I start this week’s blog on a bit of a soapbox, which is rare for me, but I read an article this morning in the Toronto Star that has me irritated. The article is about the death of 21-year-old Brendan Burke, son of Toronto Maple Leaf’s GM Brian Burke. Brendan was killed yesterday in a car accident in Indiana caused by snowy conditions and obviously slippery roads – a tragedy for any family, made even more difficult when your family has some degree of celebrity and the media tell the whole world, often before you’ve had a chance to tell those who are close to you. So how must the Burke family feel when they see the opening sentence of this article?
“Brendan Burke – the gay son of Leaf general manager Brian Burke – has been killed in a car accident, caused at least in part by a snowstorm.”
This was the third article I had read this morning about Brendan’s passing, and while all referenced the fact that Brendan ‘came out’ to his family late last year, the other articles a) did not define Brendan by his sexual orientation b) did not make it the central focus of the article, instead choosing to highlight Brendan’s accomplishments as a student and manager of his university’s hockey team and c) were sensitive to the fact that despite the fact that this is 2010, there is still a ridiculous stigma attached to homosexuality, and focused on the positive effect that Brendan’s ‘coming out’ had on those around him. The Star, on the other hand, chose to begin and end their article with inflammatory statements that almost force the reader to choose if they are for or against a young man whose life was taken from him way too soon. Shame on them. Yes, they added a couple of positive quotes about Brendan helping break down barriers, but the fact of the matter is, this young man was more than a label or sexual orientation…he was a son, a brother, a friend…and I’m sure Brian Burke didn’t see him as his ‘gay son’. Neither, then, should we.
I have never understood the apprehension or dismay that some in the heterosexual community have about homosexuality. Even as a teen, it was clear to me that society was seriously in the dark ages when it came to recognizing that diversity and being who you are is a good thing, not something to be feared. That ignorance is a big part of the reason why you don’t find me sitting in a pew at church on Sundays, even though I was born and raised Roman Catholic. I refuse to be part of any group that openly discriminates against another…I don’t care who that group is.
I am thankful to know, or have known, a number of beautiful friends whose sexuality was different than mine, but that’s not the first, second or even third thing I see when I look at them. I see all the reasons why those people are in my life – their warm hearts, their wicked sense of humour, their sense of compassion for others, their goodness…exactly the same things I see when I look at my heterosexual friends.
Unless I’m some super enlightened being, which I don’t really consider myself to be, I can’t for the life of me understand why others aren’t able to recognize that those attributes are so much more important than who a person chooses to love. The only time a friend’s partner factors into my thoughts of them is when that friend is obviously with the wrong person (why is it that I can see it so much better than they can sometimes?) or when they finally find ‘the one’. I couldn’t imagine not having all of the people in my life that I do because I couldn’t accept who they were. Friendship, to me, means unconditional acceptance…I hope it means the same to you.
My request of you today is that you stop to think about the important people in your life and what it is that makes them special to you. What defining characteristics make you choose to call them your friend? When is the last time you told them that they were important to you? Life is short folks – never cease to surround yourself with people who will help make it a good one.
My deepest condolences to the Burke family, as well as the family of 18-year-old Mark Reedy who was also killed in the accident – young lives lost much too early.