Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Freedom to be who we are...

Kathy and I have enjoyed a loving and supportive relationship for almost 18 years. And, over those years, we have felt so respected and loved by our friends and family that, at times, we have forgotten the struggle so many others like us still face. We have let slip the horror of the violence and hatred faced every day by literally thousands of our brothers and sisters in cities around the world...some far too close to home.  On June 12, 2016, like so many others, we were jolted back to the ugly truth of what hatred and prejudice can spawn.  The killing of 49 gay men at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida and the injury of 53 others... by a lone gunman armed with an assault weapon, has clarified for any who may have doubted... the existence of hatred so vile... and the risks lived every day by members of the LGBT community.

I mentioned we have been blessed by the support of many wonderful friends.  With his permission I am about to share with you a letter written by one of them.  We believe, in his own words, this fellow has captured what so many have missed... and we feel certain his message will speak to many more souls than the couple he wrote it to.  I have changed the names in the letter, not necessarily to 'protect' them, for all have invited us to leave them as they were, but because (in this day and age) it feels like the right thing to do.

"Dearest Paul,

We talked by phone a couple of months ago to arrange a coffee together.  Life got in the way and we didn't meet.  But I wanted to apologize to you.

Several months ago, I watched a "Front Line" (I believe it was Frontline) documentary on the history of the "gay" movement in the US.  It was excellent and very thought provoking.  Its focus was on the late 1970's through the 1990's.  It prompted me to reflect on the time we have known each other and whether I was "sufficiently supportive" to you during those difficult times through the 1980's and 1990's. Honestly? I don't think I was. We...(me and my heterosexual male colleagues) did not understand the circumstances of what you and your community were going through: your struggle for your proper rights and place in the community, as well as the AIDS epidemic.  We sat in the background, chuckling at inappropriate jokes. While we never would have thought we were homophobic, in fact we were, by remaining silent.  While your friends were dying of a horrendous and painful disease, we went on with our own lives, without thought; complacent.

I find that my acceptance of the LGBT community has been a journey.  My point of view and opinions have evolved.  Wisdom perhaps?  In particular I have been both challenged and influenced by close friends such as yourself, Chris, Kathy and Carolyn, as well as some of Sue's quilting friends and workmates friends. You have shown me what is, and what is not, appropriate and for that I must thank you, because I believe you are "quiet heroes" to me as well as to the struggles in your community.

My first introduction to a gay man was a fine music teacher I had at West Vancouver High School.  He was an excellent teacher: kind, caring, nurturing to his students, and had a great sense of humour.  I'm sure he heard and was hurt by some of the comments and inappropriate jokes that were made behind his back, but he remained steadfast in his commitment to all of us.  Outside of the school activities he played oboe in my woodwind quintet I had formed. After I graduated, I heard that he was the subject of slander, but his fellow teachers came to his aid and he was exonerated.  Sadly he died of AIDS sometime during the mid 1980's.  I think of him often.

I had thought that the time of hate is past, but sadly the hate crime in Orlando, reminds us that the LGBT struggles are far from over.  Donald Trump would have us believe this is a Muslim Terror act but who is he kidding?  It was a blatant and hateful attack against gay men.  We all must continue to fight and shout down oppressive and hateful thoughts.

Love, as always! John "

Please take a moment to consider these deeply important words from an extraordinary man. His message speaks to us all.