Peter Litherland, Vancouver, BC
Adrian Walker, Vancouver, BC
Doris Ipeelee, Ottawa, ON
Jessica Smuck, Toronto, ON
Rene Kassie, North Vancouver BC
Why I got involved with Canadian Aviation Pride:
I wish to explain myself - I have been flying since 1987. I figured it out in 1992 that I was gay. In hindsight I always was, but in denial. I was brought up that it wasn't okay. Aviation was very much a white, straight, man's place. But being masculine I could stay under the radar. For years I kept my personal life out of the cockpit. However, I didn't paint myself into the corner with lies to stay safe. Eventually other pilots, I worked with, figured it out. To most, it wasn't a big deal but there were a few people, it was an issue. It being a small world, it didn't take long before everyone at work knew.
I used to fly the Twin Otter (still my favorite plane) on floats. I had a situation when as non-flying pilot, I was guarding the power levers from over-torquing on take off. To anyone who has ever flown the Twin Otter, Pilot-flying pushes forward on the overhead levers, while the non-flying pilot holds his hand over it and prevents the levers from being pushed too far forward. So we are on take off and I put my hand above his as per standard ops and the next comment shocked me, "Get your f***ing hands away from me!"
I was speechless. needless to say, I didn't want to fly with that Captain anymore. There was no provocation.
I have had a few situations I wish I could forget. In an ideal world, it doesn't matter what your back story is, but only if are you a good pilot. But we are also human, we work with each other and you get to know each other. I would play it safe, trying to get along with everyone and avoid all discussion about anything that would lead to me outing myself as gay. We work long days in our job and when the auto pilot is on and the work load drops off, pilots have been known to ask questions and get to know each other. A typical icebreaker is, 'So you married? got any kids?' I knew this was a leading question and could open up a can of worms and to avoid confrontation I used to say just 'no'. I kept my distance. I put up a wall and people didn't get to know me.
I know there are people out there who don't understand what the whole gay thing is about. It's not a disease, its not contagious its also not a choice. The only choice is whether you want to accept yourself for who you are or not. We are all different, not clones. It's like being right handed and left handed. It's not a choice. most people are right handed, a small percentage is left handed and some are ambidextrous. Sure you if you are left handed, you could force yourself to write with your right hand but it wouldn't feel natural. That's not to say that lefties are gay. People are just wired a certain way when they are born and that's the way it is baby, cuz we're born that way.
Times have changed and attitudes have evolved and people are more enlightened where being gay isn't an issue. Now when someone asks; 'So, you married? got kids?' I can be honest. I say, 'not married but I have a boyfriend. He's an accountant and a yoga instructor' I watch their reaction. It's funny, most people try not to flinch. There was one Captain I flew with, in his strong Aussie accent, 'Ah didn't see that one coming'. Well, you asked, you were fishing, so, I put it out there. He'd never met a gay pilot before (that he knew about) Now we get along quite well.
I don't volunteer the info, but if the conversation leads to it, I'll be honest. You know its better, so liberating. Can you imagine, If someone asked you questions about your wife or kids and you couldn't tell them for fear of prejudice? I'm not talking about sex at work but I am talking about someone who is important to me and is a part of my life. I shouldn't have to live in fear of homophobia.
Now, I have come a long way. I feel safe at home and work. My family knows, my friends know and If I work with someone and they become a friend, they will find out. I know I am not going to loose my job or home if the wrong person finds out. Not everyone enjoys the same level of acceptance. Sadly I know a pilot at a different company, who flies a larger jet, who experienced a most unpleasant situation. When nearing the end of a pairing, his Captain went on a a very negative rant about about all the male flight attendants on 'his' plane. This other pilot was gay, unbeknownst to the Captain. He was mortified. He didn't know what to say and kept quiet. Needless to say, he didn't feel safe in that environment. Now, how do you feel about CRM at this moment? Your superior has just made a seriously negative comment which, while not directed at you, effects you. Do you think communication and safety has been compromised?
If you have strong religious views, I don't mind a good healthy conversation or debate. However, if someone is so prejudiced by rhetoric, there isn't much to talk about.
I don't ever want to see a quota system or a survey on an employment application. In an ideal world, a pilot should be hired for their skill, less for who they know and not discriminated against because they are gay, straight, Asian, white, male or female etc. Sadly discrimination occurs, I know a misogynist or two who don't think women should fly.
We all expect a safe work place. Not everyone may come out of the closet when the questions are asked but at the least people shouldn't have a hostile work environment. So please be considerate.
Why the Gay Parade? Well, it started off as a Protest, 40 years ago on June 28th, 1969. The Police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich, New York City. People were tired of the harassment by police and protests occurred and it instigated the gay rights movement, or really, equal rights. A year later people marched for equal rights. So now it's a tradition and that's why most cities will celebrate on the last week end of June every year. It's evolved, laws have changed. In Canada gay marriage became legal July 20th, 2005. In the USA it's only happened recently. State by state that same sex couples can marry. We are lucky in Canada, it's a non issue now.
The Toronto Parade has an associated street fair; it can be an eye opener for the uninitiated. But there are beer gardens and lots of entertainment. Did I say beer gardens - bring cash. enjoy the eye candy. This is one of the top Pride events in the world.
There is a large group of gay pilots, more than you can imagine, around the world. We love flying but we also love people who happen to be the same gender. There is a contingent here in Canada and we want to get together and show others, they are not alone. We also don't all fit stereotypes. some guys are masculine, some feminine. Some girls and some transgender. We get together for dinner etc and can bring our partners and talk airplanes until the partner's eyes glaze over. Its a safe place to connect and not worry about offending anyone with our sexuality.
I think it's important to get the message out to those people who may be interested and want to participate or know someone who does. I am willing to put myself out there and I know there are more supporters than haters and If someone has a problem with gays then they really need to look in the mirror and ask why? Why would I hate a group of people I have never met?
In the outreach effort of promoting our Parade event, we have had a young person reach out from the closet, who didn't know who to talk to and we were there for them as a professional group where there is no prejudice. One of the other organizers helped this person deal with some struggling issues.
I have become more involved and helped with organizing this group with bunch of talented people with similar goals as we organize and make the world a better place.
I don't want to see anyone else have to deal with Homophobia, Transphobia or even sexism. Until the day when it's not an issue, I believe there is a need for our organization.
We hope that people will join us, gay or straight. It's a ton of fun and there is a great group of people just waiting to meet you.