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Being gay today: The debate over pride in the 21st century

Revellers make their way down Yonge Street during the Gay Pride Parade in Toronto Sunday, June 24, 2007.

Aaron Harris/The Canadian Press/Aaron Harris/The Canadian Press

Gay Toronto is changing.

The Gay Village around Church and Wellesley is fading as the central hub of gay life in the city as condos spring up, more straight couples move in and night life migrates to places like Queen West. The flamboyant assertion of gay identity in the annual Pride parade looks almost quaint in an era when same-sex marriage is legal and gay celebrities are commonplace. Yet when Toronto writer Paul Aguirre-Livingston explored these changes in an article for The Grid, a weekly on city life, he uncorked a tornado.

His article was headlined "Dawn of a new gay: Why you won't find the younger generation partying in the Village or plastering rainbows on their bumpers." He argued that 40 years after New York's Stonewall riots gave birth to the gay liberation movement, "a new generation of twentysomething urban gays - my generation - has the freedom to live exactly the way we want." Assimilated into the mainstream, feeling no need to make a fuss about their sexual orientation, this new breed of "post-modern homos," or post-mos, grew up loathing "the hyper-sexed fools on floats" at the Pride parade. They felt no need to cluster in gay enclaves like the Village, all but "a dirty word in circles of the nouveau gay" and now "a shell of its former self."

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By Friday afternoon, more than 400 online visitors had written comments about Mr. Aguirre-Livingston's piece. Some said it made them think, but most said it made them crazy. "Disgusting," wrote one. "It undermines everything people have worked for the past few decades to get gays the rights and privileges enjoyed now."

"Elitist and pretentious," said another. "It glorifies a small group of privileged Caucasian gay men who belong to a subculture." Yet another called it a "prejudiced, sneering rant written from a profoundly narrow world-view."

But there is no doubt that Mr. Aguirre-Livingston hit on something. Gay life in big cities like Toronto has moved into a new phase. In the bad old days, it was fearfully underground. Surreptitious gay men cruised Allan Gardens or visited the St. Charles Tavern on Yonge.

In the second phase, after the infamous bathhouse raids in 1981, gay culture flourished under the rainbow banners of the Village. It was the era when gay people, demanding their right to be different, declared "We're here, we're queer, get used to it." Now, it is more like "We're here, we're queer, what of it?"

As young people like Mr. Aguirre-Livingston shun the gay scene, or at least reinvent it on their own terms, they are dispersing around the city. The same thing happened with Toronto's immigrant communities. Insecure in their difference, they at first clustered together in ghettos. As they grew more confident and blended in with the mainstream, they moved further afield.

The Gay Village may be on its way to becoming like Little Italy on College or Greektown on the Danforth, symbolic homes to their communities but no longer the unrivalled centres they once were. How many Italians live on College today?

As for Pride, its place as the community's main festival is assured. It draws hundreds of thousands to party and to demand respect, still a necessity at a time when gay bullying and gay suicide are in the headlines. But it strains to reach the edginess and defiance of old. Today's parade, sponsored by banks and flocked by politicians of every stripe, it is about as controversial as the Shriners.

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That, in its way, is a triumph. As Mr. Aguirre-Livingston acknowledges, it was the struggles of gay activists past that made his own shrugging indifference to gay activism possible.

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About the Author
Toronto columnist

Marcus Gee is Toronto columnist for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.Born in Toronto, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1979 with a degree in modern European history, then worked as a reporter for The Province, Vancouver's morning newspaper. More

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