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Growing Up Gay in Sault Ste. Marie

by David Viitala, Sault Youth Association for local2 sault ste. marie
July 6th, 2011 at 11:21am | Last Updated at 11:24am

This article is a column or editorial.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of LOCAL2.

I always knew I was different from the other boys, but it wasn't until my early teens that I finally had accepted that undoubtedly I was gay. It was a devastating realization. At the age of 15 I resigned myself to the monstrously daunting task of somehow finding happiness in life while living an enormous lie. Coming out and living as an openly gay individual seemed utterly impossible. I was terrified. Fast-forward a decade later, at the age of 26, I finally came out of the closet. I am now discovering true happiness for the first time in my life. In the hope that any youth in Sault Ste. Marie or other small Northern Ontario towns are reading this, I would like to share with you my experience growing up gay in the Sault, but also to explain how my homosexuality, and yours, is truly an incredible gift.

David Viitala

Working with youth for youth, the Sault Youth Association is dedicated to the quality of life for young people through community engagement
Credit: Sault Youth Association

I grew up in a wonderful neighbourhood, in this beautiful city, in a loving home, alongside many truly great friends. I was lucky never to have been severely bullied, and to have had so many inspiring and positive people in my life. I grew up in Canada, a largely inclusive, liberal and incredibly free country. And yet by my early high school years I already felt like my future was excrutiatingly bleak. I knew that I was gay, and I had no idea how I could ever tell that to another soul. Despite having a quality education, coming from a caring, open-minded family, and living in one of the greatest countries in the world, I still had no idea how to survive as a gay individual. I cannot imagine what it would be like to live in a time or place where homosexuality is even more greatly frowned upon. My heart truly goes out to all those who are not as fortunate as I.

So how could someone so lucky feel so devastated and hopeless at such a young age? I think back to my childhood often and try to remember how I learned to fear homosexuality. I try to remember a particular life-changing instance, but nothing stands out. The horrifically sad truth is that we still live in a world where the belief that homosexuality is wrong is pervasive and in many communities hangs heavy in the air. As much as I love my hometown, Sault Ste. Marie is no exception.

I don't remember ever learning about homosexuality in elementary school, beyond a dictionary-length definition. What this taught me was that it was not something to be talked about. That to be born this way is not good. That it is shameful.

I don't remember as a child having any openly gay role models. I did not learn in school of any gay historical figures, about LGBTQ civil rights or of its history. Even still to this day I am ashamed to admit I still catch myself thinking it somewhat remarkable to see a gay person in a position of power or authority.

This destructive silence would shape my future in a powerful way; it was a silence in which I lived for a long time.

A few years ago I moved to Toronto and had the honour of becoming friends with many incredible people from the LGBTQ community. If it were not for them, I would still be in the closet today. Their spirit and presence in my life was finally an end to my silence.

I have since moved back to Sault Ste. Marie, but this past weekend I drove to Toronto to attend the annual Pride celebrations. I watched the entire 4-hour parade with a beaming heart and soaring spirit. I watched parents march in support of their children and teachers march in support of their LGBTQ students. As they proudly marched along I watched police and firemen, Christian groups, financial institutions, gamers, athletes, television personalities, and politicians. Standing there alongside hundreds of thousands of people, men, women, gay, straight, transgendered, parents, children, Canadians, international visitors, and every other descriptor you can think of, I watched and have never felt more human, more normal, more able, more inspired, or more at peace.

It is not easy being gay in a small town. It is a unique challenge, one faced by many youth today in Sault Ste. Marie. Having only been out for a few months, I still am awkwardly trying to find my footing as a confidently gay man. But I've never been happier, and will never look back.

I want every gay child, adolescent and adult in Sault Ste. Marie in hiding to know that you are the ones who will further teach our community the true beauty of love and acceptance. Your homosexuality is not a curse, but an incredible gift. You are braver, stronger and wiser for it. When the time is right for you -- and believe that it will come -- proudly show the world your true colours. First do it for yourself, then do it for the others like you. It was Nelson Mandela who said, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."

I see a lot of love in this city. I see so many good people with good hearts. For your friends and family who do not yet know how to accept their true identities, I ask of you good people to actively create a community where they feel safe to come out when they are ready. I know you will, and thank you from the bottom of my heart. To LGBTQ youth who are suffering in silence, be brave as you were born to be and know that you are not alone. You are beautiful just the way you are.


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