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5 min

The political gets personal

Do you really want to know what your parents think?

FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES. Illustrator John Webster and his dad, years before the talk about same-sex marriage. Credit: Xtra files

With same-sex marriage mania raging from coast-to-coast, we decided to ask some of Xtra’s contributors how they’ve talked about queer issues with a very specific cross-section of straight Canadians – their parents.



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Opera singer and Xtra contributor Dann Mitton describes his parents as “steeped in regional Maritime charm and quite outspoken.”



Horace (Bud) Mitton, age 63, and Deanna (Dea) Mitton, age 53, live in a nursing home in Moncton, New Brunswick.



“I feel that anybody that loves each other, like me and dad love each other, should be able to [marry],” says Dea. “So homosexuality is in the same boat. If there’s two people that love each other they should be able to without prejudice get married.



“In the ’40s and ’50s it used to be the same as interracial marriage. But now wherever you go mixed couples are seen and accepted. It’ll take another 20 years, but [same-sex couples will] be accepted.”



“Personally I don’t see any big hurrah,” says Bud. “But this is the Maritimes, we’re always behind the rest of the country. That gay politician [Svend Robinson] was up in arms about something, but I don’t remember what it was. Gay marriages, I think. That was when they came out with the thing about this gay couple trying to visit the States and they wouldn’t let them in as a couple.”



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Illustrator John Webster’s parents live in southwest Manitoba – part of that province’s Bible belt. They feel nothing has changed and the issue’s not on anybody’s radar. “The crops are hurting,” says Webster’s father. “This town doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of homosexuality.”



But talk is getting in. Webster’s parents recently caught a discussion on same-sex marriage on a radio station originating out of Brandon. “A young woman called in to say, ‘If I caught homosexuality, I’d choose to live alone.'”



Webster says that although it’s not common knowledge that they have a gay son, his folks have



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Developed a reputation for being more sympathetic and nonjudgmental than the rest of the town. A few years back when a young boy got in trouble for starting a fire near the school where he was being picked on, he ran to the Webster’s for support.



“My parents were chosen (my dad is a Lion’s Club member) to drive him twice a week to a correctional institute in Brandon. There he would learn social skills and become a ‘better person.’ Years have passed and the boy is now in grade 12 and the president of the school. A few months ago at the fiddle contest in town, the boy said he was going to drive to Brandon. “Why?” asked a woman. He turned to my dad, smiled and whispered in his ear, ‘It’s a gay thing.'”



writer Margaret Robinson’s parents used to run a small monthly newspaper out of their kitchen in rural Nova Scotia. Robinson remembers the reaction they got after she convinced them to run an ad for OUTline, a provincial help line for queer youth. “That month they got calls from parish priests all along the eastern shore complaining that my parents were corrupting the youth. My dad replied, ‘Wasn’t that what they arrested Socrates for?’



“Another time the Chronicle Herald, the NS provincial newspaper, printed a homophobic letter to the editor,” recalls Robinson. When she sent in a letter of her own in response, she didn’t realize that they would print her hometown, too.



“We were the only Robinson family in our village. People were asking my mom about it for months afterwards. One woman cornered her in a restaurant and said, ‘I was so sorry to hear about Margaret. My older sister is a lesbian and that’s a shame I’ve had to live with these 30 years.’



“I think it was actually the negative reactions of the people on the shore that made my parents more supportive of me. They’re naturally stubborn people. It’s one thing for them to criticize me, but it’s another thing for outsiders to do it. They wouldn’t have any of that.”



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Freelance writer Tanya Gulliver says her parents refused to go to Vermont for her civil union and don’t acknowledge her anniversaries with her wife Tricia. But they did provide food for the reception.



“They do still refer to it as, ‘Your trip to Vermont’ and, ‘That party you had,'” says Gulliver.



“While my dad did flip through the pictures of our recent legal wedding at City Hall, he flat out refused to watch the video. ‘You’ve been married twice already,’ he said, referring to a long ago dabble in heterosexuality and, I’m assuming, to the ‘trip to Vermont.'”



But Gulliver says that her parents include her wife Tricia in their e-mail correspondence and family celebrations, and her mom recently even made a wreath for the door of their new house with a rainbow ribbon.



“She’s accepted [Tricia] individually and in partnership with me – just as long as we don’t remind them that we’re queer.”



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Writer Orville Lloyd Douglas says that on a car ride home from his sister’s baby christening a few weeks ago, his mother asked him when he was going to give her a grandchild as a way of feeling him out on the issue. She was surprised to learn that Douglas was not in the marriage camp.



“You don’t believe in marriage?” she said. “That’s a shock since all I hear about the gays complaining that they want to get married. Aren’t you Mr Gay Rights Activist? You of all people I thought would believe in this nonsense.”



When Douglas replied that he was bisexual and not gay, and that he had more important things on his mind than getting hitched, she thanked him for his answer.



“I just wanted to know your opinion. No need to be so angry. Everyone at my workplace has been taking about this gay marriage crap and I just wanted to know my son’s opinion that is all.”



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Editor and writer Abi Slone reports that she came out to her mother the morning after the first time she had ever kissed a woman.



“Seven in the morning with no hesitation. She told me not to tell my father, who was dying of cancer at the time. When I didn’t answer her, she told me to wait at least two weeks – I could be merely experimenting.



“When I did tell my father, he cut me off.



“‘Your life. Whatever makes you happy.’ I suspect my mother outed me before I had the chance.”



Slone was recently living in rural Nova Scotia with her wife, Megan.



“My wife always said about our experience living in the country in Nova Scotia that ‘being a butch-femme couple totally works to our advantage here. I am clearly the boy and you are clearly the girl and so that’s where they put us. People talk to me about the car and you about the cooking and because we fit into something they already know, we are no threat.'”



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Immigration lawyer, DJ and writer Zahra Dhanani says that her family has personalized the issue of same-sex marriage to be about her specifically.



“My brother said, ‘I love you and you should have the right to choose who you marry. That’s the bottom line.’ My sister said, ‘Live and let live Zahra, that’s what I think. But you have to understand people are afraid to change. It’s sad and I’m sorry if what they’re saying hurts you.’



“My mother (a 63-year-old Muslim Gujarati woman living in Don Mills) said, ‘Zahra, we were taught that you have to get married [to a man], being married was everything to people. It didn’t matter if you were happy or not, you just had to be married. I pray that if you want to get married you can marry whomever you want. But I recommend you live common law, first.’