Mar. 16, 2011 - Issue #804 : P.S. I love You
Take the rainbow home
An opportunity to reflect on Edmonton's queer spaces
It seems the season for vacations at Queermonton and during a recent trip I took through California, my columnist brain took stock of the queer culture that was and wasn't available in the area.
I spent a week exploring Los Angeles and San Diego and a few towns in between. The trip culminated in the Hillcrest Mardi Gras, a three-block street party that turned out to be very fun, but only half gay. The event had also obviously become a hit amongst the straight couples, hipsters and university students in the area and we saw far too many girls making out while their boyfriends watched. The crowd was around a couple thousand but still nothing compared to some events I've been to in smaller places, including any of the last few years of Edmonton Pride. I expected more from the eighth-largest city in the USA.
There are times when California is totally fucking gay. One of my visits occurred in 2008, right after residents were briefly given the right to same-sex marriage and fighting against Prop 8. It was Gay Days in Disneyland—Obama signs everywhere, married queer couples. This was a wonderful time, but it wasn't the norm. A month later Obama was in but so was Prop 8. I've been back a couple times since and, like the rest of America, the brief passion for politics is gone in most places.
I've also explored the gay scene in places comparable to us, like Saskatoon, Victoria and Calgary. And I've checked out the queer villages in much more grandiose and supposedly gay-friendly destinations including West Hollywood, San Francisco and Vancouver. The conclusion I've reached every single time? They're just like us. There are highlights for sure: the Abbey is a restaurant and club in West Hollywood that was just voted best gay bar in the world on Logo's travel site. I'd go there often and happily if it was nearby, but it's just a bigger version of the bars I've seen in many towns, only with a better designer. That design might come from the new renovations since the bar was recently bought by a group who plan to market it to straights and gays. Even places in LA need hetero patrons to survive.
One ingredient from my travels that Edmonton could take a lesson from is the existence of a gay village. There's something that feels good about strolling down a block lined with rainbow flags and stores geared for gays. It's nice to be able to choose between styles of bar—sports or pub or tapas—rather than just choosing one or the other queer club in town. There's a comfort in being surrounded by like-minded people and for many it may be the first time they feel safe walking hand in hand with a partner or in the dress of the gender they're finally able to be. But gay villages also ghettoize. They create a strange sort of apathy, a feeling that there's equality inside these castle walls that forgets what's on the other side. They become targets of violence and symbols of commercialism and almost always promote the homogenized version of queer. It seems to me that it's healthier for a city to be studded with pride flags, houses, agencies and businesses that cater to queer, rather than one little but full pocket.
I suppose at its core it's just a case of the grass being greener. These cities do deserve to be explored, if for no other reason than to learn and bring new ideas home. But sometimes it's better to paint rainbows in your own backyard. V
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