By ELOISE MORRISON
I write this on May the 17, the International Day Against Homophobia.
I have a personal story to share. It is not something that one would feel the need to share like this or even wish to conceal in the first place … unless something happened causing pain or trauma.
I want to share this story and let go of the internalized shame, judgement, and pain associated with what I innately felt was always LOVE. And I feel that it is time to let go. Especially with the significance of June 1 approaching.
In 1987, when I was 12 years old, I sat in the pews of St. John Catholic Church in Toronto, with my Grade 7 classmates, teachers and all our families for our confirmation ~which is a sacrament” within the Catholic Church.
During the confirmation ceremony, the Bishop came down from the pulpit to speak with us, the ones to be confirmed. While listening intently to the Bishop’s message, he began talking about homosexuality, and I quote his words: “When a man lies with a man it is an abomination in the eyes of the lord” and he continued to tell us that homosexuality is a sin and you will go straight to hell if you partake in such relationships.
After hearing this statement from the Bishop, I immediately became overwhelmed with emotion. Tears were streaming down my face and I began to shiver uncontrollably. The others in my pew began to notice and wonder why I was crying.
I just sat there frozen and did not hear anything further. My heart was pounding, and my mind began to race with countless thoughts.
My family was sitting behind us listening to the Bishop as well and all I kept thinking about was MY FAMILY. My father, whom I love deeply, was also in the Church listening to these harsh words. And this is where my mind went.
My father is gay, and my uncles are gay and my 12-year-old self had never heard those harsh, awful words before. The Bishop associated homosexuality with sin and purgatory. I couldn’t understand where this comment was coming from!
I was raised in an open loving family, very diverse, also culturally diverse, and this comment hit me harder than any other comment even the ‘N’ word. I had never heard anyone say that gay people would be going straight to hell and that it is a sin to be gay.
So many things were going through my mind, specifically that my father was going to hell, my uncles were going to hell and my family and I were all going to hell by association.
After hearing that message, I began to feel the immense hatred from the Church towards my family, and I began to crumble on the inside. This traumatic experience affected me deeply, so deeply that still to this day I find it hard to share freely. The “shame” and judgement continues to live inside me.
From that day forward, I vowed to never tell anyone about my family, and as I grew older I vowed never to tell anyone unless I knew it was safe to do so. Basically, I closeted myself from the world and I’m not gay. I continued to replay this awful evening over and over, believing that what the Bishop said was true, until it became my truth, my story.
From that day forward I lived in fear that we were going to hell. Those powerful words that the Bishop shared with us pierced my heart so deeply. I couldn’t even tell my friends why I was crying during our confirmation, because they heard the same message. I feared the judgement and the shame, and I felt they would also begin to hate my family and I.
As I write this, I also think back to that evening and think of what my parents must have been feeling and the hurt they went through, especially my mother. My mother went into the school the very next day and had a very long meeting with the principal and my teachers. She tried her best to save me from the hurt and pain. Which is what I am trying to do for our four children now.
You never know who is listening to your message and how your audience is internalizing your message. You never know who you may be hurting, who you may be discriminating against, who might take your message to heart with long lasting negative consequences.
“Your words have the power to hurt, to heal, open minds, open hearts and change the world. Never forget the responsibility you have over the words you speak,” said Stephen Aitchison.
Our children deserve to hear messages that lift them up and fill them with love and acceptance so that they can grow into strong confident human beings that do not have to hide who they are and live in shame! And most importantly, so they do not continue to share hateful messages and so they do not learn to judge others for their differences. Don’t we all want our children to love and be loved, unconditionally?
On the International Day Against Homophobia, I can only imagine what messages like I was made to hear would do to a child struggling with his or her sexuality.
There were many other people in that Church that evening — perhaps others that evening also struggled their whole life to just be free to be! Perhaps they too have lived a double life having to always cover up their truth.
June the 1st is my father’s birthday. He passed away four months ago. The deepest heartache for so many reasons.
But this coming June the 1 will be a momentous occasion as the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) will finally celebrate inclusivity and encourage acceptance for all by raising the Pride Flag.
This will be a very special day for me … too many reasons to share right now, along with the fact that so much emotion is coming up for me while writing this. My family and I will be there at St. John Catholic School on Kingston Road on June the 1 and celebrate this most special moment together.
This is a gift — closure to deep lasting trauma and an opportunity to stand in my truth. St. John Catholic School is the elementary school that I attended from JK to Grade 8, and our four boys also attend the same school (two still there and two have since graduated).
I am finally standing in my truth. I am proud to share that my father is gay, my uncles are gay, and I love them unconditionally and they are a huge part of who I am today.
I have lived a very beautiful, colourful life, filled with wonderful experiences and most of all filled with so much love. If you know me and know you have said something offensive in my presence, I forgive you.
But if you know and love me and my family, and you are homophobic, would you consider changing your thought and open your heart to the idea that LOVE IS LOVE. You don’t always get to choose your family — but if I had to choose all over again, I would choose mine! In a heartbeat! Even if it meant going to hell…
Once this message is shared, I will of course worry about what people will think but ultimately this is a huge step in my healing. First, I am sharing this here with this community that may not know me, and then I will take some time to share my story on my personal social media page and that will be extremely scary for me … and there will be no going back. I have been working on this for the past several years and right now things are aligning in a way that feels right.
Most importantly, in honour and In loving memory of my Father, George Morrison, I am standing in my truth, our truth. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.