Hi everyone! I can’t believe we are already half way through June! June is a very special month because it’s Pride Month. Typically, we’d see a host of Pride related events and of course Toronto’s Pride Parade but this year things are looking a little different. So, with that in mind I thought this was the perfect time to revise an article I wrote two years ago. In this last article two amazing individuals from the Guelph community came forward to share their stories on what is means to be queer in Guelph. So I’d first like to say a huge thank you to Chris and Amy for their contributions two years ago. With my revision I approached three more amazing members of the Guelph LGBTQ+ community and asked for them to share their stories with me.
Growing up I was taught to always accept anyone I crossed paths with. I have and always will be someone who loves and accepts people for who they are. I build relationships with people based on their character and nothing else. I wanted to share these amazing stories with you because we cannot love one another if we first don’t try to understand each other. Please take a moment to read through these amazing comments on what is means for Amy, Chris, Oliveigha, Jesse and Sofie to be queer in this world.
- State your gender identity (pronouns) and sexual identity.
Amy: Female, Lesbian
Oliveigha: She/Her, Bisexual
Jesse: I use the pronouns he/him, and given my Cherokee/Creek background, identify as a two-spirit. I was assigned female at birth and transitioned to male in 2017.
Sofie: She/Her, Bisexual or Queer
- Please give a bio about yourself so the readers can connect deeply with you. (ie: 5 things your friends would say about you, your pets name, what you do for a living)
Amy: I’m a grad student and a mom. I’ve been working toward my PhD in Applied Social Psychology, studying prejudice reduction, for 4 years now. I had my daughter almost 2 years ago, and life has become quite a balancing act! My wife and I have been together for 10 years this fall, and although we both came to Guelph as students (way back in the day), we’re full-fledge Guelphites now and are so privileged to be raising our family in this beautiful city. In addition to studenting and parenting, I’m an avid food gardener, I keep backyard chickens, and we try to live as sustainably as we can with the resources we have.
Christopher: I work in marketing for the mental health and addictions sector here in Guelph, Ontario.
Oliveigha: I graduated from the University of Guelph just about a year ago and am currently living in Toronto working in retail and floral design full time. I spend most of my time, when I am not at work, either writing or watching movies. At this point in my life I am solidly in an “in-between” phase as I prepare to apply for school again this fall for the September 2021 year. A few words to describe myself would be compassionate, motivated and open-minded.
Jesse: I was born and raised in British Columbia and moved to Guelph in 2015 after graduating from high school. I currently work as a security guard and aspire to become a police officer as I believe policing, when done right, can make a world of difference and we certainly need more transgender/LGBTQ2S+ representation in law enforcement. I am passionate about people and potential. I see the best in those around me and I focus on developing the positives rather than highlighting the negatives. I currently live with my partner of over a year and love to meet new people with opinions that differ from my own. I believe collaboration and communication go a long way to solve community problems, if only someone decides to step up and take on the role of a leader.
Sofie: I am currently finishing my Undergrad going into my fourth year. Prior, I did a diploma program and had a post-graduate certificate in the field of working with child and youth with behavioural disorders. I was raised in Guelph, went to elementary and high school here. Because of my academic career path and my passion for working with children with special needs, I would like to think I am kind, very patient, compassionate and understanding. I plan to get my Masters in Disability Studies and fight for the right for inclusion and advocate for LGBT rights and at-risk teens within the LGBT community.
- Please describe your coming out story.
Amy: I came out to my dad and my friends on MSN messenger when I was about 15 years old. It was rather uneventful. I consider myself extremely lucky that my coming out was so uneventful, because I lived in a small town and went to a high school of 400 people, and I was the only out gay kid for my entire time at that school. My friends supported me, and even went to my first Pride Parade with me – we had to drive 4 hours and stay in a hotel to attend the nearest parade in London, ON.
