I recently reached out to an Albanian queer activist who has been at the forefront of the fight since its beginning in the late 2000’s.
I told her that I’d love to help, however I can, even though I know I can’t. I would help if I could, or at least I think I would. I really don’t know – I’ve never had to do what they do.
I left the country at the impressionable age of 13 and just in time. Knowing that I’ve left behind a culture so homophobic it didn’t even acknowledge the existence of queer people until last decade is, for the most part, confusing.
My memories of Albania aren’t tainted with homophobia, but my experiences with the Albanian community here are.
As someone living in the West, I’m often quick to judge other cultures for their discrimination or abuse of people in the queer community. Yet, my attitude towards this culture in my own country of origin remains ambiguous. There are times when I will call them out on their ignorance and times when I don’t have the heart to label my relatives as homophobic because of all the weight that this word carries for so many people.
I don’t imagine that I’m alone in this, and I know that there are people with greater conflicts than my theoretical dilemma.
Still, there is a sense of guilt that comes with celebrating World Pride in a country where I feel safe when I know what people are going through in a place so close to me.
Even as we celebrate here, I find myself confused about why and what we’re celebrating.
Queer issues in Canada have been normalized. The spokespeople for our community, predominantly middle-class people, are no longer treating it as a movement. Spending a few hours at Pride will give you the impression that there is no longer a fight for queer rights and we’re celebrating past victories. The largest queer event of the year is corporate-sponsored and corporate-censored serving mainly those who are financially able to participate.
Queer immigrants will often find themselves in these situations, faced with the reality of their home country and the normalized “movements” of their new one.
The choice is clear as one comes with safety and the other with fear, but being so connected to the struggles of your community in another country, with Pride comes a great deal of shame.
Whether the responsibility of creating an accepting society lies in the hands of the queer individuals is a theoretical question about oppressive societies and the duties of its individuals. But does someone who is no longer a member of this society have a responsibility to the people they’ve left behind? Will shaping the perspective of our immigrant communities in Canada affect the mindset back home or do we as queer diasporas have to abandon the hope that our actions here will have any positive impact on the people back “home”?
I’ve went through the last three Pride parades wondering how to reconcile life here and what could have been somewhere else. I don’t have all the answers – or any of them – and once again I’m here at the height of Pride celebrations in Toronto feeling the same uncomfortable sense of guilt.
I want to say that when I participate this year, I do it for all those who would never imagine being here, but I know that’s only a self-indulgent attitude and a way to rid myself of this guilt. And faced with it all, I can only hope that if I could help, I would.