Religious Leader and LGBT Rights Advocate Honoured by Olivia Chow
October 21, 2012
TORONTO – For many year, Pastor Brent Hawkes has been leading and inspiring the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. Jack’s passing and state funeral introduced the tireless fighter for equality to a larger Canadian audience.
Olivia Chow had the honour of speaking at the ceremony for the 2012 Bridges to Hope and Freedom award.
Dear, dear friends – I am sure every member of our wonderful community here will understand if I start my introduction by saying five simple words:
“Hi Brent. How’s John doing?”
So many of you were there at the state funeral last year, or watching on television, when Brent repeated those five simple words of Jack’s.
And with those five simple words, Brent built a bridge to seven more simple words – he built a bridge in the presence of the governor general, the prime minister, ambassadors and premiers, cabinet ministers, senators, religious leaders, community leaders, and fellow citizens – parents and children. And with millions of people watching – and all united in sadness and grief.
He built a bridge from those five simple words to seven more simple words… you remember them:
“Hi Canadian Prime Minister – how’s Laureen doing?”
And with that act of basic humanity – Brent built a bridge to hope and freedom. And with that bridge, he touched millions of people, and transformed lives. He showed himself as the leader he is—an inspiring leader for everyone – Brent showed how are all connected by our basic humanity – and how we are all equal. He helped millions of Canadians learn that his marriage to John is just as worthy of respect as the prime minister’s marriage to his wife. It doesn’t matter what orientation or gender you are , or what class or race or religion – or how much power you have – we are all equal. Think of what sense of hope and freedom, pride and dignity that must have given to so many.
And that bridge was built while Brent was providing, with all his words – comfort and solace to me and my family, and the larger family of Canada – the private and the public, the personal and the political – they are all one. And that is what marks Brent as such an amazing and inspiring and courageous leader.
Think of the bridges he has built – from a boyhood in rural New Brunswick, when homosexuality was still illegal in Canada – when the act of love could be considered a crime. He built a bridge from there to ministry – and standing up as an openly gay minister, when most religions condemned homosexuality – when the act of love was considered a mortal sin. He built bridges as a minister and an activist – in the front lines of the struggle for social justice and human rights, and in personal lives as a pastor.
I am so proud to have been part of those struggles, with so many others here. We were there together through the dark days of AIDS – weeping together at too many funerals for too many young friends. Rallying together to fight for health care and human rights protection, recognition and compassion. Marching together in pride. Singing and praying together with families on Christmas Eve.
We were there together through the struggle for equal marriage and equal families – on the public stage and political arena –and in the private moments of joy for people who could celebrate their act of love with their families and communities.
We were there just over ten years ago, in 2001, when Brent had the courage to conduct the first legal same sex marriage in Canada. And that was an act of courage – it`s so amazing to think now – but Brent wore a bullet proof vest that day, because of the death threats. Threats of death for an act of love… for an act of basic humanity and dignity.
But Brent knows, as you do – that love is better than anger. That hope is better than fear. That optimism is better than despair.
Brent has always been loving, hopeful and optimistic. He has always known that together we can change the world. And as we honour this man who has honoured all of us, so many times, maybe we should ask another question. Hi John – how’s Brent doing?