Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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Brock McGillis – First but not Last

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Photo courtesy of Brock McGillis

Brock McGillis isn’t just a former OHL and professional hockey playing, having played in both the USA and Europe; he is also the first, and so far only, pro hockey player to openly come out as gay.  In addition to providing on and off-ice training with elite level hockey players in the City of Greater Sudbury, Brock also serves as a mentor and a motivational speaker.

With a mission to create equality regardless of sexuality, gender or race, and a focus of helping LGBTQ+ youth on loving themselves, he has an important message.  He also wants to help all youth shift their language, treat others with respect and become the support system that LGBTQ+ kids need.  I was deeply touched by his message.  I’m straight, or what’s considered an ally, but I have many people in my life from this community.  It absolutely breaks my heart to think of them being hated just for being who they are.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a hockey fan.  The only sport I love watching is figure skating, but when you hear a story that is so humane, I needed to know more.  Brock was kind enough to call me and answer some questions.  To illustrate the kind of person that he is, this is someone who made the time to chat with me, even though he’s been interviewed by the likes of CBC’s The National, Yahoo and other bigger and better newspapers and blogs and for that I’m thankful.  Here are just some of the questions that I asked:

Children, including those that are part of the LGBTQ+ community have pressures on them that even you may not have experienced growing up.  For example, with social media, there is no escape from bullying, you can’t even get away from it at home.  What tips or tools do you recommend to help cope with these additional pressures?

First off, tell someone.  It’s hard to engage with a bully and I don’t encourage kids to do this.  You may not be in a place to confront the bully.  If I’m reactive to a bully, there will be a barrier.  If you are going to speak to them, personalize it.  For example, I ask them if they know that 95% of people know someone who is LGBTQ+.  It could be a family member or a friend.  Ask if they would want a person in their life to be hurt or if they would intentionally hurt them.  If there is an ally there, they should know that laughter hurts more than words.  Don’t laugh.  But the kid being bullied needs to stay strong and not react.

You have openly admitted that there was a time when you thought about taking your life.  If someone that you knew or was mentoring felt the same way, what is your advice to them?

Mental illness is becoming an epidemic.  There are resources available and help that is available so that you can find a support system.  Don’t hide your illness – people are there for you and want to help.  How can they not want to? Part of the issue is that mental health isn’t visible so people can’t always see your struggle.  You have to be open, then people can support you.

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Image courtesy of Brock McGillis

Many kids do not grow up in a household where they will be accepted if they are LGBTQ+.  How can they get help when they don’t have at-home support?  How can you get the courage to come out if you don’t know how people will react?

Pick your spot when  you come out.  You know your surroundings and what you are dealing with.  Come out when it’s feasible for you to move on, when you can be independent, not when there is the danger of you getting kicked out of the house.  You will feel better when you accept yourself.  You have to love yourself.  I love being a gay man.  I want people to be clear and hear that.  Once you love yourself, you can withstand hate.  But some people just need time.  We expect people to be OK with everything the minute that we come out.  We’ve had years to think about this, they haven’t  Some people just need time.

I read a quote of yours that was heartbreaking.  It was something to the effect of “…how badly I wanted approval in a world that did not approve of me.”  What do you say to someone who feels exactly the same way?

You don’t need approval, you have to approve of yourself.  It’s all internal.  When I starting approving of myself, it empowered me.  I stopped caring about what others thought.  You have to accept yourself.  Seeking acceptance from others implies a hierarchy.  No one is above or below anyone else.  We don’t need to accept others, and others don’t need to accept us.

What is the toughest question that any young person has asked you and how did you answer it?

It was actually at the second school that I spoke at – I was fresh into this, there were about 1,000 students.  There was a kid that had this arrogance about him, and his question out of everything that I was saying about my experience of coming out was “What about in the showers.  Isn’t it awkward for you and your teammates?”  I wasn’t reactionary, but I wanted to send a message.  I asked him if had siblings and a sister, and he said yes.  I asked if he played hockey, he said yes.  We are taught in hockey that we are all a family, all brothers, right?  Again the answer was yes.  Finally, I asked him if finds his sister hot and he turned beet red.  The whole school cheered.  I used the moment to inform and educate him while taking him down a peg.  I’m still in touch with him today and have mentored him in hockey.

How can we help as allies?

