Editorial 42 - Reluctant Hero, not Gay Agenda
The phone rang early Sunday morning. I was awake, so the phone call did not disturb me, but I was left wondering who would be phoning me early Sunday morning. The call had to be important, because my phone does not ring early Sunday mornings.
The voice of a friend told me I had to read an article in the Edmonton Journal. The article titled “Reluctant gay rights hero seeks serenity abroad” by Sheila Pratt was about Delwin Vriend, a gay man who won a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that protects gay people from discrimination in the work place.
The title caught my attention. My mind was going a thousand miles and hour. I found myself staring into the air, pen in hand, unable to put thoughts on paper. The words “reluctant hero” kept running through my mind. I could not shake the words “reluctant hero.” Somehow, “reluctant hero” seems much more appropriate and accurate than “gay agenda.”
Nobody sets out to be a human rights hero. People do not have dream of being hated, rejected, persecuted, gay bashed, or murdered. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not have a life-long goal to be a human rights hero. He did not decide at the point of conception that it would be a wonderful thing to be born a black man in the United States, to face discrimination, to lead human rights marches, and to be murdered because he wanted equality for black people. Judy Shepard did not want to become an activist. That was not her purpose in life. She was thrown into the role, after her son was murdered in a hate crime. Members of visible and invisible minority groups do not grow up wanting to be human rights heros. They want to be treated like other people. They do not want to be victims of hate crimes, prejudice, or discrimination. All they want is a level playing field, the ability to work and live with the same benefits everybody else in society takes for granted.
To be a civil rights hero, a person has to have seen or experienced enough hate, and discrimination to stand up and say, “Enough is enough. No more.” When people refuse to silently take abuse, prejudice, and discrimination, and advocate for changes, they are human rights heros. Many human rights heros never receive any of the praise they earned.
Human rights heros are not just the people fighting for equality. Friends and family members who support the struggle for equality are also human rights heros. Dennis and Ruth Vriend, Delwin’s parents, are also human rights heros. Mrs. Vriend is quoted in the Edmonton Journal article as saying people would approach them at farmers’ markets and ask, “Would you be our mum and dad?”
Delwin Vriend was an instructor at Kings College in Edmonton, Canada. He was fired because he was gay. Delwin is a Canadian human rights hero, because he wanted what everybody wants - his job. He was prepared to fight for rights, and to not give up. Delwin took his case to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Because sexual orientation was not protected by human rights legislation in Alberta, the Human Rights Commission declined to help him. Not giving up, Delwin went to the court system. In 1994, an Alberta court ruled that sexual orientation must be included in Alberta’s human rights legislation. The Alberta Government did not want gay rights protected, so the Alberta Government appealed the decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal. The Appeal Court ruled in favor of the Alberta Government. Delwin Vriend appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1998, roughly 17 years after he was fired, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that sexual orientation must be read into Alberta human rights legislation, even though Alberta’s human rights legislation did not expressly cover sexual orientation.
A week after reading the Edmonton Journal article, a panel of people, including Delwin Vriend, were interviewed regarding the landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling. A lawyer described the ruling as one of the top 10 Canadian Charter of Rights rulings in the past 30 years. A representative from the Canadian Jewish Congress said to the effect that the Jewish Congress felt defending the rights of gay people was important in helping protect Jewish rights in Canada, so the Canadian Jewish Congress was an intervener in the Supreme Court of Canada case.
Delwin Vriend, the “reluctant gay rights hero,” a man who wanted to keep his job, ended up being a man who helped establish rights for gay people, and helped set legal precedents that could be used to protect the human rights of other minority groups. Reluctant or not, Delwin Vriend is a gay rights hero.