Despite how easy it was to come out to my own generation, extended family took a lot longer to be accepting. I came out to my mom following an upsetting dinner at my grandparents’ house. My aunts, uncles, and cousins were there, and everyone started passionately bashing gay people, saying they should be exiled from the country. One even said that gay people should be killed. This was a good, Christian family, but the fear of same-sex attraction ran deep within them and homophobic responses were socialized in them from a young age. While my family spouted this hate, I had to sit there and listen and pretend it didn’t personally impact me. On the drive home, I told my mom how upsetting it was to hear them say those things, and then I told her, “I’m gay.” She said, “I know.” We didn’t have much of a discussion about why my family was so bigoted, but she told me that she accepted me for who I was. She has never been bothered in the slightest about my sexual orientation. It’s worth noting that, a decade later, I received an apology email from one aunt when her more progressive children challenged her homophobia and convinced her to accept me. My uncles have never apologized, but they have all met and love my wife (and daughter), so apparently, they just needed to know and love a gay person to realize that gay people aren’t monsters. My grandparents who were at that dinner died before I got the chance to come out to them, and I regret it.
Christopher: I am one of the lucky individuals to have amazing and supportive parents. I was 18 years old and in my first year of college when I came out. I remember the day like it was yesterday, as it was a life-changing experience. I was sitting at our counter, watching my mother cook dinner. I was home for Christmas break, and just finished my exams in the first semester. I didn’t feel comfortable coming out with who I was right away until I knew what my parent’s reaction was going to be. I didn’t want to lose them, and that was my number one goal.
Growing up in a Catholic family, it was difficult to know how they would react. I told my parents a fake story about a person I knew from high school that came out to their parents. I said it ended up going really bad, and they ended up kicking him out on the street with no money or shelter. My mother who responded first said, “that is awful, they should love him for who he is, being gay doesn’t change anything.”
At the time my father was walking through the kitchen and ended up going into the garage to grab something. The minute she said that, I said to my mom and dad, “I am gay.” It was really difficult, as my father stepped into the garage at the same time I said it, and I wasn’t sure if he heard… I didn’t want to have to say it again because it was so hard the first time. My mother responded as I think any mother would, “are you sure, is it just a phase, etc.” I reassure her it wasn’t, and I was gay. She looked worried, and I was still worried about how to come out again to my father who went into the garage. My father came back into the house, and said the greatest thing, “I don’t really care if you are gay, as long as you have grandchildren for your mother to cuddle up to.” There was a huge feeling of relief that came over me, which I have never experienced something like that again. My mother was a bit emotional for a couple of weeks, not because she was upset with me, but that I would have a harder life. I think no parent wants their child to live a harder life. In the end, though, my family is so supportive of me. That day was a life changer for me, as before that, I was depressed, on medication, and couldn’t deal with being who I was until my family accepted me.
Oliveigha: At the end of this June I will officially have been out for 3 years- as I came out during Toronto’s pride weekend. Well at least publicly making the “announcement” that weekend while spending the previous two months privately disclosing to close friends and immediate family. I struggled with the realities of my sexuality for years as I wasn’t too sure what the concept of bisexuality was. Growing up it wasn’t something I heard much about and in most of the media I observed in my formative years IF bisexuality was mentioned it was often used in negative ways. Either in saying it is an invalid identity or using someone’s bisexuality to claim they are “slutty” or unfaithful. Therefore it wasn’t until I was much older that I understood what the term meant- I always knew there was something else there but didn’t quite know what it was. And since I am also attracted to men, I found myself in those moments telling myself just to stick to that. That the least complicated way for me to present to the world was to be “straight”. It took me another couple years to realize the damage that was doing to my sense of self- so I began to take the time and do the research and explore the concept of bisexuality both in my life and in my writing. Ultimately allowing me to be comfortable with the identity and what it represented for me. As bisexuality is often different than those who are gay/lesbian because the manner in which it presents may be different. As to me bisexuality does not mean 50% attracted to men and 50% attracted to women (as people often think it is)- for me instead it is a blanket term that allows me to explore my queerness in a way I feel comfortable. And when I got to that place of comfortability I slowly began to tell close friends and my immediate family- and then the weekend of Pride 2017 I posted an image across social media platforms that both my friends and family could see to let them know how I identified. To me this was the best way I could do it as I didn’t feel safe in public announcements to groups of people at family events and parties. And I also didn’t feel right keeping it quiet and waiting until asked or discussed. This way I controlled the narrative- I controlled the way I came out and who to. And I was able to step away from any negative reactions it may have had and enjoy my weekend at Pride and those in my life who may have reacted negatively had the time to process and not react emotionally to me- which could have caused irreparable damage.
