I was moved and honoured this past Monday evening to accept the Ally Award from PFLAG Canada. PFLAG Canada is Canada’s only national organization that helps all Canadians who are struggling with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. PFLAG Canada supports, educates and provides resources to parents, families, friends and colleagues with questions or concerns, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Below is my acceptance speech from the reception:
I believe that the PFLAG “Ally Award” has great significance, and I was flattered to accept it on Monday night on behalf of the Burke family. But I hope the day comes, and soon, when this award is retired as obsolete.
A parent’s unconditional love and acceptance of their child is unremarkable, and should be automatic. It deserves no accolades or praise. Make no mistake, the hero here was Brendan. What Brendan did took courage. Coming out in arguably the most macho of the professional sports. Now that was worthy of an award.
Most walls in society have been breached or levelled over time. But not this one – professional sports in North America has no gay presence. And certainly the NHL does not. These walls have not been breached, have not been levelled. Bias, suspicion and prejudice still prevail. Our goal has to be to continue to level these barriers.
Great progress has been made. But much hard work still lies ahead. Gradual change has been interspersed with radical statements and positions. Brendan’s lot as a gay man in general was far better than it would have been in 1980. But the process must continue. Today, we are talking about battling ignorance,fear and bias. And I am going to ask everybody to agree to take three steps going forward – and to eliminate homophobia.
Why am I receiving this award? Because my son was gay. And I lost him in a car accident on February 5,2010. Brendan came out in a very public way shortly before we lost him. He changed lives, and he has inspired me to do the same.
But my favourite thing about my son telling me he was gay – I didn’t have to take anything back. My children were raised in a home which taught acceptance. This is the first step, practice and teach acceptance. Of the three steps, this is the most important. If everyone practices acceptance, this issue will go away over time.
There will come a time when you look back and reflect on your life – what will you see? Don’t regret how you acted! Don’t be embarrassed by things you said! The real world for gay men – when Brendan came out, I told him to keep his head on a swivel – which is sick.
Bill of rights: my general views: (racism and homophobia have no place).
A. I believe every student has a right to their own color, religion and sexual orientation.
B. I believe every student has the right to attend school without intimidation, harassment or verbal abuse, let alone physical fear.
C. I believe acceptance is the key to harmony. Not tolerance.
D. I believe good citizenship imposes a duty of acceptance.
Our greatest ally is time. Look at the change since I attended high school – no gay students (of course there were, but they dared not come out). In the last fifty years, there has been a massive change in the acceptance level and roles / respect due to women and people of color. And in that same period, there has been an impressive change for the LGBT Community. But not change at the same level. It is still difficult to be gay for many young people. I know first-hand from the letters I receive – kids and parents. Hard to reconcile how well Brendan was received with the awful letters I receive and the stories I hear. The fear, the loneliness – it’s a real problem.
So if good citizenship imposes a duty of acceptance: how can you help?
This is the second step – support this group. Take an affirmative step to support the LGBT Community. Visit the Ally Effect website. Join a gay/straight alliance. Join PFLAG.
But a macho code persists – bullying and homophobic slurs prevail. They are mostly habitual, I believe, but still hurtful and wrong. The third step is to eliminate bullying and homophobic slurs.
Bullying is a person gaining power or status by picking on someone who really cannot defend themselves. It is despicable, cowardly, and gutless, but it only works if other people grant that power or status. We all need to stand up to bullies. Don’t’ tolerate it – intercede if you can, report it if you can’t. Suicide is the biggest risk this community faces in terms of cause of death.
Take three steps….you can help! Start today.
1. Practice and teach acceptance – starting in the workplace. Teach acceptance in your home, and acknowledge the value of every person. Vote acceptance – support politicians who support the LGBT agenda. Insist upon acceptance.
2. Make a statement – join a group that supports the LGBT Community – PFLAG, EGALE, GLAAD, You Can Play.
3. End bullying and homophobic slurs.
For more information on PFLAG Canada, please visit their website at http://www.pflagcanada.ca
Brian P. Burke
President and General Manager