Who do you think when someone asks you, “Who is your role model?” – Most people (I believe) would indicate an actor/actress, a celebrity, sports athlete, writer, poet, singer, etc….For me – Those who inspire me and that I consider role models are people who have and continue to create positive change in the world. Some of my role models include: Dian Fossey, Ingrid Newkirk, Al Gore, Harvey Milk, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Lousie L. Hay and Mother Teresa, just to name a few.
There are so many ‘unsung heroes’ who continue to inspire and are determined to create positive change on many issues – Jane Goodall continues to inspire and create safe havens for chimpanzees, Leonardo DiCaprio inspires a whole new generation of environmentalists and those who want to curb climate change and there are doctors, scientists, environmentalists, politicians and human rights activists that are adamant in bringing their ideologies to light in order to help resolve current political and social issues.
Growing up as a gay teenager in the early 80’s, I was not aware of any gay role models who were determined to create positive change for the LGBT community. The only things I remember in reference to my ‘lifestyle’ was that I was a faggot and that I may end up dying with AIDS. Mainstream media talked about homosexuality in a negative way and that it was a lifestyle choice. Homosexuals were sick and sexual predators, we were pedophiles who were going to hell because of our sin. The only homosexuals that were ‘accepted’ by society at large were flamboyant celebrities like; Liberace, Elton John, Boy George, Freddie Mercury, etc…and they didn’t even identify as ‘gay’.
My teenage years were filled with darkness and suicidal thoughts because of how society viewed homosexuals. I wasn’t able to live authentically until I discovered that there were countless others like me and that we lived happily and together in our own community. Living in the shadow of AIDS and believing that AIDS was a ‘gay’ disease, I developed feelings of internal homophobia. I started to believe all the stereotypes that heterosexuals had about the gay community – we were sinners, we were promiscuous, we partied all the time, we were sexual deviants, we dressed as woman, we were heavy drug users, pedophiles, faggots, should be killed and I thought I would die of AIDS because I was gay.
My life changed after I left home and moved in with my first serious boyfriend. I knew he was HIV – and thought that this would not affect me in any way, I was wrong. I stayed with him for all the wrong reasons – I felt sorry for him and found it very difficult to end our relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I cared for him very much, but I knew it wasn’t going to last. The best thing about our relationship was the education and awareness I received regarding HIV and AIDS. I formed wonderful relationships with many individuals who were victims of misinformation and bigotry surrounding this disease.
I recently watched The Normal Heart, the movie written by Larry Kramer and directed by Ryan Murphy. This movie brought up so many feelings and emotions I had during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I was enraged that it took so long for governments to act to contain the spread of the disease. I was angered at how society viewed and treated homosexuals during a time when they required compassion the most. I felt that I could easily have been a character in the movie – I lived most of it already. I may not have lost as many friends as the generation before me did to the disease but I certainly knew of individuals who experienced many of the same shaming, judgements, hatred and discrimination as the characters of The Normal Heart did.
So who are my role models – those who are courageous enough to tell these stories without fear of recourse. Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch, Larry Kramer, Ryan Murphy, Brad Pitt, Matt Boomer, the entire cast of this movie. These celebrities and the real people who experienced these stories are my role models. People who want to see the end of human suffering and who want to create positive change in the world – those are my role models.
I remember a discussion I had with the Director of The AIDS Committee of Toronto in the early 1990’s. A discussion that revolved around my internal homophobia in which he offered this advice: “Think about who you are hurting regarding how you feel – yourself. Do you want to move forward and become happy or do want to continue living a life on how others perceive you to be?” David is no longer with us today. He was one of the great people we lost to this disease and his understanding, empathy, compassion and love continues to inspire me to create positive change in our world.
This blog is my THANK YOU to all who continue to inspire despite the challenges they face and all the people we have lost because of the positive change they wanted to create in the world.
Together, we can make the world a more positive one!