One of the best ways to begin understanding something too complex to define is by distinguishing what it is not. So who isn’t Deb Parent? She isn’t indifferent – not crass, nor ordinary. So who is she.
Co-organizing the Toronto Women’s March in objection to the election of Donald Trump in January 2017 was not Deb Parent’s first rodeo, so to speak. It wasn’t her second… Or even third. If you ask, activism became a part of Deb’s life as a 12 year-old coming out to her Catholic school guidance counsellor in 1969.
“It was my first act of speaking out and speaking my truth,” Deb says through her hands free, driving home for the weekend on a late Friday morning in October.
Whether it was her vibrant voice or the fact that it was the day after National Coming Out Day, it was clear that she was proud to share her story with me – and as a lifelong activist she had every reason to be.
“No one who came out was unchanged,” Deb tells me, looking back on Toronto Women’s March. It made activists out of a lot of people. Even as one of the organizers Deb was impacted by not only the number of people, but who the people were – even children. Children just like she once was, speaking their truths.
After coming out at such a young age, Deb soon became active within the LGBT community, taking part in a protest against CBC’s anti-LGBT ad policies at the age of 19.
As an Ottawa native protesting on Parliament Hill, speaking out for the rights of her community, Deb began her active career as a political agitator and advocate. “Softening around the edges does not change people’s lives,” she says, and her resume shows it: 20 years of work with Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, Dyke and Trans self-defense instructor, 2007 City of Toronto Pride Award, 2016 Inspire Lifetime Award, LGBT advocate, NDP Campaign Organizer, Toronto Women’s March organizer and, of course, a hobby DJ.
Yes, Deb is a kind and enthusiastic person, but that doesn’t stop her from being a voice above the rest in terms of political change.
“I hope this is the patriarchy’s last stand,” says Deb, referring to a need for more opportunities to put women in positions of power where their voices can be heard. She knows that people feel ripped off by social change and that putting the status quo on its head is scary, but in Deb’s words, “no matter who we are, we are all getting screwed and the earth is getting screwed,” but if we want change, the power rests in our hands.
In Ontario we have seen Provincial Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford come into power and immediately put limits on sex education, slash Toronto City Hall in half and march in step with current American politics. Looking back on a time when Torontonians questioned the relevance of a Women’s March considering the borders between Canadian and American politics, Deb knows that it is important to make it clear why a Women’s March is still needed. “We are still trying to make our voices heard.”
Rather than allow opposition to dampen the conversation, Deb used the opportunity to talk about all of the good that has grown since the march. There has been a dramatic change towards understanding policies and electoral procedures and diversity in politics is growing. The social changes marked by the Women’s March have encouraged people to enter politics and activism – people, Deb points out, who would not have been there before or wouldn’t have been on the radar. Women, queer people and people of colour are all validated by coming together. People marched with their values, she explains, and it seems that has carried on much further than the 2017 demonstration.
There is room for all of us. “The act of democracy is to be able to take to the streets and vote and believe that it matters,” Deb says.
To the seasoned activist, speaking out is the point of her work and is about differences as much as it is about similarities. There is room for everyone to have their voices heard.
But if Deb Parent is an activist, who does she speak out for?
She does it for herself.
In her back pocket beside her passion and hope for the future, she describes her fundamental belief in a capacity to change ourselves and the world. Rather than isolate ourselves, Deb has created a sense of community with her actions. She explains the importance of being role models for future generations, laying the groundwork for what is to come like so many have before.
So, who is Deb Parent?
Deb Parent: The little girl coming out in an uncertain time, speaking her truth? The young woman who railed against her government for taking away representation of her identity in public broadcasting? The advocate? The teacher? The activist? The badass woman who’s both soft and tough? The role model of future generations?
Speaking to her feelings as an activist in a marginalized community, Deb sums up the question best herself:
“Hope, pride, power.”