High profile entertainers, business people and politicians to congratulate Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes on his 65th birthday next Wednesday with wine, food and song at Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park
By Dennis Kucherawy, Corktown Correspondent
Recently, media around the world trumpeted news that an Irish referendum successfully supported same-sex marriage in that country, and all sorts of leprechaun marriages will soon be legal there.
Well, before you can say, “Do you Eoin take Liam?,” you should know Toronto beat them to it. Ireland has finally caught up with us.
Fourteen years ago, on January 14, 2001, Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes led the way, performing the world’s first such marriage in nearby Riverdale at Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. (MCC Toronto)
That is just one of the senior pastor’s remarkable achievements since he arrived at the church in 1977. He has received numerous awards including the 2002 and 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals. He was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2008 inrecognition of his achievements as “a champion of human rights and social justice for decades.”
In 2012, the European gay magazine Mate named him one of the “500 most influential gay men in the world.”
And last summer, he was chosen to be Grand Marshall of Toronto’s World Pride Parade, a distinction that moved him greatly because, he said, he identified it as “an internal recognition from our communities.” He said he feels in many ways he walked not only because of what he has done as an individual. He walked because of “what we’ve done as a church.”
Now, politicians, including former Ontario premier Bob Rae and City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, and others will join at Daniels Spectrum next Wednesday, June 10 to celebrate Rev. Dr. Hawkes’ birthday in an evening of food, drinks and entertainment. You can get tickets online.
The event can also be considered a celebration of the Daniels Spectrum itself as just last week in Los Angeles “the transformative cultural centre at the heart of the regenerated Regent Park Community” was awarded a prestigious “Great Places” award by the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) at its 46th annual conference. You can read about the award here.
The location is also a serendipitous one as for many years Regent Park housed some of Toronto’s poorest, disadvantaged, dispossessed and outcast citizens, people on whose behalf Rev. Hawkes tirelessly works to help and advocate.
Councillor Wong-Tam, a Buddhist, paid tribute to Dr. Hawkes last year, telling the Toronto Star she found sanctuary as an LGBTQ teenager at MCC Toronto: “(Hawkes) was a visionary and he was able to do that, send a message really loudly and clearly, demonstrating to his community … that they can come here and belong and feel safe, regardless of whatever God you can choose to worship. There is a space for you there. That’s the beauty of Brent Hawkes.”
Wong-Tam is just one of hundreds of thousands. Reverend Hawkes reaches people worldwide as MCC Toronto services every Sunday at 11 a.m. are broadcast internationally on the Internet to approximately 120 countries, including Jamica and Uganda where homosexuality is punishable by death. Immigrants often arrive in Canada to seek a new life after hearing his sermons, amazed to learn that a country exists where they can live their lives as they are, free of fear and persecution.
MCC Toronto also played an important role in the life of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. Then married, she struggled to gather the courage to come out. She would leave her home in a Toronto subdivision and drive to Riverdale to meet her new partner at the church in search of comfort and strength.
Wednesday’s celebration will feature a Canadian treasure, singer Jackie Richardson, and former Shaw Festival star Thom Allison, amongst others, who will entertain with the noted Choir of MCC Toronto under the direction of the acclaimed and talented Diane Leah.
Ms.Richardson is just one of Canada’s acclaimed musical theatre stars — and emerging performers — who regularly perform the Offertory at Sunday Services. Others have included: Tony nominee Louise Pitre, Broadway star of “Mama Mia”; Stephanie Martin, one of the first Canadian Éponines in the international juggernaut “Les Misérables”; Dora Award-winning Sterling Jarvis; and Toronto’s Jeigh Madjus who recently appeared off-Broadway in the hit David Byrne/Fatboy Slim musical “Here Lies Love.”
Here is a taste of Jackie Richardson in performance:
What makes Jackie Richardson so universally admired? Micah Barnes, jazz singer and former member of The Nylons, who often performs with her, says the answer is simple: “She is made of love!”
“Her heart is completely in everything she does, she can’t sing a false note,” he says. “Working with her, I have learned a lot about our job as communicators of the human condition, the human spirit. (She) is a walking talking example of being committed to (her) job as an artist.”
