment. So the biggest challenge is to get everyone to feel proud and to sit at that table. Pride is that we’re all at the table working together.