October 18, 2003
The last time we tried to enter the United States, we were refused entry into the country when we included ourselves in the category of family and used one U.S. Customs declaration form. While we wait for responses from Canadian and U.S. government officials, our ability to travel to the U.S. is impaired. We have successfully entered the U.S. three times before without having to deny our marriage, but the risk of being refused was now apparent to us.
So when Malcolm Lazin, Executive Director of Equality Forum, invited us to Philadelphia to be honoured for our work, we were tremendously grateful but we feared that we would disappoint our valued supporters if we were turned away by U.S. Customs again.
There was an alternative available to us. Being the friendly neighbour in the north, we could cross the Canadian/U.S. border by car, instead of plane. A U.S. Customs declaration form isn't used when you enter the country by land. But this option was limited for us too. We don't have a driver's licence.
The Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce solved that problem. Darrell Schuurman, co-founder of CGLCC (with Bruce McDonald) generously offered to drive us from Toronto to Philadelphia. In order to minimize time away from work, we began the trip mid-afternoon on Oct. 15. Ten hours later, we arrived in Philadelphia in the wee hours of the following morning.
Later that afternoon, we went to the Independence National Historical Park (home of the Liberty Bell) in central Philadelphia, the location of a press conference, still groggy from our long drive. But it was other people who thought they were dreaming. We were accompanied by a most Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in scarlet tunic and jodhpurs. Equality Forum, the largest international GLBT civil rights forum announced that Canada will be the featured nation in its 2004 conference.
It was wonderful to be presented the Distinguished Leadership Award on the day Equality Forum announced they would be honouring Canada in their next conference. Equality Forum 2004 will be held from Monday, April 26th to Sunday, May 2nd in Philadelphia. We are honored to have Equality Forum, the premiere international GLBT forum bestow this award.
"It's an award that, quite frankly, is for an act that is rather undeserving of an award," Malcolm Lazin said in our introduction. "It's an act involving a ceremony that takes place here in the United States literally tens of thousands of times each week. While it is cause for celebration for the immediate family and friends, it is certainly not something that one would look at as a basis for giving an award to someone. And yet we're giving an award based upon a right, a right that if it was deprived of the mainstream citizens of this country, they would immediately balk and say, my goodness that is a basic right of liberty that our U.S. constitution guarantees us. It is certainly something that was envisioned in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in terms of the Declaration of Independence. And beyond that, it has to be one of the most fundamental universal human rights, to have the right to select the partner of your choice ... and yet that is a right that is denied citizens of this country and, until most recently, the citizens of Canada.
"It takes one courageous couple to step forward and to assert those rights and to carry that forward recognizing all that that means. Fortunately for them, they were embraced by a well-regarded church, the Metropolitan Community Church, that administered those rights, but then those rights were challenged in the courts, and Canada, having gone through the process, has now recognized those rights, in terms of their values, their democratic institutions, in terms of their basic human rights, to be a human right that is available to all of its citizens irrespective of sexual orientation. It is with a great deal of honour that we present our distinguished leadership award to Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell."
We were presented a beautiful plaque by Malcolm and Joe Farrell, Chair, Board of Directors, Equality Forum and we had an opportunity to say a few words.
"It's wonderful to be here, in a city who's name is synonymous with both liberty and love, to be accepting this award, and to be participating in Canada's selection as the featured nation for 2004. It is a great way to continue to celebrate what we have termed the Canadian Summer of Love, where on June 10th of this year the highest court in Ontario unanimously ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry ... work is not over in Canada but we are certainly very close.
"As we stand here, we are certainly conscious of the history of civil rights in the United States and how that has played such an important part in helping Canadians achieve the basic fundamental human right to take the person next to them and say this is the person whom I chose above all others. We have to admit that it feels like a bit of a fraud to be accepting a leadership award because a leader in a cause is simply the person who has the good fortune to be standing on the shoulders of a giant, to get noticed at the right time in history. We are very conscious that we are here standing on the shoulders of giants who went before us, who did so much to ensure that all people have fundamental human equalities and dignities. As we look out and see all of the people who are working on Equality Forum 2004, we're having the privilege to see the giants of the future. Other people will one day come to stand on your shoulders. Thank you!"
We wish to thank the following for their generosity:
Lazin, Executive Director, Equality Forum
our appreciation for intoducing us to Equality Forum: