2017 San Francisco Pride Parade.

Queers to the front

Queen City Pride has selected NFL punter Jon Ryan – a cisgender, heterosexual man – as one of two Grand Marshals of the 2018 Queen City Pride Parade. The decision upset many LGBTQ+ people in Regina – and rightfully so. Queen City Pride has placed a fairweather ally in a position meant to highlight the work and contributions of queer and trans organizers and organizations.

Dan Shier, Regina Pride’s co-chair, “thinks a star of Ryan’s stature could bring out fans who usually wouldn’t think of attending a pride parade,” reported the Regina Leader-Post. “I’m kind of hoping that knowing that there’s an NFL player from the Seahawks coming to the pride parade might pique some interest from other people,” Shier said. “Hopefully that might change some minds or raise some eyebrows.”

First, Pride is not about celebrity – in fact, it’s the opposite: it’s about fighting for the rights of the most marginalized among us. Second,  I really don’t care if he is an ally – Ryan is not queer, is not trans, and should not be the symbolic leader of our movement nor the actual leader of our parade.

Pride is not about celebrity – it’s about fighting for the rights of the most marginalized among us.

Shier describes Ryan as “a good ally since he’s willing to stand up for equality and acceptance.” Let’s talk about what that public allyship looks like:

2013  –  A fellow NFL player, Chris Culliver, makes homophobic remarks about gay players not belonging in the locker room, and Ryan tweets, “If Chris Culliver isn’t suspended by Goodell then I am absolutely embarrassed to be part of a league that accepts this type of behavior.” He must be embarrassed.

After calling for Culliver’s suspension, Ryan told the Seattle Times, “I was coming out of my shell a little bit, and then I saw the backlash and I was like: ‘Ehhh, maybe I’ll go back in there for a while. That’s a lot more comfortable.’”

2016  – In the wake of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, Ryan posts a rainbow photo with the words: “more love #orlando” on Instagram. He then responds to a homophobic commenter on the post:

As far as my research has found, these two moments (and the follow-up interviews with media) are Jon Ryan’s only public acts of queer and trans allyship (and I’ve really been trying to find more). It’s also worth noting that Ryan deleted his Instagram and Twitter accounts after he faced backlash for defending the victims of the Pulse shooting.

While taking a break from social media can be an important tool for protecting our mental health, for many queer and trans people who are undertaking advocacy work for their communities, it simply is not an option. In 2017, Sophie Labelle, a trans cartoonist and novelist from Montreal, and the keynote speaker at this year’s Regina Trans Pride, was forced to move after being doxxed and receiving death threats. In response to another case of harassment, in which her Facebook wall was inundated with Nazi memes, Labelle said, “I’m trying to use this opportunity to educate the public on this matter because this is a reality that trans people face.”

All of this is not to discredit the comments Ryan has made, but to show that we deserve a better Grand Marshal than a two-time ally who engages with the queer community when it’s convenient and retreats from public allyship when it gets “uncomfortable.”

We deserve Aids Programs South Saskatchewan (APSS), which provides free tests for HIV infection, support services to HIV positive clients, and clean needles to drug users in a province with the highest HIV rate in the country. APSS will be joining Ryan as the second Grand Marshal, but they should not have to share their platform with a cisgender straight man.

We deserve a better Grand Marshal than a two-time ally who engages with the queer community when it’s convenient and retreats from public allyship when it gets “uncomfortable.”

We deserve Dustin Kidby, a local curler who has spoken openly about being a gay athlete.

We deserve Cole Ramsey, a non-binary derby athlete who plays with Pile O’ Bones Derby Club.

We deserve the Sask Huskies, an organization that developed an athlete Gay Straight Alliance to provide more space for queer and trans athletic talent to grow.

We deserve a group of queer and trans athletes who are surviving and playing sports in often hostile environments.

Pride grew out of the gay liberation movement, which was set in motion by the 1969 Stonewall rebellion in New York City. Sylvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican trans woman who was on the frontlines at Stonewall, said, “It was street people from the Village out front – homeless people who lived in the park in Sheridan Square outside the bar – and then drag queens behind them […] and then everybody else behind them.”

The fact that Queen City Pride selected a cis and straight man to lead the city’s biggest and most important celebration of queer and trans culture, identity, and struggle   is nothing short of insulting to the historical legacy of Pride, and a disservice to all of the queer and trans individuals who are still struggling, in our city, today.


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