The pain of coming out, and the loss of a friend Thinking about Marvin Caplan and his good deeds as living-wage vote looms at council
I skipped choir practice again on Wednesday night at St. Joe’s and headed over to First Unitarian instead for a PFLAG meeting. PFLAG, as it says on their resource-rich website, pflagcanada.ca, is a place to help parents and family members understand and accept their LGBTQ+ kids.
“The “coming-out” process can be a critical time for families. People cannot always rise above the challenge of accepting themselves or their family member, and the results can be devastating, even fatal.
I once encouraged my mom to go to a PFLAG meeting in London when I came out to her in my late 20s. She wasn’t into support groups. I get it. It seems awkward. A bunch of strangers sitting knee to knee in a circle saying things you never thought you’d have to say out loud. It’s not easy.
It’s not easy, yet it is life-saving work. Many of the youth we see on our streets today are there because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They might have been thrown out on misguided religious principles. Perhaps they left to escape the abuse that came when they were “discovered.” Maybe they were just too scared to talk about it with parents who were perceived to never understand but who would have given anything to understand. It doesn’t matter why. It has to stop. My mom didn’t want to go to PFLAG and, by the time I came out, I suppose she didn’t need to. She was eventually the mom who could be a model for others who may initially struggle with the idea of having a queer or trans kid.
And yes, there are parents who are struggling and that’s OK as long as they can find a safe place to ask questions. It doesn’t help to have friends saying, “Is your son still gay? It’s probably just a phase.”
If you’re that friend, please come to PFLAG too and learn how to be a better friend. We need them.
One of our better friends died last week. Marvin Caplan took his role as an ally very seriously. As his wife Judi says, “His goal in life was to help make sure people could make it.”
When I first moved to Hamilton it was not out of desire. I had been fired for being a lesbian in the small town in which I lived for six years. So when I arrived here I was drawn to coming out but was still working in the Catholic Church and had to be careful. I took a chance and went to my first Pride event ever in 1994 with my partner at the time.
Pat and I showed up at the library both scared and excited to find a city councillor, one Marvin Caplan, dapperly dressed underneath a Pride T-shirt and rainbow ascot, sounding like a rabbi and telling the small crowd how essential it was for allies to stand with the LGBTQ community in Hamilton. We didn’t know, so deep in the closet were we, it had only been a couple of years since the mayor at the time, Bob Morrow, was fined for not allowing the Pride flag to be raised at Hamilton City Hall.
After hearing our story, Marvin warmly welcomed us to this great city to which he’d also moved from elsewhere, and assured us he would use his role as councillor on the first “GBLT City Advisory Committee” as it was known then, to make this city a safe and positive space for LGBTQ+ people.
When Marvin died suddenly last Tuesday he was in the midst of another term as president of the local Social Planning and Research Council, where I have worked since 2001.
In those 16 years Marvin has spoken passionately in support of all SPRC priorities, including the creation of LGBTQ+ Positive Space.
He was also a fan of making Hamilton a living wage city, something council has been dragging its feet on for nearly 10 years. This month they have an opportunity to take another go at it and pay all part-time workers a living wage of $15.85 an hour.
I hope they are as committed to making sure people can make it as Marvin was.
Deirdre Pike is a freelance columnist for the Hamilton Spectator. PFLAG Hamilton-Wentworth meets the 1st Wednesday of the month with more details available on Facebook. Council votes on making Hamilton a living wage city on Feb. 18. firstname.lastname@example.org or @deirdrepike
Many of the youth we see on our streets today are there because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.