August 21, 2017, Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa, Pride Flag Raising Ceremony
Good morning. Thank you to CAS for inviting me to speak about what Pride means to me. And thanks mom and dad for the intro. I love you.
This year’s Pride week theme is “Just Be”. For me – this is what so many transgender and gender fluid activists have been working toward for so many years – the right to just be themselves, and be accepted by society.
When I was three and a half, I told my parents I was a girl, not a boy. They need a little time to adjust, so my social transition to a girl happened in steps. At home, I wanted to wear fairy wings, dresses, and high heels, at school I wanted to wear nail polish and pink scarves. I wanted to be called she, and I wanted long hair, and I wanted to pick my own clothing. Luckily, my parents let me ‘just be’ myself. Unfortunately, my neighborhood at the time wasn’t so kind.
Strangers thought of absurd ideas, and said crazy things like: “your mom influenced you to be a girl”, or “you’re so confused”. Some people even thought I was too young to know my gender identity! Too many people even today confuse sexuality with gender identity. It was just odd to have total strangers treat me differently because they didn’t know that sexuality is about who you love, and gender identity is who you feel you are.
At my first school, the teachers made me walk in a separate line, made me eat lunch by myself, and watched me get bullied. Maybe they thought I deserved to be punished because I was not a typical boy. So, we moved away from that small town and came back to Ottawa, so I could start grade 1 as the girl I knew I was. It still wasn’t easy and I still get bullied occasionally, especially after I appear in any media, but I am learning to be resilient – as bouncy as possible. Last year this kid kept bugging me at recess about whether I was a girl or a boy, but I have been working hard on using my wits and words instead of getting angry, and so I said to him: “Why does it matter to you who I am??” He still bugs me though.
It turns out, I have to do this every year of school, because not everyone understands yet. But I am lucky because I have a safe place to ‘just be’ – at home with my family. Some kids don’t have that – they aren’t safe at school or at home. So, this year we became a foster family so we could offer a safe place to kids who don’t have that. Too many kids need a place to ‘just be’.
Me and my mom decided we would also try to make a difference by hosting workshops about gender diversity all over Ontario. We try to get people to understand what it might feel like to not feel right in your own body, and this year we hope to reach even more people. I have a webpage now, and we go to classrooms and boardrooms and ask people to walk a mile in the shoes of a gender variant kid. We hope maybe we are making a difference – maybe adults will share what they learn from our story and make their home safer for kids like me.
My first Pride Parade was in 2015 and I loved seeing so many people come out on that sunny day to celebrate diversity. It gave me hope. I was riding on the Gender Mosaic float, and it was awesome because I danced and sang the whole way! I loved that so many people were coming to a parade just to celebrate the LGBTTQ+ community! It was the first time I thought to myself, “Look at all these people just like me, celebrating who they are!” That’s when I felt truly accepted. I found my community, and I knew I would never be alone.
The following year, inspired by the love – I set out on a mission to spread the word – that kids like me are just fine – no matter how we express our gender identity. I wanted to ask parents to let us kids ‘just be’ ourselves because some of my friends – their dads or moms or grandparents, won’t honour or respect them, or force them to be a certain way or dress a certain way. I spoke up because I wanted more kids to raise their voice – and be unafraid. I volunteered to do a lot of interviews with news channels and radio stations, all to show that kids like me just need love, and protection from heartless people who would rather hurt and judge us, than understand.
Because of this work, in 2016 I was chosen as the youngest ever Grand Marshal of Ottawa Capital Pride. All I did was raise awareness for our community, and I got something as amazing as that! Plus, I got to ride in the 1.4L MultiAir-powered I-4 turbocharged Fiat 124 Spyder! If you are like my mom, and you don’t know cars that well, I should explain that it is a special car because it is a convertible from a good Italian car maker.
It was such an honour to be chosen and I am so grateful to have had such a special experience. I wish all kids could feel like that – like they too were the grand marshal of their own Pride parade.
This year Fire Chief Pingitore and Danielle Cardinal have asked me to be an Ottawa Fire Service Ambassador so I get to ride on a fire truck. Pride for me is not just about the amazing vehicles I get to ride in…but it sure is exciting to ride a fire truck! I am really hoping for a Lamborghini next year!
After every Pride Parade, I come home with sore feet and a filled heart, always remembering that it is okay to ‘just be’ myself. I want everyone to feel that kind of confidence and acceptance every day. So, I tell everyone who will listen to me, to ‘just be’ kind, ‘just be’ understanding, ‘just be’ fair, ‘just be’ accepting of us kids, if you want us to be grown ups who have Pride in our true selves. Maybe we can create a world where we can all: just be.