You can help in a number of ways.  You can start by being a shoulder for someone and showing that you care.  Voice your support for either a person being bullied or the LGBTQ+ community.  Some people show their support by going to Pride an marching or by going to a rally.

Other ways are more simple.  Treat everyone as an equal and help encourage openness by not being judgmental.  I like to say that normal doesn’t exist, we are all weirdos in our own way.  Having a discourse with someone that is struggling is always helpful.  It can also be a grassroots initiative by an individual to help create awareness.  Allies need to stand up, engage and educate.

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Image courtesy of Brock McGillis

Do you ever see hockey truly being integrated with makes and females playing on the same professional team?

It’s a difficult equation in professional hockey.  Men and women are built differently and it would be hard for a woman that is 5’1 to withstand hits from a man that is 6’7.  Goal tenders aren’t required to get involved in that level of fighting, so that may work.  I want the best players regardless of gender or sexuality. I just think physiologically it may be more difficult for women. It really is about the best players though – period.

My Take – I was curious about how a pro hockey player would answer this question.  Before all you women out there get all up in arms, think about it for a minute.  I’m not an expert, but from what I understand, women’s hockey doesn’t allow checking – it would add another dimension to their game.  If you think about it objectively, and you compare just on size alone, Brock has a very good point.  Maybe one day there will be women players in the NHL, then again, but maybe there won’t.   Either way, women can still play and participate.

Finally, as time is passing, we can’t forget about the children who have been touched by Humboldt tragedy.  What message do you have for them?

One of the survivors said, ” I haven’t cried and I won’t cry.  I’m a tough Canadian guy.”  Man, you need to cry, you need to grieve.  No one will judge you and if they do, to hell with them.  It’s so sad, and people will be mourning for a long time.  It won’t change overnight.  Hockey is Canadian culture and Canada is hugging you right now, holding you up.  We are all your support system and that won’t go away.

My last thoughts:  In September, 1995, Hillary Clinton stated the following “…let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all,”.  We are at a point where we have to recognize that LGBTQ+ rights are human rights and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights.  We are living in a world right now where hate is, once again, becoming permissible.  In Russia, it’s OK to discriminate openly against gay men and women.  In the Middle East, gay men are marched off of roof tops to their deaths.  Gay men and lesbian women are forced into unwanted sex changes in Iran in order to be with the person that they love.   In North America, LGBTQ+ kids continue to be bullied on a regular basis and that frustration sometimes can lead to suicide.  It was an honour to speak with someone who is so passionate about helping kids in this community and is actively seeking to mentor them.

 

 

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My Day In Court

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Image courtesy of humbernews.ca

Anyone who knows me well knows that if something is going to happen, it’s going to happen to me.  It’s definitely not always a bad thing, I’ve had plenty of great experiences thanks to this weird type of luck.  I’ve also been a little inconvenienced over the years.  That’s exactly the way I felt when I was summoned for jury duty in November.  Hoping work would give me a way out, I was told by my boss that it was my civic duty.  All that I could think of was 5 days of missing work, meant coming in on weekends and at night since it is the busiest time of year (or one of them).  Many people told me that I likely would just sit in a room all day waiting for my name to be drawn.  I was instructed to say that I was a racist (which I couldn’t in good conscience since it isn’t true), believed in the death penalty (which I don’t) or just answer the question by speaking in tongues (not familiar with the lingo).

I really thought that it would be just long days of reading my book and answering emails.  Of course, the justice system had a different plan.  My group was told that after we registered, we’d have until ten to get a drink, eat, do nature duty, etc. before we went up to court.  Still in denial over what was happening, I absent-mindedly posted humorous (at least I thought they were) observations about my fellow jurors not realizing what was about to transpire.  I simply thought that going to court meant that I would be placed in a different holding room, while I waited to potentially be called in for a burglary or fraud case.  Well, that’s not what happened.

About 300 people (estimate) were shuffled upstairs and told that we were entering the largest courtroom in Canada, that the judge was a representative of the Queen and that this was a very serious matter.  Once we were seated, things changed dramatically.  The defendant was in the courtroom.  The judge, a kindly looking older gentleman was at the front of the room, and the lawyers were wearing the official robes and collars that they have to wear in Canada, which are pretty cute, at least in my humble opinion.  I knew what His Honour would say though, before he even spoke – this was going to be a first degree murder trial.  Before you get cozy thinking that you are going to get some juicy details about the case, I made a decision not to give any details about the defendant or the victim. No names, no pictures, no who did it theories or details.  Before I even wrote about this, I looked at several blogs and they provided every salacious detail.  Everyone is entitled to write what they want from their own experience.  My feeling is, that there are so many people impacted by this, most importantly, the victim and her family and that it would be disrespectful of me to dramatize or comment on anything related to her death.  The defendant is also someone’s child or brother and is quite young – this case is tragic all the way around.  What I will tell you about is the experience.

