I’ve been a queer activist all my life, starting in 1971 when I was the only woman to sign the ‘We Demand’ document, the first organized call for ‘gay’ rights and demo on Parliament Hill. It was also Toronto’s first Pride gathering, on Hanlan’s Point, that I attended with my girlfriend at the time.
In 2006 I was elected to serve as a Member of Provincial Parliament in Ontario and won 4 subsequent elections. I was the first LGBTQ critic ever, passed more Private Member’s Bills than anyone in Ontario’s history and more LGBTQ Bills than anyone in Canada’s history. Toby’s Law (named after our trans music director at EHP) added Trans Rights to the Human Rights Code in 2012 and saw me as Grand Marshal of Toronto’s Pride that year. Banning Conversion Therapy for queer kids passed in 2015. My Bills for Parent Equality for same sex parents passed in 2017 as did the Trans Day of Remembrance. I have won the Lambda in Washington DC for my book ‘Qu(e)erying Evangelism’ published by the University of Southern California at Berkeley and multiple other LGBTQ awards, including from PFLAG – which Rosie O’Donnell presented, Rainbow Health, Inspire lifetime, and others.
Before my election, on September 29th, 2001, I was honoured to perform Canada’s first legalized same sex marriage. We read the Banns form at Emmanuel Howard Park United Church as per Church tradition which meant the women didn’t have to be refused at City Hall. The form said ‘Bride’ and ‘Groom’ and there was no mention of gender so we sent it into the Registrar General with prayer hoping they would vet it -- and they did. They believed ‘Paula’ was a man’s name. There really is a Holy Spirit! We, along with the press, celebrated the marriage and I tried to get other United Church Clergy to do the same as an act of civil disobedience which we hoped would hasten the law change.
The Registrar General’s office reacted by sending me a letter threatening to cancel my license and copied in the Toronto Conference office (see attached). Sadly, the United Church refused to assist me, the couple, or my congregation. Thankfully my lawyer, Douglas Elliott and the CBC and other media helped prevent that and within 2 years the law was changed.
My ask for an apology is personal: both Church and State abandoned me. While this was happening, I was targeted by hate mail and online attacks and threats.
I don’t need the entire United Church to apologize and I greatly admire the work of both Iridesce and Affirm. I have no issue with them. I do however require, and I believe deserve, an apology from at least a few of those who could of and should have come to my defense back in 2002. I would offer that this happen in a service which we could host at Trinity St Paul’s - my current congregation. Such an apology would be good for the soul of our United Church and would assist in my own and others healing.
I have asked for this privately and finally, publicly at a Press Conference at Queens Park on April 9th (see att). Proof again that God is at work in the world, it looks as if the Ontario Government will offer an apology. This begs the question: where is the United Church?
~ Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo
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Editor's note: this story continues to emerge. Please visit often for updates.
Update (April 18, 2018): Click here to read an apology to Rev. DiNovo from The Honourable Tracy MacCharles, MPP Pickering-Scarborough East. (PDF, 52K)
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(Story shared with permission. Newspaper clipping: provided by Rev. DiNovo. Photo credit: Wix.)
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