'There's still a lot of work to be done': Windsor LGBT advocate reflects on coming out journey
'I think it was more in my own head. It was a fear of myself'
When Colm Holmes made the choice to come out as gay 10 years ago, he was worried about the ramifications. Raised in the small town of Amherstburg, Ont., it wasn't hard to run into someone you knew — and a majority of his friends were heterosexual men.
"I had a lot of fear about what that might look like for my dad and my dad's family back home in Ireland. I just thought it was better off not to bring that potential judgment toward my family," said Holmes.
When Holmes did come out just after turning 22, he found the process to be more than smooth. His family accepted him with open arms and his friends didn't treat him any differently.
"I think it was more in my own head. It was a fear of myself," Holmes said. "Now, a decade later, I'm very comfortable and confident in my own skin — and I really could care less about what other people think, but [that] took some practice."
As vice president for the Windsor Pride Community Education and Resource Centre for the past eight years, Holmes — who used to be the city's lone homelessness outreach coordinator — knows his experience isn't the same for everyone in the LGBT community.
"LGBT individuals — youth — can get kicked out of their home. They can find themselves without anywhere to live. They can end up with severe mental health issues because of depression, anxiety, self-harm," said Holmes.
"Those individuals are facing very real situations when family doesn't accept them or when a religious group that they're a part of no longer wants them to attend church. It's shame-based. People experience a lot of trauma when dealing with that."
'Still a lot of work to be done'
Holmes has observed a lot of progress in terms of how LGBT people are viewed and treated by people outside the community — but said "there's still a lot of work to be done."
"You still see negative comments on pages. You still see people treating people with disrespect based on their appearance or gender identity," said Holmes. "You still see parents not being okay or religious groups speaking out against our existence as a community."
Holmes said progress has come in the form of gay-straight alliances in high schools "which have been instrumental in supporting youth" and the recognition of intersectional identities.
"Nobody is just a gay man. You could be a gay man of colour with a learning impairment. People have many facets to their identities," said Holmes. "I think I can and try and continue to advocate for people as much as possible and continue with that spirit of sensitivity and love, because I really do feel that pride."
Meet Colm Holmes, vice president of the Windsor Pride Community board of directors. He came out as gay just after turning 22.<br><br>Now 31, here's what he would tell himself if he could go back in time nine years ago.<br><br> <a href="https://twitter.com/CBCWindsor?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CBCWindsor</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CBCPride?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CBCPride</a> <a href="https://t.co/m3oMGbuzjX">pic.twitter.com/m3oMGbuzjX</a>—@sanJmaru
Anti-LGBT voices getting quieter, says Holmes
"In any aspect of life, there will be the detractors or people who don't agree," said Holmes.
For people within the LGBT community to feel safe in their own skin, Holmes said they need to publicly condemn any kind of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and questioning people.
"It's not as critical for people that have the negative opinions of us to be able to get a microphone," said Holmes.
LGBT individuals — youth — can get kicked out of their home. They can find themselves without anywhere to live. They can end up with severe mental health issues because of depression, anxiety, self-harm.- Colm Holmes
"We have to try and make sure that we're balancing that with people telling individuals out in the community about how amazing the Windsor-Essex LGBTQ community is — how vibrant it is and how much fun it is to be around."
"I just think about myself as a younger teenager, into my early 20s, not seeing myself represented anywhere. I was raised in the county. My family was very accepting. But I was worried about that small town feel and what would be the outcome," said Holmes.
"Being yourself and the people that love you, they can go side by side together. If one individual benefits from hearing my story, then I feel accomplished and that I did my job."