It wasn’t until Gary Terpstra was in his early 20s that he felt he could truly be himself, comfortable and free to honour the aspects of love and life that could make him happy. It was the early 1970s and even though he’d previously challenged the stagnant views of traditional society by starting a group in his church community called “Aware as We Are,” he had struggled as a young, gay man.
The psychologist he’d been forced to speak with once told him he was ‘mentally ill,’ and suggested the best way to cure his ‘illness’ was to find a good looking girl in his church and simply go to bed with her.
“I couldn’t imagine doing that,” Gary says, but this was the prevailing wisdom from so many at the time.
“I didn’t want to be different,” he says, and he knows now that there were and are many people who felt and still feel the same way.
He stayed true to himself, however, and when he found community in Toronto and took part in the city’s first unofficial Pride Parade in 1972, he began to feel as though he could be himself and be free to find love unhindered.
He says it felt great to be accepted and a few years later, he met a significant life partner with whom he shared a mutual sense of struggle against close-minded families and communities. He says it’s important to honour the struggles of the past for the sake of young people today who are seeking acceptance while struggling with their own identity.
There is no question times have changed and acceptance and inclusion are exponentially more prevalent, yet intolerance and ignorance still exist, which is why Gary was proud to help lead the Pride events earlier in June at his home in The Village of Riverside Glen.
He admits that when he moved to the Village in early 2021, he was guarded and protective of his identity, unsure that he would be accepted. As he got to know the team in the Village, however, a sense of inclusivity emerged and when he learned of the plans to honour Pride this year and open up more opportunity for conversation and education, he chose to share his story.
“Gary’s actions and being so open about being a gay man have inspired a lot of our 2SLGBTQ+ community,” says Riverside Glen General Manager Bryce McBain. “They’re so thankful to have a voice and again, respecting our elders and elder wisdom, it means a lot when they see a resident celebrating who he is.”
Gary says there are still people in his church community that would prefer he kept his identity hidden, but he feels no need to hide at present day. He’s comfortable in his own skin and comfortable in the community that has welcomed him today. It’s kindness, he says, that can help overcome the challenge of intolerance or ignorance.
“Be nice,” he says, when asked what advice he might offer young people today who are struggling with their identity, “and don’t ever kid yourself into being someone you’re not, because you can’t.”
He also suggests it can help to be a high achiever and gain a solid foundation in education, because struggle can he a catalyst for success, despite the hardships it can present in the moment.