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So here’s the situation.

For a few years now, the Ugandan Parliament has been talking about an anti-gay bill that would result in severe punishments for those who practice homosexuality in the country.  People would be able to report openly gay individuals, who could serve life in prison or even face the death penalty.  Already in the country, women who are caught engaging in “homosexual activity” face corrective rape.

I’m sure you’ve seen the online petitions that are being created to try to stop this bill.  They were effective once before in having the bill tabled.  The current Parliament closes on Friday, May 13 and a select group of MPs are now trying to have the bill pushed through tomorrow, before Parliament closes.

I will be brutally honest.  When I first started reading all about this, I was hesitant to speak up or sign petitions.  If LGBTQ people in Uganda live in an intolerant society, maybe they should just live their lives quietly and not get themselves in trouble.  It sucks that there is such intolerance and hatred in the world, but why make yourself a target by coming out or getting caught.  In my mind these people might be better off choosing a lifetime of solitude, or worse, a sham of a relationship with the opposite gender.

Here’s where I realize my ignorance.  Human rights are not given by the state, they are innate in every individual.  Just because a government or society does not recognize a person’s right to love whomever they choose, does NOT mean they do not have that right.  This is obvious when we think about the right to life of those who are victims of genocide.  We don’t just say “they should willing die since their country won’t give them that right.”

The same is true about gay individuals.

What’s more, and the realization of this broke me, only fifty years ago the exact same argument could have been used to tell gay men and women in the United States to live quietly.  Before the Stonewall Riots in 1969, a man or woman caught in homosexual behaviour would be subject to police brutality, fines, even imprisonment.  A person who wanted to acknowledge their love for another person of the same gender lived in constant fear of harassment and hate crimes (and sadly, in some communities this has yet to change).

And let’s be clear about something.  Sure, conservative people are shocked and offended by sexual intimacy between two people of the same gender, and the gay community has been labeled as promiscuous.  But when we say “homosexual behaviour” what do we mean?  A couple could be arrested for holding hands.  For saying “I love you”.  For sharing their life with the person they care about.

Here’s the thing – if it were not for those brave men and women who stood up and claimed their right, even at the cost of their freedom, their safety, even their lives – I would not have the freedom I have now.  I take it for granted that I can walk down the street holding Kathryn’s hand with little fear of physical injury.  I take it for granted that I can post pictures of myself and her on facebook without fearing rejection from my friends and family.  I am free to be myself because people who were not free spoke up for MY right.

How can I not do the same for those in Uganda now?

Please sign this petition.  Please do it right now because tomorrow it could be too late.

It’s been kind of a big month for us, Kathryn and I.  No, wedding bells will not be chiming anytime soon.  But we did take our first trip together, to the sunny and bustling metropolis of St. Stephen, NB.  Okay, it’s sunny but not really bustling and really not a metropolis.  I had booked my flights early in the year with the intention of returning to my university to welcome some dear friends into the alumni community at graduation.  As I anticipated the trip I realized how great this opportunity would be if Kathryn could come along.  Not only would she get to experience the beauty of New Brunswick that I fell in love with, she would also meet some of the people closest to my heart – friends that stood beside me as I wrestled to understand the intersection of my faith and sexuality, and the community that became my home for four years.  Besides which, its impossible to grasp how tiny St. Stephen’s University really is unless one visits.

I was more than excited, as I always am, to visit St. Stephen (and this time with Kathryn!) but as the date got closer I began to get nervous.  Everyone who knows me well in St. Stephen knew by then that I am gay and most were aware that I am dating someone, but I had not actually seen any of those people face to face since my initial coming out in October.  How would they respond?  On top of this, the community is centered on a Christian worldview, granted a liberal worldview in many ways, but Christian none the less.  Would the nature of my relationship clash with anyone’s values or beliefs?  Will I offend anyone by bringing Kathryn?  Will I be judged?

Despite the overwhelming acceptance I have experienced as I’ve come out, these fears still nag in my heart.  Having been submersed as a child in a culture that viewed homosexuality as sinful, its hard for me to grasp that many of the people around me really don’t have an issue with my sexuality, and in fact celebrate it with me.  I assume everyone sees it as wrong and against God’s intended design for my life.  My natural instinct after years of being buried in self-hatred is to approach new situations where my sexuality may be exposed with armor, even weaponry.  Or worse, guilt and shame.

Still, the reassurance of my closest friends gave me peace that regardless of what others may think about me, this trip would be worth whatever risks I felt like we were taking.  And it was truly great.  We celebrated with friends, we explored New Brunswick’s beautiful nature, and we ate really good meals with really great people.  We even got to do a photo shoot with the lovely Shannon May on the shores of Fundy Bay.  Neither Kathryn or I feel particularly comfortable in front of a camera but I trusted that if anyone could take a good picture of us, it would be Shannon.

Once we returned from St. Stephen, the long wait to see our pictures began.  In reality it was only about two weeks but we were (somewhat obsessively) checking facebook on a regular basis to see if the pictures had been posted.  I was really excited to see how they turned out, whether Shannon was able to capture the very first thing that drew me to Kathryn – her smile and her eyes.  And yet, the moment I first saw them posted last night, my stomach dropped.

This is it.  We are really out.  Not only are we holding hands and grinning at each other in some of the pictures, there is actually a picture of us kissing!  Yes, we had given Shannon permission to post this on her company’s facebook page and her blog, but seeing it there and realizing that everyone else could see it too gave a whole new reality to being out as a gay couple.

I am learning to respond to this rise of fear and shame in new ways.  Rather than turning away from that which frightens me, I embrace it.  I choose to own my story, my identity.  And I remember that in this, I am not alone.  Kathryn’s love and the acceptance of my friends and family gives me courage to be authentic and vulnerable.

So in a rather silly way, we chose to embrace this new step in coming out by posting our relationship status on facebook.  Big deal, right?  Please believe me, I do not generally think facebook relationship statuses are all that important, but what was meaningful in this step was the owning of our story.  To take a situation that caused us both fear and shame and say instead that we are proud of our love for one another.  We are free to be who we are, regardless of the opinions of others.

The reality is that as a gay person, I will always be coming out.  I keep tricking myself into believing that I am finally completely out, but there really is no such thing.  In a hetero-dominated society, it will always be assumed that I am straight until I say (vocally or otherwise) that I am not.  Whether its a new coworker, or an old acquaintance, extended relatives or people I am meeting for the first time, I will always have to consider whether I should reveal the gender of the person I love.  When I am in public with Kathryn we must constantly weigh the choice to hold hands or behave in ways that “give us away”.  It can be as as simple as a look or a phrase.  We will always be coming out.

Of course, it will get easier with time.  We will learn that more and more people are gay-positive and really don’t care whether we hold hands or not.  We will learn to cope with those that do care and want to share their opinions with us in friendly or less than friendly ways.  We will increasingly discover that what matters most is that we follow our hearts and be true to ourselves.  That we own our story and free ourselves from shame and fear.

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