By: CAITLIN HART
When Bonnie Henderson takes the stage, her musical performance of bluegrass to jazz to crowd does not discriminate against gays, lesbians or transsexuals.
Of course, that is to be expected for a performer at Toronto Pride week, which ran from June 21-30 this year. Henderson performed shows throughout the week on the stages set up in the Gay Village of Toronto.
Henderson has been involved in Pride Week since she was a teenager and was struggling with her sexuality. She first walked in the pride parade in 2000 shortly after coming out as a trans woman.
Despite the light mood of the festivities, Henderson knows that there are struggles which lie beneath the surface.
“I lost my job, I lost my family, I lost my self respect, my ego and at the same time trying to learn to be Bonnie,” Henderson says.
“I still struggle with it every day. I was well off, I was married to a beautiful person… but I don’t have what I had.”
Her journey from being a police officer in Toronto to becoming Bonnie has been tumultuous. To this day, one moment sticks in Henderson’s mind from her days as a police officer in the 1980s. Henderson was working the night shift when she received a call that a young man had jumped off a bridge to his death.
When the boy’s father was questioned as to why his son would jump off the bridge, the father said the boy had just told him that he was gay, and so the father had kicked him out of the house. It is in retrospect that Henderson wonders what this young man’s life would have been like had he lived in today’s society.
“I think that pride has become much more mainstream,” Henderson says. “You have gay people in your classrooms and you don’t give it a second thought.”
Over her years of involvement in Pride Week, Henderson has seen many changes, including a growing acceptance of homosexuality. She notes that kids coming out as gay do not have to face the same amount of fear that she did when she was younger.
“I’m really happy that the GLBT doesn’t have the fear that I had,” Henderson says. “I don’t want to see people injured because of something that they were born with.”
In the 1970s Henderson took part in what was the beginning of annual Pride Week in Toronto, when it was a simple parade on Halloween. During this time participants were frequently beaten and the parade was often the subject of ridicule. Henderson herself was the victim of such violence on several occasions.
Henderson says there is also more work to be done concerning the acceptance of trans people. When it comes down to it Bonnie wants to be seen as Bonnie.
“I think some of the acceptance issues are on an individual basis. You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself and you have to stop explaining yourself,” Henderson says.
“I like just being a woman walking around Pride on a Friday night and bumping into old friends.”