The judge explained what the case was about (first degree murder with some brief details including the name of the victim, defendant and the general vicinity of where it happened), and the defendant gave his plea – Not Guilty.  His Honour then went on to explain that this was a case where the accused was going to defend himself. The lawyers were introduced, then the judge proceeded to ask the jury panel if any of us knew of the case, the victim, the defendant or the attorneys.  A few people put their hands up and one by one were escorted to the microphone where they were questioned politely by the judge.  Some prospective jurors were excused.  The witness list was read and once again, we were asked if anyone was familiar with people on this list.  Another small trickle of people went up to the microphone, some were excused, the remainder had to take their seats.

Before we went upstairs to the courtroom, we had to fill out a questionnaire with 11 questions including whether we clearly understood English, had any disabilities that may interfere with being a juror, any health concerns, etc.  At this point, the judge informed us, in a very respectful way, that he’s seen trials that were short and long, and that this would be a lengthy one – at least 2-3 months.  A gasp came over the courtroom.  Everyone looked at each other in shock.  He then proceeded to ask if anyone’s life would be substantially impacted by a lengthy trial and about 2/3 of the jury panel raised their hands.  The judge chuckled expecting this, and he told us that we had to really search our conscience and think about whether this was a case where we truly would SUBSTANTIALLY be impacted or if it was more of an inconvenience.  We were then told to line up, but they had to do it in sections, so I was seated until later in the afternoon.  Each person gave their form to the judge and he asked them a series of questions.  He was incredibly respectful, asking if he could reveal certain information or even ask questions related to their rationale.

Some people had very valid reasons – caring for an ill relative or they were owners of their own small business or English wasn’t their first language and they weren’t confidant that they would understand everything.  All of these people were excused with the judge’s respect and best wishes.  People with vacations booked were told that the court could accommodate their schedules.  People that  worked for large companies were told to speak to their HR Departments since many places paid employees for jury duty.  The judge only lost his cool once or twice and that was due to the responses he was getting, not bad temperament.  We were all referred to by number, not name, and he was always careful not to reveal anything personal without asking permission first.  His only frustration was the large line up of people.  He reminded us that jury duty could be very rewarding, and by the end of the day, I really wanted to change my answer to please this judge.  He was someone that I truly respected.  Unfortunately, circumstance prevents me from being too far from my phone in case of emergency.  My reasons for not being able to do jury duty this time, are private, but if it was just a matter of a heavy workload, this judge convinced me that it was my duty to serve and that wasn’t a factor.  He read my form and saw the pleading look on my face and unlike many people who went up to the microphone, he didn’t ask me a single question.  He smiled at me gently, and just said “After reading this juror’s response, I have no hesitation that being a member of the jury in this case would cause her undue hardship and for that reason, you are excused.  I wish you all of the best of luck in your circumstances.”  I thanked him and left.

This judge gave me hope in our justice system.  He made me believe that it truly was our civic duty to be on a jury and I hope to have another opportunity in the future.  This experience made me realize that this isn’t just an inconvenience forced upon us, but part of what we should be honoured to do.  What’s at stake is huge – justice for a victim and changing the course of the defendant’s life.  As hard as it may be for us to do, imagine how hard it is for the people that are truly impacted by this case.  Whatever you go through as a juror, at night you can go back home to your life and family.  The victim can’t.  The defendant can’t and their families will never escape from their nightmare, no matter what the outcome.

 

 


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Atlanta for Dummies and Type As (Part 3)

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College Football Hall of Fame + Really Large Looking Teeth

Dear readers, I saved the best for last. These are your mainstay attractions, the things that all good tourists do while they are in The Big A.  I, of course, being a Type A Traveller decided to do them all in one day (and made my friend suffer right along with me). Don’t do this!  I repeat, learn from my mistakes and barking dogs (sore feet).  Pick two or three of these and do them well!  Or don’t listen to me and do them all in one day…if you dare (insert evil laugh here – MWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA)….