Winnipeg born and raised Thom,Allison, who earned rave reviews as Coalhouse Walker in “Ragtime”during Shaw Festival’s 2012 season, calls MCC Toronto a special place. “I was welcomed with such warmth and kindness,” he recalls. “It made me think of my parents. They are Baptists and always were filled with the best parts of religion– a love of fellowship, spirituality (which is different from religion), and good will. I’ve always felt when I sing at MCC … and especially when I get to sing with the choir… that I’m actually making a direct contact with people and the divine in all of us.”
Here is Thom Allison performing in 2010 with the MCC Toronto choir at the church’s traditional Christmas Eve concert at Roy Thomson Hall. “It was so gorgeous to sing and to be able to float on the stunning vocals of the choir… a rare thrill,” he recalls.
However, this evening will not only celebrate Rev. Hawkes’ birthday, but his courageous leadership in the fight particularly for LGBTQ rights. Police have beaten him. He did not eat for 25 days to protest the 1981 bathhouse raids.
“It takes people to persist, to take risks, and to make sacrifices in order to move things forward for the people who come after us,” he told the Toronto Star last summer. “That’s the way it happens – you have to fight against the resistance; you can’t back off, you can’t give in.”
He often marvels, “Look at how far we’ve come.”
As the Star reported, “It was tense back in the late 1970s. There was the rising violence between police and activists; there was the impending devastation of AIDS. Hawkes came out to his family (in Bath, New Brunswick), figuring they’d see him on the news as he took what’s become his usual place on the front lines.”
How could he have known then that in August of 2011 he would appear on national television officiating at the state funeral for federal opposition leader Jack Layton who, with his wife Olivia Chow, was a member of MCC Toronto. Canadians everywhere saw firsthand what an extraordinary leader he is. He received widespread praise for his gentleness and spirituality, especially bringing together intransigent political opponents to celebrate our nation’s loss of a dedicated leader.
A portion of Hawkes’ delivery of his eulogy of Jack Layton was set to music Gray Matter, one of MCC Toronto’s music groups that performs every Sunday’s evening service.
Back in 2001. at the world’s first same-sex marriage in Toronto, he presided over the marriages of Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, and Anne and Elaine Vantour, In what could have been a scene out of Selma, Alabama in 1965, Rev. Hawkes wore a bulletproof vest and eight police officers were assigned to protect him. Outside the church on Simpson Ave. just north of Gerrard St. East, protesters shook placards and angrily shouted while inside friends and families cheered and cried in joy.
At an MCC Toronto service in 2011 marking the 10th anniversary of that momentous occasion, a speaker recalled how protesters predicted Lake Ontario would boil and joked that animals would arrive two by two at City Hall to be married.
“Ten years later,”he recalled,“Lake Ontario is the same as it always has been and no animals have visited the City Clerk’s office. But the names on Ashley’s gift registry has tripled!”
Then, in a moving tribute, Rev. Hawke asked all the couples present to face each other and recite after him as he led them in a renewal of their wedding vows.
Dr. Hawkes’ work isn’t over. Not by a long shot. This past Sunday, the Church launched a national petition in support of the Gender Identity Bill (Bill C-279), passed by the House of Commons, that is tied up in the Senate and is in danger of dying when an election is called.
“We believe any amendments will encourage transphobic segregation and request that Bill C-279 be passed as originally presented,” the petition reads. “We strongly affirm the rights of transgender people to be treated with respect and dignity.” It also asks that the same human rights afforded everyone be extended to include transgender Canadians.”
Today, as he approaches his landmark birthday, Dr. Hawkes recalls a prayer he finds meaningful:
“Thank you, God, for helping me to hang in long enough that I can look back and understand why.”
Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes’ 65th Birthday Celebration is a fund-raiser in support of MCC Toronto, which Mayor John Tory has called “the epicentre of the protection of Canadian values.”
For details and tickets visit mcctoronto.com/birthday or call 416-406-6228, ext. 112.
A proud Corktown resident and Canadian, Dennis Kucherawy is straight but not narrow. He is a grad of the University of Western Ontario where he majored in political science. He has always believed not only in tolerance, but inclusion, social justice, equal opportunity for all and the right to love whomever you choose. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau called that ideal a Just Society, “the most humane and compassionate society possible.”
That’s why Dennis is a member of MCC Toronto and Rosedale United. He is looking forward to meeting as many international visitors during the PanAm/Parapan Games as he can, learning about their homelands and speaking with them about Canada.