At a time when our country is facing two very different potential futures and the politicians won’t come clean on what they’re really planning, it’s good to step back and remember what we’re all doing here. Why are we on the West Coast in the year 2004. What is it to be gay today? What are our responsibilities? What are our priorities?
It’s times like these that we need clarity. And it’s times like these that it’s most difficult to find that clarity, to connect with each other and the kind of world we’re trying to fashion here. The kind of community we’re trying to form out of the geography and history, politics and individual encounters we experience.
There are times that call for very deliberate, conscious choices that reflect our values, our dreams, our friendships and love for one another. In times like these, people like Janine Fuller set examples about who and what we can be.
Janine was awarded an honourary doctorate from Simon Fraser University on Jun 2, and her acceptance speech before the graduands and their various family types was from the heart, as her talks are always, and without notes, again as always.
She spoke of her community, of our aspirations. She noted how new it is that an honourary degree be bestowed on someone for fighting censorship on behalf of the gay community; indeed, how even a few years ago the words gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender would not have been uttered from the podium at a graduation ceremony. She spoke of how honoured she was to stand before the writers and thinkers of the next generation. And to do it surrounded by the people she loves-her lover Julie Stines, the owners and co-workers of Little Sister’s, her friends, chosen family and biological family. And she paid tribute to the strength that comes from coming from a family that encourages success, from friends who offer support and love. Janine channelled that strength into a struggle against Canada Customs, as did Little Sister’s co-owners Bruce Smyth and Jim Deva. As did the entire community as we lined up behind The Little Bookstore That Could.
“Free speech does not come in this country without a lot of people working,” she said. “It has to be nurtured and is something we as Canadians cannot take for granted. Until all people have the free speech and the visibility to be who we are, we all have to commit ourselves to this struggle.” The gay and lesbian community, she said, has earned respect at tremendous cost, financial and other.
Janine paused for a second before continuing. She has Huntington’s disease, she told the audience, and research at places like Simon Fraser University is vitally important to her family and her future. Her brother, who has lived with the disease for some two decades, is being helped by new drugs. And he’s helped her understand that, no matter how many setbacks Janine experiences from Customs seizures and frustrating court judgements, her life is still blessed because there are people to love and people who love her-and hope for a future breakthrough.
There’s a lesson there for us all: We as a community, and we as individuals, will go on and we can achieve beautiful things-despite changes in governments, idiot officials, horrible diseases.
Ah, but Janine was not letting us off the hook.
“Censorship is something we as a community have fought forever and something we will continue to fight,” she began again, a warning tone to her voice now. “As I look into the next election, I look at the front pages of the Globe & Mail and see the potential for a kind of sensibility in this country. You are all the caretakers of free speech in this community. You have a big burden to carry but you carry it so well and with such dignity.”
It’s time to wrap up. Janine said she’s “honoured and blessed” to receive the doctorate. “It’s an honour I take back and share with my community, all my community and all the diversity of who they are.
“We will enjoy it together.”
Indeed. We will. And I’m sure many of us will also consider the dark clouds of that gathering “sensibility” that Janine notes. And we’ll consider how far we’ve come, how much further we yet have to go on our collective journey to a world where all love is set free of the state and church. We’ll remember the strength we can find in one another to stand up for what’s right, even in tough times. And to do it with dignity. After all, it’s how we built our community, our lives, our pride over the past three decades.