Jesse: I actually had to come out twice. First, as a lesbian, in 2013 going on 2014 (New Years Eve). I remember sitting down at our neighbors’ place out west and yelling, “Happy New Year! I’m gay!”. My parents laughed and told me they already knew.
The second time around, I was going through a really tough time with the Ontario college strike. I had always struggled with body image and a few friends began to transition. Prior to watching them, I had no idea it was even possible for a person to transition, as there was little to no education on the matter. I am passionate about being “out” as a result. I genuinely believe my childhood and adolescence would have gone much smoother had I known what was going on. Education makes a difference, so it is important to me that I live my authentic, transparent (no pun intended) truth for all to see.
Sofie: My good friend was the first person I truly “half” came out too, I describe it as that because I told her I had a crush on this girl in my high school at the time. I did not put a label on it (not that I had to), but I was still confused myself. My friend fully accepted this, no questions asked and supported my feelings.
Years later, I had found a label that resonated with me and felt right, so I told my mom. I told her while we are driving, I was very scared and crying hoping she might not understand what liking both genders meant. I then asked her if she had ever heard of the term “bisexual” and she answered yes. Through some tears and anxious feelings I told her that it was what I was and how I sexually identified. At first, she didn’t totally understand and there were a lot of questions, she asked me when I knew and I think it was at an earlier age than she expected. Growing up in a Catholic family, I was scared that my mom would look at my differently, which was my greatest fear of all because my mom is my best friend.
She was still confused and had question along the way but ultimately told me she loved me no matter what and would support me, which was a huge relief because I knew I had her in my corner.
I came out to my dad through a text message, I was going to write him a letter but the feeling of when I knew it was right to come out to him was, interesting. What I mean by that is, I was doing homework at the time in my house (I don’t live with my parents) and I must have subconsciously been nervous about what he would say. It was strangest yet most magical feeling because it was just a wave of energy passed over me and I took it as a sign that everything would be alright. I had hoped that he would understand. Not that my dad was more progressive than my mom, it was just different. They grew up differently and if he didn’t understand, I know he would try to. My dad and I watch Grey’s Anatomy together and there is a character I identify with, Callie Torres. In the show, Callie realizes she likes boys and she likes girls. My dad also really loves the character and not once while watching, has he ever questioned about it or seemed to bother him. I stopped doing my homework and texted my dad telling him my sexual identity was similar to Callie on Grey’s Anatomy and he was happy and supportive.
I also came out to my brother on my text message, which was the person I was really nervous for. My brother’s friend group at school has now (was not always this way) evolved into individuals would I would never have pictured him being friends with. What I mean by this is they are made up of queer individuals, gay, ace, PCO etc. Because of this friend group and his ability to accept and love them, it was easy to accept, love and support me. He also told me that I am his sister and he loves me no matter what.
Coming out to my friends, was probably and thankfully the easiest (and kind of exciting part). I may be bias but my friend group is the best in the entire world. They truly are my chosen family. They are the most genuine, progressive, loving and supportive group of individuals I’ve ever met. I wanted to tell them in person but we are all in different places because of schooling, so I told them on our group chat. I remember sending it and turning my phone down right away because although I knew the answers would be positive and supportive, I was still nervous. But yet, when I did check my phone I received nothing but love and support from them and that is why they are the best people in the world.
- Tell me what it’s like being a queer individual in Guelph?
Amy: Guelph is the most accepting place I’ve lived, although I’m aware that I live in a bit of a bubble of university students and hipsters in my neighbourhood. I volunteered for Out On The Shelf, Guelph’s queer library and resource centre, for 3 years. I also volunteered for OUTline and CampOut on campus for several years. Guelph has countless opportunities for Queers to volunteer together. I love how activist this town is, and have never personally heard any anti-gay commentary. In fact, in my Guelph bubble, it seems the gayer you are, the cooler you are.
Christopher: I honestly am so happy to have lived and grown up in Guelph. Yeah, it isn’t perfect, as there isn’t a huge gay community here, but the people in this city are welcoming and supportive. I have never experienced any discrimination here; in fact, it seems like everyone is an ally. I truly love this city, for its acceptance of all people, including the LGBTQ+ community.
