we are only one of three countries in the world that can celebrate same-sex marriage,
let us turn our eyes, our hearts, our energy, and our money to transforming this
just very thankful that for the first time in 20 years, we're doing more weddings
than funerals at our church."
celebration of John Fisher
"I think I'm the only politician in Toronto not running for Mayor." Glen Murray said as he surveyed a large gathering sprinkled with political supporters, including Barbara Hall, the candidate considered most likely to be Toronto's next Mayor.
Murray, the Mayor of Winnipeg, was in Toronto last night to be the keynote speaker at an Egale gala honouring John Fisher.
"John Fisher is, quite simply, the reason Egale is what it is - an incredibly effective and established voice for LGBT equality and justice in Canada," read the tribute in the evening's program.
The tribute to Fisher was unavoidably also a tribute to the progress of LGBT rights, because of how closely Fisher is linked to advances made for gays in Canada during the past decade.
"It is a moment to pause and reflect on how far we've come," said Murray in an inspired and emotional speech peppered with applause from the crowd. "For many of us the days that we celebrate now are days that we never thought would happen."
Tremendous progress in Canada
The Mayor recalled some of the past victories in gay rights, as well as the most painful of losses.
"HIV outed gay men across the country... we discovered that our lives were not long, even if we survived AIDS, our lives were short, and we were measured by the love we left behind .....We found dignity deep in our souls and in our hearts and we refused to apologize for who we are. Women held hands with women and walked down the street. Men kissed men in public. Those simple acts of personal courage transform society.
"To each and everyone of you who has been kicked, beaten up, physically and verbally bashed, lost their job, been discriminated against ... God bless you for being an extraordinarily courageous human being. Because it wasn't the act of great leaders or politicians that transformed society ... you created a constituency of courage. That's what all of you are all about."
Murray attributed women and feminists with assisting gay men in pushing forward with awareness and rights, even as AIDS ravaged the community.
"We've learned from the feminist movement as gay men that we have to be self-defining .... and women were powerful in teaching men that we own our bodies ... owning our bodies, and owning our families, and owning our dignity is fundamental to a civil society."
Murray also cautioned against becoming complacent, as we enjoy our full and equal rights.
"I was in Winnipeg, I got this note from a friend on city council who said that Stephen Harper really wanted to meet me ... It's always interesting, as an out gay man in a position of some power to meet homophobic people. I said to him once, 'Stephen it's really nice to meet you but it's hard to talk to you seriously when you don't think I should have the dignity of being a father, of having a family, of being a partner. What do you expect me to say to you when you think I'm a second-class citizen? So be clear about this, not only will I never vote for you, but until the day I die I will do everything to ensure that you and your attitude never dominate politics in this country.'"
Nurture respect for diversity in children
"Let us never turn our back on our children. Let's ensure the next generation of gay and lesbian people have as much respect for each other's race, diversity, ethnicity, and faith, as they do for their dignity of their person as gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people. Let's make sure that no other generation has to grow up facing the hate that we did. And let us never forget all of those who conquered the hate that they had to grow up with. And let's always remember that all that we have was hard fought for, it wasn't given to us, it was earned through hard work and sacrifice."
Work for equality elsewhere in the world
"As we are only one of three countries in the world that can celebrate same-sex marriage, let us turn our eyes, our hearts, our energy, and our money to transforming this planet, so that gay and lesbian people from Afghanistan, to Brazil, to south-east Asia enjoy the full dignity and personal and collective human rights that we do. Let's never just sit here on our side of the border."
Murray concluded with this homage to John Fisher:
"I can't say, as a gay man, how much I owe this guy. For his perseverance, his dignity, his intelligence, his articulateness, his sense of fairness, his endless emails ... there's no light between what he preaches and how he lives his life. Few of us will get to meet people like that in our lives; that we'll want to be like, that we aspire to be like ... Through John's work all of us feel more included in this society, no matter what we have that is different than others, we've learned through John's work that what we have in common is more important."
Our next generation of advocates
The room full of experienced warriors then heard from the next generation of advocates. Robbie (11 years old) and his sister Hannah Barnett-Kemper (17 years old).
"Seriously. Think back and ask yourself how does being the child of your parents affect you?" Hannah said, to yet more laughter.
"John Fisher has helped us out a lot," Robbie said. "We would like to thank him for helping to reduce the stigma of being the children of lesbians."
"It's been quite a journey over the last 10 years that I have been with EGALE," Fisher said to a roomful of well-wishers still buzzing from the marriage victory in Canada. "... my last two weeks with EGALE have been eventful. It was two weeks ago today that the Ontario Court of Appeal rendered its momentous decision that allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry, effective immediately ... it changed society, it changes the way we see ourselves as a community and the way society sees us. Imagine whole generations of Canadians will grow up never knowing a time when same-sex couples were unable to marry."
Fisher echoed Murray's comments about remaining vigilant and continuing with the work that is still unfinished. He sited the need to ensure that Bill-250 (hate legislation) gets passed in Parliament, and he referred to the police interference in a gay strip club in Montreal and a gay bathhouse in Calgary.
"I'm very much committed to working in collaboration with other existing international organizations that are doing this work and trying to help push the agenda forward on the global stage. It's not the work of any one person, it's not the work of any one lifetime, but I believe that when we can make a contribution, we have a responsibility to make sure we do."