The temperature was already soaring first thing in the morning. We’d be heading out midday and there was no prospect of shade. It would be a huge crowd scene and take hours to navigate; it bore the potential for unpleasant confrontation, and where on earth would I park? Nothing about this was appealing in any way, shape or form. So, naturally, when my son invited me to attend the Gay Pride Parade with him, my immediate response was: “Of course.”
My son Corbin Seligman is the middle child, sandwiched between two sisters. My bedtime stories to him had often ended with a refrain about him being “the best son a mother could ever have.” My son had always been traditional: a graduate of the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto (Tanenbaum CHAT), loved by teachers and rabbis, close to both sets of grandparents, especially the uber-old-fashioned “greenies.” He had fussed about which tux to rent for prom and what colour corsage to buy his date. He set off for university a bit shy and reserved.
Parents' silence can scar LGBTQ Jews
When he “came out” soon thereafter, I was surprised, but didn’t miss a beat, replying: “I love you and want you to be happy.” And I meant it. But as a Jewish mother, I couldn’t help but wonder: how will his vision of Jewish family life evolve?
He had always loved children (the favourite camp counsellor amid the youngest inductees) and talked about raising a family. He was definite about wanting to marry within the faith and had maintained close relationships with childhood friends from infancy. Would those bonds be affected?
I wasn’t only stepping into a parade that pivotal day – I was also stepping into new territory. For the uninitiated, know this: the importance of Pride lies way beyond outrageous costumes.
A group of us met for brunch before heading out – we shouldn’t, God forbid, be hungry while walking. On the menu? Bagels of course! Not all of our participants were Jewish, but the contingent officially was.
We marched under the banner of Kulanu, the Jewish LGBTQ group. Our designated meeting place was directly ahead of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. Coincidence? Perhaps. Unease? Absolutely. You must be registered to participate in the parade. Kudos to John Tory for finally and simply stating that the city would withdraw funding for Pride if QuAIA participated.
So off we went, eventually moving at a snail’s pace through the streets of downtown Toronto. And my discomfort gave way to curiosity, engagement, and ultimately, heart-soaring joy.
The streets were lined on both sides with crowds behind barriers. Some bore signs with messages of support; others merely clapped, waved or smiled. As we wound our way along Queen Street, some residents from second-storey windows offered sprays of relief from water guns, which we accepted gratefully under the scorching sun.
The sensation of participating in a parade is different from the experience of watching from the sidelines. I’d pick up strains of music in the distance, and a block or so later be in the heart of it, only to lose it gradually and pick up a different source of rhythm as we slowly progressed. The relentless heat reverberating off the pavement emitted a rhythm of its own, a pulsating backdrop for fun floats and friendly faces.
But the joy came from watching my son react to the music. While I walked and observed in amazement, he hopped to the centre, dancing ecstatically. He is an amazing dancer, which I hadn’t fully realized until that day. He not only “came out,” he came in – he came into his own. He looked free, confident, happy and himself. What more could a mother ask?
Attending the parade is not something he and I do regularly, although he’s gone on to attend Pride in Tel Aviv and always participates at festivities in “the village” during Pride Week at home. He doesn’t need me by his side any more – in fact, he never did – but I know he appreciated it when I was there, and I’ll always feel privileged to have shared it.
My son has maintained his childhood friends and picked up many new and diverse contacts in his personal and professional journey. Politically engaged and active in the community, he returned to TanenbaumCHAT by invitation to speak to students about gender identity and sexuality issues in high school and beyond. He’s in a long-term relationship with a Jewish partner. He fully expects to have a family one day. His circle includes many traditional as well as same-sex couples, several of whom are married with children.
That sweltering summer day, as we rounded the bend at the corner that marked the end of the parade, I ducked into Starbucks for an iced coffee that I had been fantasizing about every step of the way. It went down cool and creamy, and I still recall the sweet sensation. It was the most satisfying coffee I ever downed, but I suspect it had nothing to do with the contents of that cup.