In many ways, Glen Murray was a typical high school jock. He played football, hockey and soccer and always had lots of female attention.
“My parents were sure that I was one of the most popular guys in school because I was always hanging out with girls,” says Murray.
“I watched how straight guys behaved and I became a really good student of my straight friends. The stereotype was so fixed that if you were a gay man and you were not into hairstyling, ballet, or interior decorating everyone just assumed you were straight and you could pass yourself off as straight.”
Murray graduated from high school in Beaconsfield in 1975. He was a high-profile student, involved in drama club, sports teams and student council. But after school and on weekends, he had a private life he didn’t share with friends and family.
“When I was 14 I started going to downtown Montreal where the YMCA had a gay and lesbian youth group. I had the life with a whole bunch of gay and lesbian kids who found refuge at the YMCA youth group, and I had my pretend straight life at Beaconsfield High School.”
Murray says if it weren’t for the youth group, he would have had no outlet to talk about his attraction to guys. Sex in general was a taboo subject at his high school.
“We had these really strange health courses on sexually transmitted diseases. There were these videos that showed a boy who was glowing green and he was the person with the STD and then you’d see him smile at a girl and they’d brush shoulders and the girl would start glowing green.
“A lot of gay people got sick from HIV/AIDS because we never had any proper sex education.”
At some point during his later teen years he realized he didn’t care about fitting in with the “tough guys”. Murray didn’t feel comfortable telling everyone he was gay, but he did come out to his friends.
“I would say about two thirds of my male friends reacted really badly and it ended the friendship. Some of my friends completely freaked, and some of the people who freaked were other people who were gay.”
Murray says he was seriously bullied on multiple occasions. He remembers one specific incident where he was with a boy in his class who was often teased for his red hair and his interest in poetry. The two friends were assaulted after school one day.
“We both had the crap beaten out of us by a group of guys. It wasn’t until my last year of high school that I came out as queer to all the bullies. I did it because I knew I wasn’t going back to school the year after.”
Murray says part of the reason he pursued a career in politics was to make a difference for future generations of LGBT Canadians. When he was the mayor of Winnipeg from 1998-2004, he often received phone calls that brought back memories of his own high school days.
“I used to get a lot of calls from parents who had LGBT kids who just wanted to talk about their kids. My staff used to joke that I was like the councilor for parents who had queer teens because I was one of the only resources that people knew about.”
Murray is grateful he is now in a position where he can be a positive role model for gay and lesbian teens. He encourages students struggling with their sexual identity to be patient.
“Don’t be self-destructive, if you’re not feeling good about yourself, don’t have sex without a condom, don’t drink and do drugs and get behind the wheel of a car.”
He adds, “Take risks by running for elected office, or trying to meet an athletic goal. Try to do things that affirm who you are.”
Reflecting on his career in politics, Murray says, “If you had told me when I was in high school that I would be elected to public office I would have said you were ridiculous.”
Glen Murray currently serves as Ontario’s minister of environment and climate change. He was mayor of Winnipeg from 1998-2004 and the first openly gay mayor of a major North American city. Throughout his career, Murray has been an advocate for LGBT rights. He was the co-founder of Winnipeg’s first HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention clinic and as a city councillor, fought for recognition of LGBT celebrations, like Pride.