Toronto PFLAG president Irene Miller says she always tries to represent the mother that every queer youth wishes he or she could come out to: a parent who loves and accepts unconditionally.
This year, Miller will march for all the mothers at the front of the Toronto Pride parade as grand marshal.
As the local spokesperson for PFLAG, Miller is often described as a force of nature — someone who speaks with incredible warmth and often brings people to tears.
She says the role of ally is a crucial one. Parents, siblings and friends are often the first people to hear the news that a family member or friend is gay and their reaction can change the course of a person’s life.
“For a lot of people that come out, their moms are gone; they never had the opportunity to be elevated to the experiences I have had,” she says. “Maybe given more time, and under different circumstances, their mom could have been more supportive. I always hope that people remember, in the end, we love our kids.”
Sadly, Miller says, there are still many gay youth whose families reject them. “The message I try to get across to people is that there was a time you were the centre of your mother’s world, and somewhere in her heart you still are.”
Things were different in the Miller house. Since learning about her son Raymond's sexuality in 2000, when he was 18, Miller has devoted herself completely to fighting for local queer rights, supporting families and setting the standard for what it means to be an ally.
“This is what we do 365 days of the year,” she says. “The moms, the dads, the sisters, the brothers, the friends. We are part of this. We should be visible.”
When Raymond brought home his first boyfriend, she says, she announced it proudly to the rest of the family. “We thought that’s what every family did,” she says. “We didn’t really realize that for so many, it’s not like that. That was really the eye-opener for me.”
It was soon after that Miller joined PFLAG, around 2008. She set out to show other parents how much joy there is in having a gay child.
“I just realized there was so much more that can be done,” she says. “I wanted to be a part of something that made it better for everybody. There are many reasons parents get separated from their kids. This should not be one of them.
“My son lives his whole life completely out and proud. I am doing this at 63. He was doing it as a teenager. That, to me, takes guts and courage.”
Pride Toronto has also announced its other honoured positions for 2013.
The honoured group is Casey House. The first HIV/AIDS hospice in Canada, it has been providing care to people living with HIV and AIDS for 25 years.
This year’s honoured dyke is Paola Solorzano, former president of Hola, a Toronto group for queer Latinos. Solorzano also served briefly as a Pride Toronto board member but stepped down for personal reasons. She was born and raised in Mexico and moved to Canada 10 years ago, where she has been a vocal advocate for queer newcomers and refugees fleeing violence.
The Dyke March honoured group is Shape Your Life (SYL), a boxing program for women and trans people who self-identify as survivors of violence.
SYL classes began in 2007 and have since provided more than 200 women and trans people with self-defence skills and have helped to build confidence. The group recently began providing training to front-line crisis workers and activists doing anti-violence work in their communities.
The Trans March honoured individual is Kyle Scanlon, the former 519 Church Street Community Centre’s trans support worker who died by suicide last year. The fallen, a group representing all trans people who have been murdered or died by suicide, is the Trans March honoured group.
The international grand marshal, announced last month, is Argentine human rights defender Marcela Romera, the director of Argentina’s Association of Transvestites, Transsexuals and Transgender Persons.