Shame, Pride, and LGBTI Rights

By George Harvey and Alexander Kennedy, LGBTI Coordinators

Happy Pride to you and your loved ones!  Pride is a great time to really reflect on what it means to be proud of oneself and how we reflect that in our lives.  To understand Pride, one must first understand Shame.  The concept of shame is something that we don’t acknowledge nearly enough.  It is such a destructive force and it is entirely learned. Someone taught us that we should be ashamed of who we are. That our bodies don’t conform to an unrealistic standard set by a ridiculously influential advertising culture. Someone taught us that the constructs of gender were the only way humanity was made and that deviations from this were reasons to feel ashamed. Someone taught us that the colour of our skin should not be a reason to celebrate but a source of discrimination and shame. We’ve been told that the people we love and how we express our love is a reason to hate oneself.  That consenting adults need to conform to a love as outlined by shame and express that love within the absurd limits of that shame.

The culture of shame is incredibly destructive. It has created draconian laws that has led to people being beaten, tortured, tormented, harassed, and murdered.  That shame has eaten away at the human spirit to such an extent that the person sees no option but to end their life. It prevents people from expressing themselves. From aspiring to great heights and encourage others to do the same. Our shame has held us back for far too long. It has saturated our culture and our identity. And it has to stop.

This Pride season, don’t just be present. Be proud. Celebrate who you are in all your beauty. Celebrate that every wrinkle, grey hair (or no hair), extra inch, age spot is a souvenir of a laugh with friends, of a hard battle, of a beautiful moment, of a time that you enjoyed, and enjoyed to its fullest. Celebrate that your gender identity is not going to be dictated by the many, but is a beautiful expression of who you are and that the steps that you make toward realizing it are beautiful and brave and worth shouting from the rooftops with pride. Celebrate that your sexuality, something that is so personal and deeply rooted in your spirit is not a source of shame. That it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to love and to be loved and that the relationships we have, regardless of duration, are exquisite moments of beauty and triumph in the face of that shame. Celebrate that you are a person of worth. That a lifetime of shame leads to a lifetime of regret and we have the opportunity here to break that cycle.

In the work that we do we have campaigned against some pretty horrifying things. An angry mob forcing a young man to leap to his death. A young woman violently raped so that she can correct her “misguided sexual behaviour.” An LGBTI organization shut down by the authorities. We have seen horrific laws passed and a beautiful group of people silenced by their governments. It is so easy to be discouraged at the world. To lose all faith in humanity. To give into that shame and confine your actions within those limits. But we have also seen so many reasons to hope. We have seen men and women of all ages, orientations, and colours march for the rights of refugees, parading through the street in a bold refusal to be pushed from society.  We have seen transgender men and women fight through tears to reveal their life story and struggles, with the aim of explaining to Canadians why bills like C-279 on gender identity are so important. We have seen people who could have remained silent, who could have lived their lives without a fuss, raise their voice and demand rights. Demand that all people are entitled to a life of dignity. There is no force in this world that can take that from you.

When we are proud of who we are we break te cycle of shame. When we rejoice in who we are and how we express it we don’t just do it for ourselves. We do it for the next generation. We do it for our society, so that our citizens know that people come in all shapes, colours, and genders and that our individuality is what makes us beautiful. We do it for those we have lost, the people who have been murdered, tortured, shamed into suicide. So that we can create a world where this will never happen again.  It sounds cheesy, it is true. It sounds like a dream. like something that can never happen.  This is because we have let shame remove this as a possibility.  It is time to claim that future back. It is time to let every amazing possibility in our future be available.

This Pride season be safe.  Be happy.  Be proud.

Learn more about Amnesty International’s work on LGBTI issues. Show your Pride at activities in your community this summer. This week Amnesty International will be out in force at WorldPride in Toronto. We will be participating in the World Pride Human Rights Conference, tabling at the info-fair, and marching in the parades. In the Toronto area this week? Contact us at to find out how you can take part.