Stop #1 – The World of Coca Cola

Don’t choke on your Coke, but this place was amazing!  Maybe it’s my years in marketing, but I found the World of Coca Cola to be a world of fun!  You start your tour by selecting one of three soft drinks – Coke, Diet Coke or Coke Zero (I picked Zero).  Then, you walk into a room with some very excited guides who join you on the first part of the tour.  Their enthusiasm was contagious (unlike the bored guide at CNN).  They hyped up the crowd, and there really was one in a cool holding area (filled with memorabilia).  After finding out where everyone was from, they gave us an overview of the upcoming self-guided tour, and then we went to watch a 5 minute commercial – I mean movie – about Coca Cola.  So well done that I ended up with a lump in my throat, and no, it wasn’t just Aspartame.  You leave the theatre and if you have three hours, you can line up for a pic with the Polar Bears.  They were just mobbed so I settled for a photo op with the stuffed animals in the gift shop and recommend that you do to.  The only negative thing about this place was the need to charge you for photos at every turn.  You can then go see the safe where they have the secret formula for Coke (yeah right) and as you walk in, you can pose for another $20 photo!  I declined and just enjoyed the little show that they put on.  Next, you can tour the history of the soft drink.  Amazingly, I saw an old ad with a woman who looked just like my beloved grandmother (see above – the lady in the middle is her identical twin).

Keep trekking through, and you can see Modern Coke Art and even more memorabilia including the American Idol couch (another photo op that you can skip).  You can watch the bottling process before you go into the coolest part of the museum – the Taste It Beverage Lounge.  You can literally try Coke products from almost every continent, and that’s exactly how they’ve divided it!  Just don’t try Beverly from Italy.  My friend warned me and I didn’t listen – it was GROSS!!!  A lot of the drinks are very sweet, but if you like that sort of thing, go for it.  You can get a bonus glass bottle of Coke on your way into the gift shop.  I skipped it, we had a lot of walking ahead.  The gift shop was HUGE and the customer service was great.  They gave me 25% off my purchase because I had to wait so long for a price check (and I didn’t even complain).

Stop #2 – The College Football Hall of Fame

Honestly, I’m not a sports fan, but this was pretty fun!  It’s worth an hour of your time, which is how long we stayed.  You choose a team and all of the details are programmed into your handy dandy pass.  You can find your team’s helmet on the wall (photo above, for sure you can figure out which one it is).  I picked Hawaii for no particular reason other than the fact that I like it there.  Take a picture near the Step and Repeat and then your ready to kick a field goal (unless, like me, you are wearing sandals).  Then, throw the ball into a net thing-y!  It was fun – even for me.  After we left the field and headed into the museum, I can’t remember much.  The coolest thing was when you would step in front of exhibits and they would greet you by name.  Other than a “digital” face painting station, and seeing some awards (including the Rose Bowl and Heisman Trophy, it was a little lost on me.

Stop #3 – The Center for Civil and Human Rights

If I can sum this museum up in two words – AMAZINGLY POWERFUL is what comes to mind.  This isn’t a museum filled with artifacts.  It’s interactive and interesting exhibits including one that lets you experience what it was like to be a Civil Rights Activist as they tried to desegregate lunch counters in the 1960s.  See if you can last the full two minutes – and remember that the activists in the 1960s lasted for hours!   I won’t tell you more than that – you need to experience this place.

Stop #4 – The Georgia Aquarium 

 

Yes, we did the Georgia Aquarium too!  We have the Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto which is just as good except that we don’t have penguins or Whale Sharks.  I found some of the aquariums a little blurry including the conveyer belt that takes you through the shark tunnel.  Don’t miss the room with the huge window into their dwelling – it’s incredible.  Have a seat and stay awhile, it’s a highlight.  The penguins were cute too, but they looked a little squished.  I skipped the dolphin show since I don’t agree with keeping sea mammals captive.  Outside of the sharks and the penguins, the sea otters were pretty fun to watch.  The sea lions also looked pretty squished, so if that kind of thing upsets you, skip that exhibit.  Skip the educational part at the end – it’s intended more for kids and seemed like a big time waster.  Don’t skip the Aquarium, but realize that it will be packed and it’s not a meditative experience.  I think I even saw a shark roll their eyes at seeing another tourist.

