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Walking In His Shoes

I have often wondered about what it would be like to be someone other than myself. I have attempted to imagine what it might have been like to be a Jewish woman during the Holocaust, an African-American woman in the early 1960’s, a mother living in the Congo and lately, I have even imagined what it might be like to be a gay teenager. I was a teenager 25 years ago and my memories of it are not pleasant. I recall the turbulence of those coming-of-age emotions; a result of an endocrine system that was working night and day to balance runaway hormones, of a society that I perceived as cold and stupid, and of parents who, try as they might, just did not “get it.” I was rebellious and angry and it was an extremely confusing and tough time but I was not gay.
I was thinking about what daily life must have been like for Jamie Hubley and the countless other teenagers who have had to endure relentless bullying because of their sexual orientation or their perceived sexual orientation. I attempted to put myself back in those rebel-without-a-cause, leopard print boots that I wore to remember what it was like to have all of those emotions towards the opposite sex. To feel excited but also some shame because good Catholic girls were not supposed to be drinking at parties and kissing boys they did not know very well. And I try to imagine what Jamie must have been feeling. He likely knew early on that he was gay. He did not choose to be gay as much as I did not choose to be heterosexual. If it is a choice to be gay then it must also be a choice to be heterosexual. He was as biologically hardwired to be attracted to males as I am. But Jamie was tormented for the way he was. I know as well as you know that attempting to be attracted to the sex that you are not drawn to biologically, physically, emotionally and spiritually is impossible. Being abused for the way you were born is nothing short of inhumane and torturous.
This is where fearful and ignorant people will hide behind their religion to claim that being gay is a sin. In my opinion, I think God would have a big issue with these hateful thoughts and behaviours. Bill Keller, the world’s leading Internet Evangelist blamed Ellen Degeneres and Anderson Cooper for Jamie’s death. Keller made the grand assumption that Jamie was depressed because he came out about his homosexuality. I might be going out on a limb here but I am going to guess that Jamie took his life because he could not stand another minute of being hated and physically and mentally tormented for who he naturally was. I am also going to assume that God, at least the God I believe in, would be devastated to see one of His own suffering and living in such anguish as a direct result of hatred.
It still shocks me (and I am not easily shocked) to know that in 2011, we still manage to repeat a history that is both shameful and mind-boggling. We shudder when we think of the horrors of the Holocaust and we wonder how something like that could have occurred. I know that racism is still alive but most of us who were born after 1965 cannot fathom a time when people of a different race were segregated or beaten and tortured because of the colour of their skin. What has changed? How far have we really come when teenagers feel there is no other way out but to take such drastic measures as killing themselves? The only thing that has changed is the particular group that is being victimized.
Underlying the violence is misunderstandings, assumptions, ignorance and most of all fear. The only obvious differences between Jamie Hubley and myself as a teenager is that he was gay and I was not. He was also an advocate and assisted his dad in doing great things in the community to help others. I am sure he just wanted to love and to be loved. I assume he had dreams about his career and his future. He probably daydreamed about getting out of Ottawa and travelling. Perhaps, he thought about marrying one day and maybe even having children.
People have formed their beliefs out of fear and not out of fact. Common myths about being gay include: Gay men are more likely to be child abusers. Gay people spend their free time in bars, doing drugs and having loads of sex. In a gay relationship there is a ‘man’ and a ‘woman.’ Gay men are effeminate and promiscuous. Lesbians are ‘butchy’ and man-haters. If you have found yourself believing any of these myths about homosexuality, you need to educate yourself so that you are not a part of the problem.
I am hopeful that my generation will make change happen. I am confident that Jamie’s life and all of the lives that have been lost due to bullying and gay bashing will have not been in vain. I predict that fifty years from now, our children’s children will be amazed to learn that there was a time in history when being gay was something to be ashamed about and something to hate another for. We will cautiously laugh at the ridiculous beliefs and myths that were rampant about being gay.
This is my hope for all of us: that each of us (whether we are the bullied, the bully, the bystander or a part of the community) can reflect on our thoughts, beliefs and behaviours and determine if they are based in fear or in love. If there is fear, then we must find ways to have the courage to challenge these thoughts and beliefs and transform them into positive action based in love and tolerance. Perhaps, it is time to initiate conversations about our attitudes towards diversity here in the Valley. You are welcome to send your thoughts, comments and feedback to
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Originally published in The Whitewater Cobden Sun, November 2 2011 edition.