As Eloise Morrison prepares to raise the Pride flag at St. John Catholic School in Toronto’s east end on Tuesday, she’ll be thinking about her father.
George Morrison, a well-known Toronto hairstylist who died earlier this year, was openly gay.
“He didn’t hide,” his daughter told CBC Toronto. “He lived authentically.”
Tuesday’s flag raising — part of the Toronto Catholic board’s first-ever recognition of Pride month — will bring a feeling of celebration, of things being set right.
“He would think it should be this way,” said Morrison in an interview with CBC Radio’s Ismaila Alfa. “Everybody should be accepted for who they are.”
But as she stands in front of St. John with her sons, who currently attend the school, there’s also a more painful history to look back on.
It was in 1987, while she was a 12-year-old student at that same school, that Morrison was introduced to the idea that homosexuality was a sin.
“After hearing that message, I just felt so judged, and I felt like my family was literally going to hell,” she said.
From freedom to silence
The moment that changed everything came during Morrison’s confirmation ceremony, when a bishop was addressing her and the other children as their families sat in the church’s pews.
“He said to us, ‘When a man lies with the man, it’s an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.’ And at that point, I just froze and I started crying and I started shaking, and I didn’t hear anything else after that.”
Before that, Morrison described herself as “living freely” — she knew her father and her uncles were gay, and didn’t see anything wrong with that.
But “from that day forward, I vowed never to tell anybody about my family again.”
The day after the ceremony, her mother went in to meet with the principal and Morrison’s teachers to raise her concerns.
The result was a box set up so students could write in any questions they had, but “nothing was ever processed with me directly,” she said.
An end to regret
Morrison never spoke to her father about what they’d heard from the bishop in church that day.
“I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want him to know I was hurting about this,” she said.
“So we never talked about it.”
Instead, she went through the next three decades enduring any “nasty comments” that came her way about the issue in silence.
“I just thought if I do stand up, I’m going to get all this judgment and shame,” she said.
“That’s what I regret all these years, because in my mind, in my heart, I know there’s nothing wrong with being gay.”
On Tuesday, which also happens to be her father’s birthday, she’s hoping to put an end to that regret.
“I don’t know who else was in that church that night. There could have been children wondering about their sexuality and hearing that message,” she said.
“But from June 1st on, I just hope that everyone will see this flag and know that they are accepted and loved unconditionally.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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