By Mickel Allen
On one of the most significant days in the life of a progressively diverse country that is recognized and revered by its counterparts, it is befitting, I believe, that diversity be openly celebrated.
Canada continues to be, for the most part, an open and inclusive society, a melting pot of cultural perspectives, ethnicity, and religious persuasion and of course sexual orientation, built and sustained by individuals differing in attributes, experiences and accomplishments, yet aspiring to coexist equitably.
Mickel Allen is a native of Jamaica, previously employed by the MOE as an English Linguistics and Literature Teacher. She is presently assistant communications coordinator for a diverse organization and a law and society Bachelors candidate. Mickel is an active women’s advocate and volunteers as a counselor and adult educator with Yes We Are Women. She is a supporter and volunteer with COFI Inc. www.coficares.com
On Sunday, July 1, 2012, Canada Day, a day that celebrates a nation that has dedicated itself to being a caring home for its own, a sanctuary and place of refuge for others and a positive example to the world, members of the LGBTQ community accompanied by the friends and loved ones, were able to worship and parade without fear of oppression, humiliation or violence while celebrating their diversity with pride.
It was an exquisitely, spirited day of musing and celebration despite the absence of Mayor Rob Ford. Those in attendance were adorned in red or proudly wore the vibrantly, diverse colours of the rainbow, as they collectively welcomed the day’s gaiety.
As is customary, the parade was preceded by a church service hosted by MCC Toronto and one of Canada’s chief proponents in the areas of LGBTQ rights and social justice -- Rev. Dr Brent Hawkes. The church’s choir, known for its diverse musical repertoire under the direction of their talented, artistic director Diane Leah, opened the service with a fabulous rendition of “O Canada”, which was an infusion of English, French, German, Ojibwa, Chinese and Spanish.
Jazz Fm91’s Heather Bambrick and two times Juno nominated Sterling Jarvis (www.sterlingjarvis.com), accompanied by the MCC Toronto Choir, gave beautiful renditions during the program. Most noteworthy and quite memorable was Sterling Jarvis’s interpretation and rendition of “The Circle of Life”. Among the guests were: Hon. Bob Rae (Liberal MP), Olivia Chow MP, Chief Bill Blair, Chief Jeff McGuire (Niagara Reg. Police), Carolyn Bennett MP, Douglas Elliot and Dr Jovan Kojicic, as well as Craig Scott MP, Krystal Wong-Tam MP, Councilor Paula Fletcher, John Tory (former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario) and wife Barbara Hackett, amongst a host of other distinguished guests.
The opportunity to publicly celebrate diversity is availed to the LGBTQ community annually, many of whom are from the Caribbean, who out of fear and retaliation have sought refuge in this “safe country”. There was great evidence of Caribbean presence as the islanders proudly walked with the Grenadian, Barbadian, St Lucian and even Jamaican flags, which was quite surprising to me (the number) seeing that Jamaica is known to be the most homophobic society in the world. Clearly there is much to be garnered from this multicultural, multidimensional gathering of individuals who, despite their negative experiences in the Caribbean, remain patriotic and appreciative of their roots, as it has helped to shape their lives.
It is rather unfortunate that some of these individuals, our brothers and sisters, continue to be ostracized even here in Canada and are forced to hide their diversity for fear of further hardship. They contribute to this country’s economy and are deserving of all the rights and privileges availed to “the majority”. If nothing else, we should admire their resilience and cohesiveness and be thankful the world is made of many “colourful” individuals, each unique in their own way but unified in the pursuit of equality, social justice and overall happiness.
An event such as Toronto Pride and the celebration of Canada Day serves as a means of reassuring all of us, irrespective of our differences, that we are fortunate to be residents of such a liberal society that avails great opportunities for holistic development irrespective of gender identity, race or ethnicity. We are reminded to be thankful for the freedom to express our own individuality as we chart our way towards self-actualization, and the attainment of all we conceive.
Unfortunately, while Toronto celebrates, the Caribbean continues to incinerate individuals who are or associated with members of the LGBTQ community and, in so doing, continues to lose many of its brightest, industrious and talented individuals.
Thank you to the organizers for “Church on Church Street” for having given me the opportunity to render the opening prayer. It was a privilege and an experience I will treasure.
Though we are diverse, together we drive this great nation.