Oliveigha: Looking back on it, my experience in Guelph as a bisexual woman was always positive. However, being there for university I was exposed mostly to those who accepted who I was. And the ones who didn’t, I was able to ignore with ease. Guelph being a majority liberal area creates a sense of comfort. Though I know things aren’t perfect there and have heard stories of ongoing issues within communities in Guelph. So, to say my experiences were mostly positive is not to dismiss anyone who experienced the negative. Because it was there. And there was never a specifically LGBTQ+ space- there are queer friendly spaces and queer events, but I always wished Guelph had more places one can go and just be Queer and not feel pressured. Or where those who aren’t too sure how to identify could go and meet people who could help.
Jesse: Guelph is much more LGBTQ2S+ friendly than the part of B.C. in which I grew up. I’ve had access to wonderful doctors who specialize in transgender care, a supportive community in terms of both law enforcement and school, and ample resources. Anyone living in Guelph is incredibly lucky to have the resources we do, as out west I would’ve had to travel hours to see someone who understood what was going on. It’s important to recognize the good in a community, and Guelph really takes the cake when it comes to overall inclusiveness. No place is perfect, but Guelph is as close as it gets.
Sofie: Being a queer individual in Guelph is, refreshing. I am so blessed and thankful to have been raised in Guelph because of the inclusivity that it brings. I feel especially comfortable when I am downtown or near the University. The majority of stores downtown have a “safe space” sticker or a “Guelph Pride” sticker on their door front which makes the store inviting and you know you’re safe to be accepted, especially if you are with your partner. I grew up going to Hillside Festival and this community of people are so progressive, supportive and all they want to do is spread love. Although, I was not publicly out in high school, I am never nervous to see people who didn’t know, I am so proud to walk around Guelph showing off pride or rainbow attire. I am so proud and fortunate to be in a city where the majority is very accepting.
- What is your favourite LGBTQ2+ event in Guelph?
Amy: The Guelph Pride Flag Raising and Community Picnic. It kicks off the Guelph Pride events every year at the end of April/beginning of May, and takes place at City Hall, where city officials show their support for the Guelph LGBTQ2+ community, where children of queer families frolic on the splash pad, and there’s even a beer garden.
Christopher: Sadly, I am not sure what events are in Guelph for the LGBTQ2+ community in Guelph. I used to go to Thursgays at The Albion, but for a 30-year-old… I am not really into the party scene anymore. I would love if there were events for older gay men, as I feel there is a gap in meeting people my own age.
Oliveigha: My favourite event I have been to in Guelph was Queerslam. I love slam poetry and performative art- there is something very special about listening to artists express their truest forms of themselves. It was an amazing night I shared with everyone in that room. It allowed me to feel accepted and loved- as well as connected through human experience.
Jesse: I’m not a huge parade dude, but I really do enjoy going out the The Ebar for Fierce! Fridays. Great folks of all genders, great music, great drinks. What more can a person ask for?
Sofie: Unfortunately, I am away for school, so I am never around in June when there are pride events going on. Although I would love to be a part of the pride parade, volunteer or help out with pride events going on. My first drag show that I saw was in Guelph, Miss Guelph Pride at the time was there and it was such a positive experience to be a part of. Although I was not out at the time, it was still amazing to feel the support and the good energy in the room, I just knew everyone was happy to be in that safe space.
- What would you say to an LGBTQ2+ member struggling with their gender or sexual identity?
Amy: Your feelings are valid. Identity can be SO confusing. But if you can figure out what it is you’re feeling or who it is you are, it opens doors for you. Your confidence can sky-rocket. It gets better.
Christopher: Honestly, it is more difficult keeping it a secret then accepting yourself. I started by opening up to a small circle of friends in college, and gradually got the courage to speak to my parents about it. The more you hide who you are, the more difficult it is to live. It isn’t easy, and may never be depending on who your family and friends are. Realize though that you aren’t alone, there are soooo many allies out there to support you. Remember that there isn’t anything wrong with you, and if people honestly don’t want to be your friend or family anymore because you are gay, that isn’t your problem. Being gay is so surface level, that isn’t who you are as a person. Who cares about who you are attracted to, you are still a good person, who has dreams and wants like any other person.
