October was a tragic month. The suicide of gay teen Jamie Hubley had a rippling effect in the community. Even though we are aware that homophobic bullying is prevalent in schools, it was only when it happened in our own backyard that the reality hit us hard in the face.
It was a wake-up call for all of us, but out of the tragedy there came a ray of light, hope and some rainbow sparkle, or whatever you want to call it. It seems to me that, for the moment, Ottawa’s queer community is truly united in wanting to put an end to bullying.
It was the first time in my two years with Xtra that it seemed everyone agreed we must do more. It was also the first time I have truly appreciated what awesome queer organizations we have in our community — groups like Pink Triangle Services and Project Ten Oaks, which work directly with youth. Together they offer support services, leadership training and safe spaces for kids who identify as queer or who come from queer families. And then there’s Jer’s Vision, which works in the trenches to eradicate bullying in schools.
I spent a week trailing behind youth from Jer’s Vision, going into schools and talking to students and teachers about what it is like to be queer and bullied — and somehow survive it. From the back of a classroom I watched bored teenagers sit up and take note of what was being said, and I have to think that they now understand a little more what it is like to be different and that next time they may think before calling someone a faggot or saying “that’s so gay.”
It is easy being out when you work for a queer paper. Hell, when I meet a straight person in the Pink Triangle Press office in Toronto I think, “Hey, that’s pretty radical.” I am lucky to work in a sex-positive environment — where else would I get to have my photo taken with pornstars at the office party? So when I look around and I see people who work in the mainstream stand up and talk about their sexual orientation and their struggles, I just want to shout out to the world, “Look how great the queers are!”
With that in mind, I tip my hat to Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee Donna Blackburn for being openly gay, for encouraging the board to march in Pride and for speaking up in a public meeting about her experiences with depression when she was a high school student. I applaud all those I have spoken with over the last month who have shared their stories about being bullied. I thank FC Estrella for shrugging off fears about being in the spotlight, for making me laugh at her absurd experiences as a gay teen, and for overcoming the obstacle of growing up in a family where being gay is taboo.
And while I am rooting for the people who dare to stand up and out, I want to say to the closeted queers in the public eye: you do have a responsibility to be out because that is the only way we are going to kick stigma to the curb — by normalizing our queerness. This community has no place for shame and that closet is full of it.
November is a great gay month for Ottawa — a leather fest, a weekend of trans awareness, the Inside Out film festival, hot dance parties and queer hoedowns. Who knows? With all the gayness going around, maybe some of our public figures may cast aside their suits and stoic manners for some radical queerness — like being out and proud.