June is Pride Month! This month is a time dedicated to celebrating and supporting the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Whether you identify as LGBTQ or are an ally, everyone can join in the celebration of love. We spoke to two of our New Mentality youth, Rachel and Diya about what Pride means to them!
Why is Pride Month important to you?
I remember my first Pride. I was still in the early stages of coming out to myself, let along to other people when I had the opportunity to walk in the Parade with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). I was so nervous about going to Pride, and what people would think of me, but after a while, I convinced myself to go. When I got there, we had to wait for hours to walk, and it was a sweltering hot day. Eventually, we were allowed to start, and it was the most incredible feeling. I saw thousands of people cheering, waving flags that I identified with, and celebrating themselves and each other. By the time the Parade ended, I was filled with hope, I felt like I wasn’t alone. After I got home, I learned that the Parade had been held up by a Black Lives Matter protest. As I read and learnt about the reasons they were protesting at the Pride Parade, the more I respected and stood by them.
By this point, you might be wondering why I’m answering the question with this story. But it’s because it highlights what Pride month means to me. Pride month is a time where I can finally embrace the parts of myself that I was told were wrong, and it creates a space where I can be my most genuine self without having to worry about what other people think. Really, it’s a time where we can be visible and celebrate what we’ve all been through to get here today and collectively express and process all the emotions that come with that. Pride month creates a space to learn about and remember the history of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and, like Black Lives Matter, sought to do, work towards a brighter and safer future for everyone.
Every day of the year, I experience my identity and I have to live with all the different parts of me. I know myself, and I can tell myself I’m valid over and over again, but the people around me will tiptoe around parts of my identity they don’t accept. Pride Month, however, has been the gateway into openly sharing my Pride, and expressing my identity outwardly, without hiding certain pieces to avoid judgment. Pride Month is the month I always feel the most inspired, heard, valid, and beautiful because it is the month where I see other people expressing their sexuality and themselves so vibrantly. It makes me feel as if I’m not alone, and makes me hopeful for the future I can have where I may be as amazing as all my fellow community members. All these people hold a space to freely talk about their struggles as a 2SLGBTQ+ member, and Pride Month connects me to people who are undergoing the same hardships and confusion I am with my own identity. It lets me be unapologetically me, and feel supported through that process. As a bonus, Pride Month gives me an opportunity to look bomb as hell without judgment or a second thought, and that’s an opportunity I will never refuse.
What activities have you participated in this month for Pride, and how has that supported your overall mental well being?
Before Covid-19 hit here, I lived in a space where I had an incredible and supportive 2SLGBTQ+ community around me. But with the pandemic, I had to move away to stay with family, and that sense community is a lot harder to find here. It doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking though, and with Pride Month, I’ve been trying to find ways to connect with people virtually. Lately, I’ve been having zoom calls to hang out with other 2SLGBTQ+ youth and have been watching/ reading more 2SLGBTQ+ content online (if you haven’t seen it yet She-Ra is AMAZING!). It definitely doesn’t replace what I used to have in person, but it’s helped me feel less isolated and has given me a small way to celebrate Pride month.
This month I’ve also been engaging in more of the politics of Pride. The history of the 2SLGBTQ+ community is one filled with both struggle and radical compassion. So for me, part of the way I’m participating in Pride this year is learning more about our history and about the BIPOC 2SLGBTQ+ people who have been the leaders of this movement and paved the way for the rights I have today.
The Pride Parade is always the event I look the most forward to since it is the most inspiring and freeing to participate in, however, this year since I can’t celebrate at the Pride Parade, I created a way for me to still fully reap the wellness benefits of Pride. I’ve decided to do a small project every week related to Pride to express my identity and acknowledge myself as a part of my wellness, and these small projects range greatly. One of the small things I decided to do was to come out to a member of my family, while a more lighthearted one was to decorate my room in Pride related items. As well, I have been finding more 2SLGBTQ+ role models online and hearing their experience over a variety of platforms. Since I am not able to leave my house during June because of COVID-19, I have been partaking in online ventures much more, and have found a lot of ways to still experience Pride Month. I have been doing a lot of online research for myself about the history in Canada and India (where I immigrated from) of 2SLGBTQ+ advocates and educating myself on how and to what extent the community has been accepted or denied rights in the past.
