On September 3rd, Calgary held their 27th annual Pride Parade. My husband and I have walked in it several times. It’s our way of publicly supporting LGBTQ choice, and compassionately witnessing the pain, anxiety and humiliation suffered by friends & family – and anyone, anywhere—because of their sexual orientation.
2016 Calgary Pride Parade
This year, I decided not to seek accreditation to walk in what has become a politically charged parade. Instead, I chose to honour the life of my great-uncle. Dr. Arnold Kennedy, a veterinarian, a gay man, at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence. Hard to believe, but in Canada these laws were only changed in 1969.
Uncle Arnold is 2nd from the left with veterinary colleagues at Summerside PEI in the 1930s. (Photo courtesy of Early Mink People of Canada).
Uncle Arnold was my paternal grandfather’s younger brother. He was brilliant. He had more letters behind his name than any other relative before or since. Arnold Hugh Kennedy, B.S.A., V.S., B.V.Sc., D.V.Sc. He led research on fur-bearing animals at experimental farms across the country, and taught at the Ontario Vet College in Guelph. In 1955, Premier Joey Smallwood invited him to Newfoundland to help set up a mink industry – Smallwood saw excess whale meat as excellent food for mink.
While in Newfoundland, Uncle Doc, as he was affectionately known, went quiet on the family. My grandfather was worried about him and family legend is that he was imprisoned in Newfoundland for “indecent behaviour.” He didn’t come home to Ontario when my grandfather died, prematurely, in 1960.
The Uncle Doc that I knew was a jovial, caring, creative man. He loved veterinary science. Art was also a big part of his life. He painted en plein air in northern Ontario alongside his friend, George Thomson, brother of the infamous Tom Thomson. When my sister and I visited Uncle Doc at his home in Nova Scotia as teenagers, he had paintings by Maud Lewis stuffed in his closets. Maud was a contemporary of his, a fellow artist, and “paid” Uncle Arnold for his help with her correspondence and business matters by gifting him paintings. Uncle Arnold didn’t like her folksy painting style and re-gifted her pieces!
If you get a chance, watch Maudie; it’s delightful.
When I hear the stories of gay men being rounded up in traditional, conservative places like Chechnya, I wonder, how was Uncle Arnold outed? Was he rounded up with others at a bathhouse? Did something happen to inflame homophobia in Newfoundland at that time? Did his mannerisms or clothes give him away? It would be pretty challenging to make a white vet’s gown flamboyant!
The thoughts of what he endured in prison give me pause.
Even as a young girl, I remember the indignities. One neighbour warned my mother not to let our younger brother near Uncle Doc. Decades later, the mocking hasn’t ended. On August 28th, Ann Coulter tweeted: I don’t believe Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor. But that is more credible than “climate change.”
Some say the culture has moved on. A person’s sexual orientation isn’t all that interesting. People see other people who happen to be gay at work, at school, on TV. And yet, I continue to get questions from friends. How do I support my gay nephew, lesbian granddaughter, bisexual neighbour? He/she doesn’t want to come out to the family, to the community? Often, these friends are of Muslim, Mormon and Sikh faith; belong to Asian cultures; or live in rural places. Regardless of laws, there remain communities where coming out is not that easy. To straddle the religious, cultural and generational fences, my friends adhere to the belief that people don’t choose their sexual orientation. They focus on loving the individual, seeing them as another human being…someone who gets to live in dignity and without pain. It’s a constructive, uncomfortable, and utterly human response. When my friends get really stuck on those fences, I nudge them: It’s a gift to be a sexual being. It’s arrogant for anyone to think they can take this away. Who do they think they are, God?
And, I still hear from people who don’t want to talk about LGBTQ rights. They are sick of it. Here’s a sampling of that message from my Facebook feed: I don’t care what they do but real Canadians are tired of politicians pandering to them it’s sickening and deal with the real issues Canada facing.
For the most part, public outing of closet gays and lesbians seems passé in the West, mean-spirited at best. But it still happens. And, especially with public figures. In 2012, Anderson Cooper of CNN decided to publicly announce that he is gay after Gawker pressed on him, over and over, demanding Cooper acknowledge it.
Anderson Cooper (Wikipedia)
Here are excerpts from Cooper’s disclosure:
…. Even though my job puts me in the public eye, I have tried to maintain some level of privacy in my life. Part of that has been for purely personal reasons. I think most people want some privacy for themselves and the people they are close to…
Recently, however, I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.
I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.
Some LBGTQs out celebrities and politicians to gain visibility for their advocacy. Do famous people forfeit their right to privacy? That’s a big unanswered question. If yes, feels like a raw deal. Or, as Cooper suggests, maybe the famous have a heightened duty to demonstrate inclusive leadership for the benefit of others.
Yet there’s an irony. Don’t shame us, we’ll do the shaming. Seems a bit confusing. And, the outing campaigns get pretty nasty, especially when the target in the closet is accused of hypocrisy. The worst contempt is saved for politicians who vote against gay rights yet are LGBTQ themselves. Admittedly, the charges of hypocrisy may be valid. But the means to the end can be dark.
Activist blogger Michael Rogers championed the outing of hypocritical politicians in the U.S. His work is chronicled in the 2009 documentary Outrage. What forces drive gay politicians into the closet, and what compels them to remain there?
Canada is taking a lead in protecting homosexuals in places in the world where they are harassed, imprisoned, and even publicly flogged. Canadians are just finding out now that our Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (born in Peace River, Alberta) has been leading the charge to secretly spirit gay Chechen men to Canada. It’s a bold move, with a pointed political edge given the Minister’s history with Russia.
Chechen mothers mourn their children at a public demonstration in Saint Petersburg to protest the persecution of gay men in Chechnya, May 2017 (Wikipedia)
The Trudeau government has made protection of LGBTQ rights a priority. PM Trudeau strides in every pride parade possible. Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault is special adviser on “LGBTQ2” issues. That means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited people—a term used to describe indigenous people who identify as LGBTQ. Transgender rights are being protected, including in the military. And Canada is co-chairing Equal Rights Coalition, brand new global advocacy dedicated to protecting sexual minorities. These actions make me proud.
Not everyone may be qualified to walk in a politically-torqued pride parade.
Getting behind friends and family —and even strangers—facing cultural, faith and community barriers in their choices, that’s an everyday action. No need for external accreditation to do this work. No need for a parade. You just do it.
My Uncle Arnold was not a threat to anyone. His attractions were not a threat to anyone. He was punished and imprisoned while not threatening anything but a status quo based in intolerance. There still remains a threat against the LGBTQ community. I saw it in my Facebook thread. I see it on twitter. As long as there is a threat, there will be hesitation by this group of people to be who they are publicly. The parade, for those who don’t understand, is an invitation to be free, to feel safe for a day, in the hope that this will become the status quo. A status quo of safety and freedom for the entire population. We as a nation have proclaimed it. We continue, to slowly march, or dance, or parade towards making that proclamation a lived reality.
Donna Kennedy-Glans, September 14 2017