Focus on your future, how you will be successful, what things you want in life, as this is only a small part of your life right now. I do understand this seems to be huge deal but realize there is such a big world out there, and you live in a country that you have rights and freedoms to be whoever you want to me. Be courageous, and be true to who you are. If people can’t accept you, they aren’t worth your time or energy. Sometimes having a friend or family member with you successfully came out to can be helpful when you are coming out to those who you aren’t sure how they will react. Be strong!
Oliveigha: To me the best thing I was told was to treat myself kindly. At the point of understanding your identity, whether sexual, gender or anything else, the most important thing is to give yourself the space and time to get to the point of understanding. We are a society so obsessed with labels and fast paced decisions that we often don’t just sit with ourselves and look within. Your label or your identity isn’t set in stone either- you can believe yourself to be one thing one day and then grow as a person and understand your identity is not what you first thought it was. So, I think the best advice right now is to take as much time as you need, treat yourself kindly and be open to everything and anything. If you a true to yourself, you can never be wrong.
Jesse: My initial answer would be biased, so I want to stick with a safe but honest reply. If your life would be endangered by “coming out”, it would be wise to talk to a family doctor or another non-biased professional before coming out to family. The reason I say this is simply because there are some families that do not understand. That having been said, I am a firm believer in living loud and proud if you are able. Look to mentors in the community for reassurance (ARCH has some great resources for LGBTQ2S+ individuals).
At the end of the day, these tough times WILL pass. It is cliché to say, but every problem seems much larger than it is when you are facing it head-on. Seek refuge in supports around you and build yourself up. You walk a different path than the majority, and that is a good thing, because society is stronger when diversity is present. You rock!
Sofie: The first thing I would say is, I am proud of you. Whether they are out to other people or not, I am proud. I know it can be so scary. I know you can feel like you’re the only one and something is wrong with you. I know the feeling of thinking someone could reject you or not love you, but there is a whole community of people out here to love and accept you (LGBT community).
When I was younger I thought something was wrong with me, I thought I was the only person in the world to struggle with the sexual attraction to boys and girls. I was unaware that bisexuality existed when I heard it for the first time it was like a breath of fresh air. It was like I was underwater this whole time and I could finally catch my breath and come up for air. It’s also okay to be confused and to not know, it’s about eventually (when you are ready) find someone to talk to about it, or even say it to yourself. Sounds silly, but I used to say it to myself in the mirror and just tell myself “you like girls and that’s okay” or “you’re bisexual and that’s beautiful”.
The second this is, people can surprise you. I am very fortunate to have come out and told my loved ones who I really am and they are supportive and loving. I only encourage you to come out if it is safe to do so. Something I told myself a few years later, after I told my mom was that I was angry. I was angry with how she reacted, how she asked so many questions instead of just accepting right away, like my friends, like my brother and like my dad. But I was wrong to do that. I watched a lot of LGBT+ Youtubers and they said something that still sticks with me, it was that I had 23 years to sit with this, to come out to myself and to accept myself – the person you just came out to has only had that moment. I began to change my negative angry emotion, into positivity. And patience. And taking a step back and ACCEPT that it was ok that my mom didn’t fully understand.
People can surprise you in a positive way. One of the biggest things holding me back was fear of that rejection and judgement. Come out to yourself, when you want to, when you are ready and when it feels right for you. Don’t feel stuck on labels, pressure or what you THINK you need to be. Do what is right for you, when it is right for you and the people who deserve to be in your life will be, unconditionally.
- What does the pride parade mean to you? Please draw on a personal experience you’ve had at pride in the past.
Amy: The Toronto Pride Parade has never really been “my thing.” I don’t like crowds, or the Big City. However, the few years I did attend, I felt empowered by the sheer numbers of queer people filling the streets. In those moments, it felt like the majority of the population was queer, and the straight people were the outsiders looking in. It was an invigorating experience.
