Gary’s June Gems – The Pride and True Colours Issue
June is recognized in much of the “free” world as PRIDE Month. The 1969 Stonewall Uprising lit the match that ignited the gay rights movement in the United States and worldwide. As a “Boomer”, I had a problematic relationship with the word “pride”. After all, it is the first and greatest of the seven deadly sins. I was raised not to toot my own horn, not to be boastful. And if you did possess “demons”, not to give air to them.
I always felt like an outsider. While mostly everyone in my family was active and talented sportspeople, I preferred reading and solo sports. (See my “Perseverance” Gems about my time as a Marathon runner). While they were more apt to spontaneity and emotional outbursts, I was introspective and a master of walking on eggshells. About the time I discovered hairs sprouting where no hair had sprouted before, I also discovered my attraction went to where no boy should ever go – to other boys.
As an impressionable young gay gosling, not as in Ryan, but the goose kind, anytime I tried out my wings’ I heard “Fine – but don’t push it down our throats. What you do in your bedroom is your business.” The message was clear, clip your wings and keep your shameful business to yourself.
I grew up without gay role models. I had to improvise and like LGBT songwriters, Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, and a younger Elton John, I switched the genders of special “friends” when referring to them in public. Everything media reinforced the idea that being “gay” was abnormal. In Hollywood, gay characters were either sissies, suicidal drug addicts or cowards. High school is traumatic enough for anyone, but if you’re not a “jock” or “mean girl”, you’re assigned to another lunch table. There were no “out” students in my school. If you were different, you were bullied. But because I could walk like a goose, swim like a goose and honk like a goose, I blended in. But I wasn’t a goose. I was a swan in a lake of geese.
Hiding hurts. Even though I wasn’t tormented by peers, I was depressed and at one point thought about “ending it”. Forty years later 50% of LGBTQ teens (ages 13–17) have seriously considered suicide in the past year. And 18 % made a suicide attempt. That’s more than twice the rate of suicide attempts among all US teens. (Which is already a staggering 9%).
I began the process of “coming out” in my twenties. Still confused because I really wanted a family and at that time that was an impossible dream, I knew that I wasn’t going to change.
That was then. This is now.
In 2006, after fourteen years of living with my partner Earl, we were finally able to marry thanks to the Marriage Equality Act which passed unanimously in 2005 in the House of Commons. (I recommend looking up the then Honourable Prime Minister Paul Martin’s speech that he delivered when introducing the legislation, it’s a moving testament to our Canadian sense of fair play)
I could never have dreamed of a world where I had all the freedoms that everyone else enjoyed. The freedom from fear of being fired, from being refused housing, and ultimately, freedom from shame. We have come a long way, but the need for PRIDE celebration remains relevant because, in many places in the world, Canada included, LGBT children are still bullied, exploited or forced out of their homes (1 in 3 homeless youth are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community).
While we live in a period of unmatched freedom there are signs that those hard-won freedoms are under attack including women’s right to choose, LGBT rights in the USA, Europe and Africa, and even minority language and culture rights in Quebec. The world is polarised. We don’t talk to each other. We don’t listen. We preach and repeat what is said among our sycophantic bubble buddies on social media.
We made huge social gains in the last forty years. We can’t slide back from our progress in building a “just society”. Sure, there are things that frustrate us, but we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We must stay vigilant. PRIDE celebrations arose from the guilt queer people were made to feel about who they choose to love. We are richer; the world is richer by embracing diversity.
“The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by…
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world.”
Thank you for allowing me to share this story with you. Social justice has always been important to me, and it is due in no small part to my early life living in a world that saw me as alien.
We do have plenty to be thankful for. Let’s not forget it and become complacent. We see more examples than I can ever remember of people in power leveraging their power by appealing to people who believe giving equal rights to a minority somehow diminishes their own rights.
OK, I’ll shut up now.
I proudly present to you my June Gems.
Diversity is having a seat at the table. Inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard. - Liz FosslienClick To Tweet