I’ve also stayed connected to my friends in the community and had some really great conversations that led me to a very liberating decision. I always kept long hair because people around me told me it made me more “feminine” and was even told with short hair when I was 6 years old that I wouldn’t be allowed in the washroom because I looked like a boy. This technically isn’t tied to my sexuality, but it is tied to my expression of it, and after 17 years of being afraid of not pleasing others and being “too masculine,” finally chopped off my hair and am now strutting around with a very very short bob! This small step might not mean a lot to anyone else, but I feel more myself than I have in a long time, and this was part of my growth this Pride Month 🙂
What mental health supports have helped you as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community?
To be honest, there haven’t been many formal supports that have helped support me in my journey so far. I grew up in rather conservative religious school systems, where it wasn’t safe for youth to be out. It was because of these schools that I didn’t realize I might be queer until a few years ago when I was in my late teens/ early twenties. When I went looking for support groups, I realize that most of the resources for our community were targeted towards youth under 18, or adults over 40, not transition-age youth like myself. So I never really had 2SLGBTQ+ friendly mental health supports like GSA’s or peer support groups as I was learning about myself.
Instead, I turned to a lot of informal spaces for support. I spent more hours than I can count online reading articles, forums, and watching videos. Finding these online spaces helped me process things and get to know the community and myself in a more distant way. Once I started to get more comfortable with the fact that I was queer, I began to turn to my friends for support and attended the odd event that my University’s Pride group put on.
Since then, I’ve found support in other’s visibility. When I started a work placement at the end of my degree, I realized that one of the staff members used non-binary pronouns. As soon as I saw this, and heard my supervisor ask for my pronouns, I knew that it was a safe place to use they/them and she/her pronouns. Those small acts of someone’s visibility and that simple question made me feel safe and supported enough to bring my genuine self into my work. Words can’t describe how incredible that felt.
In my Scarborough school, being anything other than a cisgender, straight person automatically labels you as a target for slander, awful remarks, or even just general judgement. Most people, fortunately, aren’t openly homophobic but in my class in particular, there have been books stolen from the library and ripped up just because it displayed two boys kissing on the cover. This sort of demeanour as well as the unspoken dislike for the community has led me to not access any resources from my school, and most of the ways I’ve been supported have been from the interwebs. Watching informative videos online has been the only way for me to get mental health support related to the 2SLBGTQ+ community. However, there has been one place that has actually considerably supported me throughout the years, and that is the annual Disable the Label Camp by The New Mentality! That is the first place where I experienced queer representation, and also the first space where conversations around struggles and mental health support for our community were held in front of me.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
For me, Covid-19 has highlighted how beautiful, resilient and compassionate the 2SLGBTQ+ community is. Over the past few months, I’ve seen my community set up phone calls to keep people of all ages connected, create card-writing campaigns to spread cheer, organize anonymous care-package drop-offs, and open up spaces to stay connected online. I’m amazed at how the community has stepped up to support one another in innovative and meaningful ways. It’s acts like this that make me so proud to be part of the community and hopeful for our future.
I want to finish by saying thank you to those who paved the way for us today, and to those whose visibility in the media, our communities, and our lives have created hope, gave us a place to see our identities reflected, and space to explore who we are. And to those of you who aren’t out or whose identities don’t fit neatly into any label, know that your identities are valid and that your very existence is a beautiful and radical thing. Happy Pride everyone <3
From personal experience, I know it’s really hard to admit your own identity to yourself sometimes, and as someone who only recently came out (if a year ago counts as recently), I know that it feels like stepping into a world you can’t return from. For someone so far into convincing myself I was straight, even the act of saying ‘I like girls’ to myself was terrifying, because once I said it, I couldn’t keep denying the reality anymore. What I’ve learned is most important, is to do what makes you happy, and if no one accepts you, accept yourself, reach out, and find people who won’t judge you. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know, or feel confused, because just sitting in your confusion and naming it is something you should be immensely proud of. Your journey is your own to take, and even though I am out to my immediate family and friends, it doesn’t mean my journey is over or that I don’t have room to grow or discover my identity more, so cherish your identity, be proud of yourself, and don’t let anyone take that away from you. Happy Pride! 🙂
Thank you to Rachel and Diya for always creating spaces for everyone to feel celebrated. We at the New Mentality want our 2SLGBTQ+ community to know that YOU are seen, heard and loved!