Christopher: Pride to me is coming together to remember where we came from, and where we are going. During pride, I take time to reflect on those who came before me to fight for the freedoms I have today. Without their struggles and sacrifices, I would probably a closeted man, in a world that condemns me for who I love. It’s still not perfect, so that is why I think pride is so relevant today, as we have to think forward and work to make every country and people understand that being LGBTQ2+ isn’t a bad thing, it bring society closer and creates a place of love and acceptance. Pride is also a time where I give thanks to all the allies who helped me gain my freedom, specifically the amazing women in my life and who were apart of supporting the community. Without the brave women who helped us with our own suffrage movement, we wouldn’t be where we are today. This is why today I have so much respect for women, as they are truly allies that helped up move forward in our freedoms
Oliveigha: I’ve only been going to Pride for the last few years but the whole month of Pride gives me more reason to celebrate. More reason to reflect on my own identity and celebrate that of others and myself. I love the Pride festivals because they bring people together through love and understanding. When you go to Pride you feel at home- you feel accepted for however you look/express/etc. Pride festivals and events are wonderful places for everyone to go to just to feel like they can be true to themselves. I like the Pride Parade and that it gives people something to celebrate and for people to show their support. However, I do struggle with how corporate Pride has become- wishing it was more about celebrating individual identities then reminding everyone that ‘TD loves the gays’. When we all attend pride parades and marches in our current age I think we forget what it stands for and the work that went in for us to get here. Pride started as a protest. Pride started as a Riot and Pride is only what it is today because of Black Trans Women and Black Lesbians.
Jesse: I actually haven’t been to Pride due to work but have every intention of going. My friends all love it so I’ll have to check it out once we’re out of this pandemic!
Sofie: I have only attended the Pride parades in Toronto for 2 years now. My first Pride I was apart of I with my partner at the time who was a guy. My friend as well as his friends took me to my first pride parade. I will never forget my first experience being there. I initially felt that same feeling of coming up for air after being underwater. My friend and I were watching the parade when it started and the other girls noticed my friend was crying. I turned to her and she said “Look at happy you are”. She was so happy for me and I could feel the support and the loving energy. Not just from her, but from every individual that was there. I describe it like meeting my long lost family members and we have finally come together. I finally came into a space where I longed for, I came into this family, of people I didn’t even know, yet I felt so much love and acceptance from every single one of them.
Even during the month of June, I feel better. I feel so free and allowed to be myself, truly, whole heartedly and fully. I am so happy to be involved in a community that came from fighting for justice. Especially linking this with what is currently going on with Black Lives Matter community, the Pride parade originated by Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans women and Sylvia Rivera started the riots for LGBT rights at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. I am proud to be a member of the LGBT family, more than ever and to be supported and built by a foundation of courageous and brave people.
- And finally, what is it the most important thing family members need to know about their LGBTQ2+ sister/brother/cousin/and so on?
Amy: As a friend/family member of an LGBTQ2+ person, your support and love goes the farthest toward their wellbeing. Allies are of the utmost importance to making the world a safer, better place for marginalized folks.
Christopher: It isn’t easy to see your child or loved one be something that you didn’t think they are. I understand when your child or loved one comes out as being LGBTQ2+ that is can be shock. My advice is, don’t focus on what other people may now think of your family, don’t focus on the hardships that you will endure, as the child/loved one will face it much harder. Surround that person with love and care. Be courageous to fight alongside them. Realize there isn’t a cure for this, and it isn’t a way of life style. It is who they are. Educate yourself. Be there for that individual. Don’t treat them any different. Realize they are just the same as you. They want to love and be loved.
Oliveigha: That they’re the same person you’ve always known. Their gender and sexual identity doesn’t make them any less the person who you love. We have been this person, and this identity, the entire time but we are now only putting a label on things. That label doesn’t change anything. Just because we come out doesn’t make us any less family than we were before.
Jesse: Your family member is no different than you in terms of who they are beneath everything superficial. They are a living, breathing, bleeding human being who feels every emotion just like you, and all they desperately want is to be accepted for who they are. Be supportive towards them and encourage them to live their truth. They will return the favour!
Sofie: The most important thing family members need to know about their LGBTQ2+ family member is just to share love. To share, express, radiate and give love. That LGBT family member has had struggles their whole life thus far, has possibly had negative thoughts, could have been bullied by themselves or others etc.
The most important thing a family member can do for this LGBT individual is to remember they are still that same person they were before they came out. Like I said previous, I knew for 23 years, my mom only knew in that moment. I was given support, love and encouragement to be who I truly have been and always was. Remember this individual was scared to tell you, was nervous of how you would react has been struggling on how they feel and how they want to identify. They want acceptance, support and most importantly love. After all, love is love.