Gay Pride: Montreal’s true colours on parade

Montreal Gazette

ONTREAL – A young Toronto graphic designer, a retired Montreal food worker, Montreal’s mayor, a Quebec MP, a Paris regional councillor, a Cameroonian human-rights lawyer, a flight attendant in thong and feathers – they were among the thousands who watched, walked or danced in Montreal’s annual gay-pride parade Sunday.

Led by the propulsive beat of a percussion group, the parade – sponsored by Viagra – left its rallying point at Guy St. and René Lévesque Blvd. around 1 p.m. and travelled east to Sanguinet St. on the edge of the Gay Village. Along the way, Montreal was held up as a model of how gay rights should be promoted in a modern society – with respect, encouragement and a lot of flair.

“Montreal has become an international reference, not (just) for tolerance anymore but for openness and accessibility,” said Mayor Gérald Tremblay, who walked the route with other dignitaries and politicians of all stripes – although members of the governing federal Conservative party were conspicuously absent.

“Montreal is one of the most gayfriendly cities in the world, and Canada generally is one of the most open countries,” agreed Jean-Luc Romero, an HIV-positive activist in France who sits on the regional council of Paris and wrote the new non-fiction book Homo Politicus.

“My country is starting to recriminalize homosexuality, and all of you can help us put pressure on the government to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Cameroonian human-rights lawyer Alice Nkom – grand marshal of the parade – told invitees outside the Maritime Plaza Hotel just before the event began.

From her perch in a folding chair on the sidewalk, Monique Lesperance watched the procession go by. “I’m a lesbian, came out of the closet in the 1970s. I remember how bad the homophobia was back then,” the 72-year-old retiree said. “Things have changed for the better, but we still have a ways to go to end discrimination.”

Spectators generally fall into one of three categories – gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people; heterosexual supporters; and “people who are sort of frowning at you, but in a peaceful way,” said Westmount-Ville Marie MP Marc Garneau, in his third gay-pride parade.

Karine Steele, one of the parade’s dancers, left her Air Transat flight attendant’s uniform at home and dressed up in a gold and cream bikini thong, flashy silver high heels, and a canary-yellow feather headdress and matching wings that stretched two metres wide. “I’m doing this for fun, just to be able to dance – I just love it,” she said.

Joseph Nguyen, 23, who works in graphic design in Toronto, came down with a half-dozen friends to spend the weekend in Montreal. “It’s my first time here. We have our own parade in Toronto, but I don’t think it’s as fun as this,” he said. “The clubs are crazy here and the people are really friendly.”

The parade was part of the fifth annual Montreal Pride Celebrations, a week of festivities that began Tuesday and ended Sunday. Montreal has been holding annual pride parades for more than 20 years.

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