I’m writing this on the same day that 110 couples were married at Toronto World Pride. I watched the evening news and delighted in the coverage of the happy newlyweds. Women and men in tuxedos, suits, gowns, and even kilts, embraced under beautiful blue skies. Some held rainbow-coloured roses; all featured huge smiles.
Same-sex marriage began in Ontario in 2003 and was legalized Canada-wide in 2005. That was a mere blink in time from my 1974 induction interview with a military recruiter who attempted to ferret out whether I was a lesbian or an acceptable candidate. The two were antithetical until 1992. He did so with questions on my teenage dating habits. Fortuitously I’d spent a month that spring dating an equally oblivious friend who would himself later come out as gay, so I was able to get through the interview without raising suspicions.
Now our right to full equality is being recognized on what seems almost a daily basis, at least in the Western world. With country-wide legal recognition, though not universal performance of same-sex marriages in Mexico, and pro same-sex marriage judgements being handed down in states as deeply conservative as Utah and Arkansas, the day when same-sex marriages are recognized North America-wide now seems inevitable.
Something closer to home happened recently to remind me of how far our community has come within my lifetime. I returned to my small, blue-collar hometown to watch my
youngest niece, Devon, participate in the 49th annual Sweetheart pageant. The winner would represent our town as a youth ambassador for the next year. I won’t bore you with how brilliant and lovely she was, or the fact that in a very tight field, she won, and followed in the footsteps of her equally fabulous older sister, Brianna. After all, when you have six wonderful nieces and nephews, it’s impossible to single out just one, even for well-deserved praise.
What did strike me was how openly gay youth are thoroughly included in my niece’s peer group. One of her closest friends
(now) is a young man named Carter, who wore a cape and carried a cane to Sunday School when he was a little boy. He failed to endear himself to Devon since he used his cane to hit little girls, but years later, they became good friends. He was there on her big night, and cheered lustily when they placed the tiara on her head.
Given Carter’s early penchant for capes and canes, and his later brilliance as a singer/actor in high school musicals, I doubt many had any illusions about his orientation. What amazed and delighted me most, though, was how comfortable Carter is in his own skin. His hilarious quip to my niece when she won was “Devon, you may be the Sweetheart, but I’m the Queen!”
During the celebratory banquet that followed the pageant, I noticed another of Devon’s friends. She’s a young woman who is as clearly a member of the LGBT family as Carter. She appeared just as comfortable in her identity, right down to the handsome butch haircut. My sister confirmed that the young woman is also openly gay.
When I was a teenager in that same hometown four decades ago, I barely had an inkling of why I felt so different. I was certainly conscious of having crushes on girls, but never said a word, or ever acted on them. I’m not entirely sure I even knew there was an option to be anything but straight. I kept thinking that somewhere there must be a guy that I would fall for the way my girlfriends fell for their boyfriends. I look back on that time now and shake my head at how clueless I was.
I don’t know if either of my niece’s friends have suffered bullying or discrimination, but certainly they’re both fully accepted and integrated in their peer groups.
But here’s what really raises my hope for a Utopian future of not just tolerance, but routine acceptance. My tough-as-nails firefighter brother-in-law, who frequently cracked homophobic jokes before I came out, has done a complete 180 in the years since. He has been the soul of kindness and affection to me, and has welcomed Carter fully into his daughters’ lives and their home. He even allows Carter to sleep over, the only boy among his daughters’ male friends who has that privilege. Carter has borrowed the same polka-dotted housecoat from the girls so often that I’ve joked that they should present it to him as a high-school graduation gift next summer.
Am I being overly optimistic? Maybe. Am I looking at life through rainbow-coloured irises? Entirely possible. All I know is that I came away from the weekend in my hometown thrilled that life has changed for at least some gay teenagers. I look forward to seeing the world their generation creates.
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