State of the Arts, The Haliburton Highlander, June 21, 2012

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Victoria Ward

Pride and Prejudiced

My lawn is a sea of yellow this time of year. Dandelions return more brilliant and multitudinous each time we mow, they seem to find their cutting as a challenge to get more resilient. I like them and don’t see them as weeds so until they seed and become balding, screechy versions of themselves, we let them grow. We don’t use pesticides because we drink from the ground and regardless of what you believe; pesticides end up in ground water.

Unfortunately dandelions are a kind of metaphor for how being alternative in this world plays out. Most people think they are a sign of someone who doesn’t take care of their lawn, but I think that being judgmental about someone else’s lawn can become a kind of mild fascism.

Thinking someone else’s lawn isn’t up to par, or blight on your neighbourhood, or just plain wrong isn’t unlike thinking someone else’s lifestyle is inappropriate. One could argue that lawns are seen by others while lifestyle choices can be hidden.  Really? How does one hide their life partners exactly?

This is a very round about way of talking about homosexuality. Many of my dearest friends in the world are gay, and I am sorry to lump all of you into the category of ‘gay’ but it’s the shortest route I could take to make my point. I could not imagine not having these people in my life, in fact, in many respects they have helped my life become a more joyous place to be. So, of course I was thrilled that President Barak Obama eloquently said that he believes in same sex marriage.

Gay people have long been an enormous economic driver of the arts around the world. They are what hip marketers call ‘the pink dollar’; lots of disposable income and openness to the alternative realm that is the arts. Every arts organization on the planet either has either a gay person running it, sitting on its board or championing it throughout their community. Frankly, I don’t think we would have the civilization we do without the contribution from the gay community.

Ok, so I’m queer friendly. That can’t be a surprise. I do think however we have seen the openness to our gay friends in our society also inspire an unfortunate back lash. This can be seen very clearly in the actions of the Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the Republicans south of the border, the Church of England and many misguided people who think that homosexuality somehow threatens the family.

Out of all my friends I have known for decades now, some of the most successful and domesticated couples are my gay friends. I know one couple that has been together faithfully for twenty-five years and attends church every week. How this threatens the status quo and the family is beyond me.

What so many people don’t realize is how much time and money the gay community has contributed to our culture. Walk into an art friendly gay person’s home and it is stacked with art. These are people who put their money into art, all the time. I know it’s a cliché but it is actually true, many, many gay people love the arts and are happy to pay for it.

It isn’t a coincidence: writer Christopher Reed and his recent opus Art and Homosexuality states that “modern culture conjoined the kinds of individualism represented by the “artist” and the “homosexual” so that these were seen as closely interrelated types: outsiders, sensitive to aesthetics, who gravitated to cities and shocked conventional sensibilities by acting on their unconventional impulses.”

I began my professional art career because of a gay man, Sky Gilbert. Sky ran Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.  For a long time it was the only gay theatre company inNorth America. Sky came to see a performance of mine when I was just fresh out of art school. Over the next several years Sky mentored me, told me I could write, helped me choose projects and encouraged my engagement in politics and the media. His help was invaluable and I honour him every time someone asks how I got into this art thing.

If you take a small stroll through the history of western art you will stumble upon countless episodes of questioning sexual identity. From Socrates to Da Vinci to Warhol, sexuality is but a mercurial marker; it’s a part of us and can be defining or not. Art and its geniuses came into being regardless of it, even though there was probably great individual struggle.

Today we can be very proud of a culture that is inclusive of this section of humanity. Although my dandelions aren’t the greatest of analogies, and I apologize to those who would rather I used posies or roses; we are beginning to look at them differently, not just a weed but plant that makes great tea, has healing properties and a makes a great salad fixing. Let them continue to thrive without stigma and injury.

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