For Ward 31 Councillor Janet Davis, this year’s Pride was more special than previous years. As she usually does, Davis marched in the parade — this year, with PFLAG and 12 city councillors — but for the first time she was marching alongside her gay son, Keith.
“It was very, very interesting. He’s always been watching, so I usually spend the parade looking for him in the crowd. But this time was really special. He wanted to join me — it was his idea — and I can’t tell you the impact it had.”
Keith, a 32-year-old advertising copywriter, first came out at 18. He had gradually come out to friends and family over the years, but it was only last year that he chose to share his sexuality with the wider public.
“Last year I was asked by [Councillor] Kristyn Wong-Tam to be part of the Pride TO rally,” he says. “Pride’s funding was at risk, and it’s such an important event to the city that I wanted to speak out and support it.”
The role of Pride was important to Davis, too, as it provided an occasion to mark their relationship and share it with the city. Keith had T-shirts specially made for the day: one read “Proud Mom” and the other “Proud Son.” But as strong as that bond is, it took introspection and resolve to reach this point.
“I always had mixed feelings about [speaking about Keith’s sexuality]. That it was private and should just stay private. I don’t need to talk about it, and part of it was, I thought, protecting my son and the other part of it clearly was protecting myself from any unwanted criticism,” Davis says.
Publicly sharing that she is the proud mother of a gay son has been an eye-opener for Davis, especially after joining PFLAG and hearing from more people about their own experiences: “I have been so surprised by the number of people who have told me how difficult it was to talk to their mothers.”
To Davis, this highlights the need to share stories and perspectives publicly. “I have a responsibility not just as a parent, but as an elected official.”
Even for a leftwing, progressive individual like Davis, it has been a challenge. When Keith came out she had a range of reactions. “‘Maybe he’s just experimenting,'” she recalls thinking to herself. “I was worried immediately about his health. I was worried about having grandchildren. I was concerned about what we would tell his brother . . . it’s a difficult process to go through.”
For his part, Keith describes his family as being very supportive; coming out took all of two minutes, wherein his mom asked him if he was seeing anyone at the time (no) and practising safe sex (yes).
Davis says that publicly sharing her feelings was more difficult than she thought it would be. But there they were on Sunday, wearing their T-shirts and feeling proud.
“It was really great. Just to soak up all of the energy and see people’s faces, smiling,” Keith says. “You don’t get a view of all the spectators unless you’re marching.”
Davis felt similarly. “It was a huge connection. In a way, it was like a public testimony together: ‘Yeah, this is my son. Here is my wonderful gay son.'”
While the parade helped facilitate that message, it was mother and son who provided the meaning behind it. “It was such an appropriate T-shirt,” she adds. “It truly reflected how I felt.”
“He is comfortable with who he is, and that is what I’m proud of.”