Richard Kall Remembered

June was Pride Month in Toronto, a time to celebrate the rights gained by gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual people, to celebrate the achievements of Queer people, and to acknowledge and restate the ongoing struggles they still experience in various aspects of society and in many (too many) countries. The Pride Parade on July 3rd, brought out a million celebrants, either marching or watching, all joyfully celebrating, and I was glad to be among the marchers.

On the May long weekend in 2000, I lost a wonderful friend and colleague who did not feel secure enough to “come out of the closet” to his friends and family. Richard Kall was an outstanding member of the executive team at Ontario March of Dimes. Our Chief Operating Officer, Richard had worked for CNIB for 17 years and had been with our agency for 7, overseeing all our regionally delivered programs, and our infrastructure departments. He was a big man with a big smile, a wonderful quirky sense of humour, a sharp intellect, and a generous huggable spirit. His choices in his closeted life were surprisingly unwise given his overall intelligence. One night, he took home a drug-using ex-con who robbed and killed him. He left so many people bereft. He left me wondering why he never trusted anyone with “his secret”. I promised myself that it should never happen again and that I work with Queers and their allies to end the need for anyone to ever keep one’s gender or sexual preferences a secret. Had Richard been openly and comfortably able to express his preference, I can imagine him in a life commitment to a loving man, maybe even raising children, entertaining his friends in his generous style and travelling widely, which he loved to do. His death was horrible and a big loss for March of Dimes and his family. That sentence is too repetitive.

Since that loss hit me hard, I have striven to recognize and support others who want to express their preference. Some members of the queer community still struggle accepting themselves, or suffer the consequence of informing others. March of Dimes like many organizations and institutions in the country employs many people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, even if they may not even know it. It should not matter in gaining and keeping employment.  At March of Dimes we had a young man a few years ago who was openly gay, and still uncomfortable that people might judge or ridicule him.  This came from his personal experiences. The number of senior people and staff at all levels who are LGBTQ is not known, but they have been significant in every area of our organization including finance, operations, fundraising, and services. We have benefitted from these competent and dedicated employees, and gender or sexual preference has nothing to do with it.

And what of our clients? Richard would have wanted to ensure that everyone was treated equitably and generously, with humanity at all times. He was sensitive and kind, always professional and instilled the same of others. Richard might be pleased that, several years after his death, March of Dimes entered a float in the Pride Parade, helping people with disabilities who are queer to participate and express themselves on our “accessibility” float. Does society acknowledge that people with disabilities might also be queer? I expect not; another frontier to cross. So many people, and most institutions don’t acknowledge people who have a disability or the elderly in their care as being sexual at all!

I write now to suggest we talk about it and recognize inherent discrimination exists in services and supports for older LGBTQ folks. Where are the welcoming seniors housing and nursing homes? Are there group homes for people with disabilities that also accept their being gay, lesbian or transgendered? Do we segregate people at an elderly stage of life who might have lived amicably in the community and now face discrimination in a supportive housing project or nursing home, due to ignorance or bias of workers, managers, and/or funders? Will faith based services show openness?

Walking in Pride is about walking with pride and I was proud to be an ally and join thousands of LGBTQ folks who are free to be in this society. I am greatly saddened by the prejudices that still persist in our society and in dozens of Middle Eastern, African and other countries that have yet to understand that all people–disabled, male, female, gay, lesbian or transgendered, albino, HIV infected, mentally ill, and of all colours—are people. No matter what God one believes in, she or he made us the way we are.