I was approached by a journalism student who is writing a piece about the Chipman ‘straight pride’ debacle. When I sat down to write her a quote or two, I ended up having a lot more to say than I imagined I would. For those who are interested, here it is.
It didn’t help that the news of ‘heterosexual pride’ in Chipman broke at the same time that a memo was leaked announcing Trump’s plan to attempt to ‘erase’ transgender Americans by reducing gender identity to genitals in the language of law.
I was sad and scared because Trump and Glenn Bishop—the head of all things heterosexual in Chipman—are recycling very old, very dangerous ideas.
It’s one thing to remain ignorant to the reasons for celebrating queer survival and resilience. If you’re not threatened when you hold your partner’s hand, pick your kid up from school, go out for a beer, or shop at a mall, you might not fathom how simply living in a world that isn’t designed for you (and is actually structured to harm you) is a radical and noteworthy act. However, I believe it’s quite another situation to want to squash that very thing you don’t comprehend, to wish to suffocate difference, push it out, while holding up concepts like ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ as cloaks. And that’s what Glenn Bishop has done and continues to do. In raising his ‘heterosexual pride’ flag up the pole, Bishop also sent a message.
It’s not a mistake that he elected to fly the heterosexual flag this year. This was the first year that Chipman flew their rainbow pride flag. He saw space being made in his town for a marginalized community and he felt threatened by it. Perhaps because a part of him knows his superiority is arbitrary, his privilege is anchored by sheer numbers not sense.
On Oct. 23, the Globe and Mail reported “He [Bishop] said one intention [of flying the flag] was to signal that the whole village wasn’t gay, and to represent ‘95 per cent of the population.’”
Now I’m not certain Bishop’s math is completely reliable, but we can use his estimate for the sake of simplicity. What he wanted to tell those 55 LGBTQIA2+ people in Chipman is something they already know: you are outnumbered.
Any queer folks in Chipman, who may have felt like progress was being made in the area of LGBTQIA2+ acceptance, were given reasonable cause to pause when they saw the black and white flag wagging in the wind. Bishop’s exercise of power punches in the same obvious way that most majority punches land—with the intent of suggesting that because you are fewer in number you are ‘less than.’ Less than deserving of protection and care. Less than worthy of joy somehow. Less than human.
What those 55 folks, and every rational person, already knows is that every day is straight pride day. We are told being straight is normal and desirable every time we ride the bus, turn on the tv, or read a newspaper. As queer and trans folks, our dignity is routinely called into question when colleagues refuse to use our pronouns, or when professors debate our existence in class, or when doctors refuse to treat us.
Bishop is quoted as saying: “When they flew their flag for 6 days nothing was said about it.”
Perhaps without knowing it, with this statement, Bishop touches at the very heart of why his actions have angered the queer community. For 6 days during pride, his queer and trans and nonbinary neighbours in Chipman felt like they were seen. Not only seen, but visible in a way that might, for a change, not lead to busted lips, blue eyes, or the sting of violent slurs sailing from passing vehicles.
For those of us queer folks in Canada, pride week is one week of the year where we don’t have to spend every second on guard, thinking about how to assimilate or tone down our queerness, or about what will happen if we don’t because we can’t or don’t want to. During pride, queer Canadians can take to the streets without looking over their shoulders every five seconds. Although some still must. Particularly those who are made to feel less than for more than one dimension of their identities.
Taking Bishop’s flag down was a great move. When a community tells you that you’ve hurt them, you are responsible for apologizing, figuring out ways to do better, and then doing better. The Village of Chipman seemed to spend a lot of their written apology expressing their own hurt feelings and even taking the opportunity to pitch their growing employment sectors. If they truly want to show support, they might consider working with young queer folks in Chipman to address gaps in resources and opportunities.
One of Bishop’s quotes keeps replaying in my mind. He said: “The straight people built this nation … Now we’re being told we can’t say we’re straight.”
I want to take this opportunity to kindly remind Mr. Bishop that this land was lived on long before it was ever ‘built’ by the straight men he’s imagining swinging hammers. It was cultivated, lived on, and loved by Indigenous folks with a long history of not only accepting, but celebrating, diverse expressions of gender and sexuality pre-contact.
Nobody is saying you can’t be straight, Mr. Bishop, they’re just saying that it hurts when you’re a jerk about it.
AJ Ripley is a Fredericton-based Trans Rights advocate and professor at Saint Thomas University. This piece was originally posted on their Facebook page.