Hamiltonians remember and celebrate queer history month

This article was originally published in CBC Hamilton, Oct. 29, 2012

Mike Wharton has been struggling to come to terms with his sexuality almost his entire life.

“I tried for 41 years not to be gay,” said the 49-year old Oakville resident. He married twice and had two kids.

He was afraid of “coming out” — to first accept who he was sexually, and then telling family and friends.

“The fear of rejection is so deeply engrained in your head. It literally drives you crazy,” he asaid.

At the Movers and Shakers event held Saturday afternoon at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, Wharton wasn’t alone. The event celebrated the  LGBTT2SIQQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Two-spirited, Intersex, Queer and Questioning) history month.

Hosted by The Well, LGBTQ community wellness centre of Hamilton and McMaster University, the event brought together 40 attendees, including experts and local youth. Together, they discussed progress and challenges faced by queer communities throughout history.

That was part of Robert Windrum’s job. For seven years he has been documenting community history. He is the president of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA).

“Who writes history, collects history, and where does it come from?” questioned Windrum, in his keynote address. “If we don’t do it, who will?” he said.

Although the CLGA has been working to retrieve and preserve materials about LGBTQ people for almost 40 years, Windrum noted a gap in their efforts. The archival materials are mainly documentations of white middle class gay experiences in Canada.

But for queer black woman Ruth Cameron, the evidence of that history says a lot. “The fact that we’re present in our history, presents an alternative view to the overall community,” she said.

Four people were honoured at the Pride Awards Ceremony, for the help given to queer communities in Hamilton.

The event also included original poetry recitations by young Hamiltonians. McMaster student Alyson Lamanes shared her poem. It was a letter to her 16-year-old self.

“You don’t really realize how far you have come, until you write out what happened in your past. How you have become different, more vibrant, and stable,” she reflected, in her introduction of her poem.

It was certainly the case for Wharton, when he decided to go back to the classroom at Sheridan College in 2010. He enrolled in a social services program and is determined to use his experience as a self-identified gay man to help young people come to terms with their own sexualities.

“I had to be me. I’m so glad I did,” he said.