This past summer, likely sometime in July (2018), I came across this Pride themed Pepsi can in a local corner store. I know it's just a Pepsi can so it may not seem like a big deal to some people, but for me, I was quite taken aback and surprised to see it. In fact it still seems a bit surreal.
Seeing this Pepsi can decorated with the pride flag, I instantly thought about my high school days in the late 1980's. I would often get a can of Pepsi from the vending machine in the school cafeteria to drink at lunch time while hanging out with my best friend. The cans were quite different then, and much smaller. Though, that's not all that was different. In the late 1980's it still wasn't considered a hate crime to beat someone up for being gay, or to write "fag" on someone's locker. Maybe if there was a witness to the beating the person could be charged with assault, but it wouldn't have been considered a hate crime. Getting the attacker arrested would also depend on the officer who showed up, as once they learned that the person who had been beaten was gay it was possible that the officer might decide that they didn't see anything worth reporting.
By 1989, homosexuality (or to be technical "engaging in sexual activity with the same-sex") had only been legal in Canada for 20 years, since 1969. Social prejudice of any kind towards a minority group takes a long time to change, so in the late 1980's the outlook toward being gay was still quite derogatory. Gay folks were no longer being arrested for being gay like they were in the 1960's and earlier, but they were still being fired from their jobs, kicked out of their parents house, socially ostracized, harassed, bullied, and generally discriminated against in every aspect of their lives. Unlike today where some folks might purposefully chose to lead a gay lifestyle, such as having a gay fling or a long term relationship, back then being gay was not something that you signed up for or chose to be. It was something unfortunate that you got stuck with due to the whim of Mother Nature. The simple fact is, most people who are gay are born with a same-sex sexual preference and don't have the option to chose to be gay or heterosexual.
Fortunately I never experienced any violence in high school, nor was I ever bullied for being gay because I simply never told anyone that I was gay. I kept my same-sex feelings to myself. Frankly, I was much too confused about my gayness to accept how I felt. At the time I didn't understand why I liked guys so much and I struggled with the reality that I was sexually interested them. It confused me that I didn't have those same feelings for girls, but would instead look at other guys at my school that I thought were cute while feeling on the inside like I was swooning over them. I didn't want to be gay or accept that I was gay because having grown up in a catholic community I was taught that it was shameful, disgraceful, and perverted to be gay.
Of course I now know that's all a load of BS and I'm very proud to be gay. At the time however, knowing that I could be beaten up or bullied for being gay completely terrified me. Quite simply, I was a frightened teenager all throughout high school. For the sake of survival I supressed a lot of my genuine thoughts and feelings in order to hide my true identity from others, and from myself. Somehow, I endured this feeling of continuous fear from grade seven to graduation, essentially from 1987 to 1993. For me, the fear was just a part of being in high school.
Fast forward 30 years, so much has changed regarding gay rights that even the Pepsi cans have Pride rainbows on them! It's surreal to me, but it's a good feeling. Today police officers all across Canada walk in Pride parades to show their support for the gay community, gay teenagers are able to be openly gay in high school and take their sweetheart to the school prom, and colleges and universities have pride centres to make gay students feel welcome. It's a new world! And its one that at last I feel comfortable being my genuine self in, to be openly gay and to let my true spirit shine. I'll gladly drink a Pepsi to that! :)