A Matter of Pride in Canton

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City-of-Canton-OH lgbtAn anonymous quote states it well, “Gay Pride was not born of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn’t a Straight Pride movement, be thankful you don’t need one.” What began as Gay Pride has enlarged to include the LGBT community, and it is almost universally celebrated in June, while occasionally in other communities in other months. But if it’s Pride in June, it’s LGBT Pride.

Except in Canton, Ohio. Canton has a monthly downtown arts festival, as do other arts communities, called First Friday. Each of these monthly First Friday events has a different theme. There was February’s “Frosty Frolic,” April’s “Masquerade,” and coming this month, June’s “Pride.” Wait, that’s not quite right. June’s First Friday theme is “Canton Pride.” Isn’t that nice? Except that June Pride celebrations around the world are virtually all LGBT Pride. It’s especially poignant this year, as June marks the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision last year that recognized marriage equality for LGBT people as a universal human right.

I’ve heard the cries from those put-upon conservative people pop up periodically, “How come there isn’t straight pride? I think we should have a parade, too, to celebrate that we’re the ones who make babies! I’m straight and that’s great.”

What they don’t seem to understand is that any kind of pride event — a parade, a festival, a picnic — is initiated by those who have suffered, been persecuted, and been made to feel as though they should be ashamed for who they are. Any minority people: people of color in the United States, indigenous people, people with disabilities, those in the LGBT community, all of these have felt persecution, discrimination, fear for a condition that is natural to them. That’s why there are, among others, Black History Month, Native American Heritage, and Pride.

Generally speaking, I guess being a resident of Canton is being a member of a minority group, if you compare that to being a resident of every other place in the world, although I don’t know if anyone has ever lost a job or been bullied to the point of suicide for living in Canton. And for most, I would say that even if they were born in Canton, continuing to reside there really is a choice. So how is Canton celebrating Pride for First Friday? Not a rainbow on the schedule. There are laudable efforts to benefit the needy and homeless from several organizations, that’s a good thing. The Palace is showing Ben Suarez’s film Underdogs, about a small-town Ohio football team that rises to challenge their rivals. That’s something to be proud about, especially for Football Hall of Fame city, Canton. And otherwise, you can drink in Canton, shop in Canton, craft in Canton, oh, and party in Canton. So Canton Pride is about living in Canton and Football. How is that different from the whole Hall of Fame Festival?

Look, the Arts District did not appropriate Black History month in February for a “Canton History” First Friday theme. This attitude of commandeering a national and international celebration of minority recognition is dismissive and disparaging. The first Gay Pride parades were organized in 1970, and June was first proclaimed National Pride Month by a president in 2009; it’s not a new thing. Was the move to localize Pride, make it about Canton, an attempt at conciliation? If so, it was a lame attempt.

I’m proud to be an artist in the Canton Arts District. I support ArtsinStark and I’m appreciative of the Downtown Canton Special Improvement District, First Fridays, and the soon to be appearing Last Saturdays, which bring the public downtown for some great community. I go with the flow when the Arts District announces the First Friday themes, and even rearranges them to better coordinate with other big celebrations in town. But I have to say the dismissive autonomy with which all of the above deprecate LGBT Pride puts a burr under my saddle. Or in Cantonese: it puts a rash in my jock. The arts community in Canton includes a number of LGBT individuals and LGBT allies who are beloved and valued, without whom the Arts District certainly would not be what it is today. In deference, you don’t take the commemoration, distill out what it’s commemorating, and replace it with a local generic. Or in December, can we all dream of a white Cantonmas? Or wait, it’s football. How about making October’s First Friday theme “Grid-iron Ready?” It will be Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

There will be a rainbow flag up at DW Downtown, the studio I share with artist Linda Alexander-Radak at 2nd April Galerie. It was a gift to me from Linda, and comes from an LGBT friend who passed away last year. And this month Gilda Shedstecker Presents! the comedy play Our Son’s Wedding at the Kathleen Howland Theatre, offering a dollar discount to anyone who attends sporting LGBT Pride gear. We are celebrating Pride in the Canton Arts District, pride in the LGBT community and their allies, who ARE in Canton. We leave the distilling to those who brew.

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