An Interview with Mark Winkler

The generosity of former Kenora resident Mark Winkler has shaped Kenora Pride from the beginning. In honour of our 5th year celebrating the diversity of Kenora’s LGBT2S+ community, we asked Mark a couple questions about Pride. You can see more of Mark at markwinkler.net. Thank you, Mark!

What was it like for you growing up LGBT2S+ in Kenora?

On a late Friday night in October, when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother to come to my bedroom. I had something to tell her. I told her that I was a homosexual. She asked me how did I know? I said because I have a crush on a male teacher at school. My mother told me not to worry and that on Monday, she would ask the family doctor what he thought. When I came home from school that Monday, my mother gave me a big hug and said I wasn't a homosexual. She told me the doctor said it was just a phase and that I would grow out of it. Whew, what a relief!

But as the days, months and years passed, the 'phase' just didn't go away. When I got to high school in grade 9, I went to the library and looked up the word "homosexual" in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I'll never forget the chill that went down my spine when I read the one-word definition: deviant. I was being defined as an outcast, abnormal, and just not healthy. That's why growing up in Kenora, I kept my true feelings under wraps for many years.

And, although I had moments of depression and sadness, I was determined to have a happy, fulfilled life in high school. I was able to get through all of this because I had two incredible parents. They give me confidence, self-esteem, and drive to do whatever I wanted in life. And that's what I did.  I came out to both my parents in 1985. I had met my partner Charlie and the time was right. I was truly blessed because my parents treated him as their own son and gave us their love and support and complete approval of our lifestyle.

Why do you think Pride is still important?

When I was very young, I remember my grandmother teaching me to "es nicht vergessen" (never forget). What she was telling me was that the struggle against prejudice never ends. And, although we have made tremendous gains, one look at today's political climate shows that bigotry is making a resurgence. That's why Pride is more important than ever. Because if we forget, we risk losing our hard-won rights to live our lives peacefully, openly, proudly.

What's your favourite Pride memory?

I have two favourite Pride memories. One is from 1982, my first summer in New York City. The Pride March went from Fifth Avenue all the way down to Greenwich Village. I had joined the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, and  I marched proudly with them, singing my heart out while thousands of spectators cheered us on. I'd never seen so many of our LGBT2S+ together in one place. It was overwhelming, and it was at that point that I understood why the month of June is named "Pride Month."

The other memory was the first Gay Pride March in Kenora. I never thought that the small town where I grew up would have a Gay Pride March in my lifetime.

But Kenora has proven to me, time and again, to judge people on their merits and not on race, gender, or sexual orientation. In the early '80s, Kenora elected a Jewish mayor, my father. And leave it to my mother to have no problems telling anybody she met in Kenora that I was gay. More than once, I had to remind her that not everyone needed to know if they didn't ask.

I know my parents would have walked with me on that first Pride March. To see the Pride March grow year after year brings me back to this beautiful town year after year.