I think that outside of the State Capitol, Buckhead, The Carter Library and a couple of small things here and there, we literally did everything possible in HOTLANTA.  It’s worth a visit, but three days is plenty!  I wish it had been more of a traditional Southern experience, but stay tuned for more about that in my next entry!

 


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Atlanta for Dummies and Type As (Part 2)

So now that I told you where to stay and how to get around, I suppose it’s time to tell you what to do in Georgia’s Peach of a City and show you just how Type A I can be.  When I planned the trip, I actually themed the days.  Yes, call me crazy, but give me access to that little World Wide Web and a smattering of an idea, and I’m going to theme it.  For Atlanta, knowing what I knew about the City and the amount of time that I would be there, I chose 3 themes – food, history/current events and the typical sight-seer.  I’ve already covered our food walking tour, now, pull up a chair, and get comfy, because you are going to learn a little more about Atlanta’s History.

Atlanta for the History Buff

Atlanta for the history buff and media enthusiast starts in the Sweet Auburn Historic District where one of my heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  started out.  This was the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and to me, at least, a must see if you are going to be in Atlanta and have any semblance of curiosity of the events of the 1960s.  Here are the must dos:

  • The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site (Visitor’s Centre).  Start your journey by slowly walking along the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.  Everyone from Desmond Tutu to Sammy Davis, Jr. to Magic Johnson has their footprints in the walkway.  Let’s just say my feet are half the size of Magic’s and leave it at that.  Stop and take in a statue of Ghandi who inspired MLK insist on non-violent protest as the way to desegregate.   Head indoors and watch a movie that brings context to everything that you are about to see. It’s a tough watch, but so important.  Then, check out the DREAM Gallery with basically King’s entire life laid out for you and the history of the Civil Rights Movement.  This is the best exhibit in  Sweet Auburn and includes the powerful “Freedom Road” statues where you feel like you can march along side of these heroes.
  • Next, head to the Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK’s father preached, where he was baptized and was also the launching pad of his own career as a pastor.  He returned to this church many times throughout the Civil Rights Movement and his mother was actually shot and killed at the organ in the church.  A brief movie in the basement showcases the history of the church.
  • The next stop in the neighbourhood is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.  MLK and Coretta Scott King’s Tombs are in the front of the centre in a beautiful reflection pool.  Close by is an eternal flame.  As you walk through Freedom Hall (outdoors and beautiful) – take some time to stop and look at the photos.  The museum has rooms dedicated to King’s life plus a room dedicated to to Coretta Scott King, one to Rosa Parks and another to Ghandi.  Some of the artifacts are amazing including his suitcase, cologne and his own books that he carried with him for reference.  The foyer is filled with art and the Stone of Hope.  The book selection in the gift shop, sadly isn’t great.
  • Walk to Fire Station Number 6 to learn about desegregation in the Atlanta Fire Department.  There is an old fashioned fire engine that’s worth a look.  It’s well set up, but if you are running low on time, skip this building.
  • Last, but not least, walk up a row of shotgun houses to the birthplace of MLK.  We didn’t get tickets, but I didn’t think that I was missing anything by not going in.
  • Once we finished this area, we headed downtown to take a tour of CNN.  This was by far the least interesting thing that I did in Atlanta.  I recommend trying the VIP tour to actually get behind the scenes.  The best part for me was taking the world’s longest and tallest escalator into the CNN Centre.  Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in TV for so long, but seeing a newsroom just wasn’t exciting.  You only get to see it through glass.  They also take you fake control room with a fake weather demo.  Again, not well done and our tour guide was even less enthusiastic.

Things to keep in mind if you are in Atlanta:

  • The museums and attractions close early – many by 5pm and some even earlier.  Keep that in mind if you are going to be a Type A Traveller.
  • There is a lot of walking, especially if you get lost in Sweet Auburn – wear comfy shoes and stay hydrated.  If you need restrooms, go to the Visitor’s Centre.
  • Take the Trolley rather then the MARTA if you are going downtown after Sweet Auburn – it’s only $1 and not crowded at all.
  • Get an Atlanta City Pass.  It let’s you into CNN, the Georgia Aquarium, The World of Coca Cola, Zoo Atlanta or the National Civil Rights Museum, the NCAA Football Hall of Fame or the Fernback Museum of Natural History.  It saves you money and time – you can skip the line ups for many of the attractions so it’s worth having.  I picked up mine at CNN but pre-ordered it.  Look online you can often get a deal.