Mark My Words: Somewhere Between Chicago and Ottawa…

Ottawa Ceremonial Guard Band on Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Photo courtesy of © Ottawa Tourism
Ottawa Ceremonial Guard Band on Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Photo courtesy of © Ottawa Tourism

August isn’t supposed to be busy, but as we’ve all learned, this year seems to have lots of surprises. Last week was no exception for us. It was a learn and share week with stops in Chicago and Ottawa, Canada, and in addition to all the new experiences, it was even better because I got to travel with my husband Jason. 

Our first stop was Chicago for the Local Media Association’s LMA Fest, where we had our first in person meeting of LGBTQ publishers who are part of “News Is Out,” a pioneering national collaborative of leading local queer publishers. LMA, an organization that works with thousands of publications, is moving LGBTQ media with a new strategy designed specifically for local newspapers and technology. What’s personal for me is that while there have been many occasions when LGBTQ publishers have met together, this is the first time that we are collaborating with a respected national media organization. In the past, similar associations refused to work with LGBTQ media, but after decades of activism they are embracing. 

From Chicago, we headed to Ottawa, Canada where I had been invited to address staff at the U.S. Embassy by our Ambassador to Canada and my good friend David Cohen. I must admit that David and Rhonda’s hospitality, and the staff at the embassy, was over the top and had us feeling more than welcome. 

Getting to speak in the embassy was fun for many reasons. What David and his wife Rhonda wanted to share with staff at the embassy was my activism from Stonewall till today, and the road of LGBTQ history as well as LGBTQ inclusion. It somehow seemed unreal at times celebrating one’s fight for equality, including various disruptions and arrests, while speaking at a U.S. embassy. Did I mention that my talk was delivered in a secure room? Unsurprisingly, wherever the ambassador goes has to be secure. I’d tell you his opening joke about the room, but describing the room itself, I’ve learned, would be a breach of security. 

That evening, David and Rhonda held a dinner at the ambassador’s residence where Jason and I got to meet and hear the stories of members of Ottawa’s LGBTQ community and those in the foreign service. We heard first hand the changes at the State Department to meet the challenges of being more inclusive. Imagine trying to send a married LGBTQ couple to work in a country where simply being LGBTQ is illegal? Imagine someone in the service wanting to do that so they are equal to others in the service? That is visibility, and to me that is how you make change. We also had the honor to meet those on the front lines to help those seeking asylum in Canada from places like Africa, the Middle East, and Russia, where LGBTQ people escape horrors like honor killings, harassment and arrests. 

So not only did I share my stories, but Jason and I also learned a lot. When we weren’t listening and learning, Jason and I also got an opportunity to be tourists. Spending a day discovering the delights of Ottawa was downright fun. The city is beautiful and has an incredible LGBTQ community. We’d suggest it to anyone looking for a place to visit. We also did what every tourist does: enjoy the country’s official dessert, something called a Beaver Tail. It’s sort of a flat funnel cake with various messy toppings, kind of like a dessert calzone. Jason had the banana and chocolate topping and I had the apple pie. No matter how hard we tried, we ended up with the treat all over our hands…. just like every other tourist.

Ottawa celebrated its Pride festivities the last week of August because on August 27, 1971, LGBTQ people marched on Parliament Hill to demand equal rights from the Canadian government. It’s a great reminder that in order for people of any country to enact change, the first step is visibility. And the LGBTQ community in Ottawa and the staff at the U.S. embassy are doing exactly that.

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