Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Ken Chan is excited with anticipation for the installation of a rainbow crosswalk across Anderson Lane at Niagara Stone Road.
“The presence of a rainbow crosswalk sends a clear message,” says the vice-president of administration at Brock University. “It will demonstrate to our businesses and guests that we have evolved as a society to be inclusive, respectful and accepting of each other.”
Chan was present in late June when, at the end of Pride Month, a similar crosswalk was officially unveiled on Sir Isaac
Brock Way, linking the Niagara Region headquarters with the Brock University campus.
“That was a very surreal moment in a very positive way,” he says. “I listened to (Niagara Region) chair Jim Bradley, (Thorold mayor) Terry Ugullini and Enzo (De Divitiis, chair of Pride Niagara), and looked across to see my
office at Brock, and the university’s residences in the background. And along the horizon I saw Niagara Falls.”
“It sent a message,” continued Chan, “that regardless of your background or who you love, you are welcome. For me that is a message that is so appropriate. Thousands of students come from around the world to Brock. It says that Brock, and the community it is a part of, are inclusive.”
Chan and his husband Warren Duffy moved to NOTL last summer when he accepted his new position at Brock University. From the beginning they have felt embraced in their new home.
“When we go for walks together here,” says Chan, “people are welcoming and friendly. They treat us with respect. It’s a reflection of who we are in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
He shares with The Local his story, growing up in Brunei as young gay man in a country where loving someone of the same sex is still illegal.
“It was a journey as a young boy, questioning why I was different from my friends and family members,” he says. “I first came out in the late 1990s when I applied to be a police officer (in Peel Region). I was one of the first few out officers at the time when it was a very different culture and environment. Significant progress has been made.”
He says coming out to his family was more of a gradual process.
“It’s always difficult for a parent and a grandparent,” he says. “People react differently. Both of our mothers are very supportive. We both lost our fathers over 20 years ago, so neither Warren or I had that conversation with them. The experience can be difficult for many, but we are truly fortunate.”
He sees himself somewhere in the middle in the historic fight for equal rights. At 47 years old, Chan wasn’t part of the Stonewall riots in1969 in New York City, or even old enough to have marched with AIDS activists in the 1980s.
But since coming out, he’s led a life of a quiet sort of activism, acting as a shining example of a successful gay man comfortable in his own skin.
Recognizing that there are more 70 countries around the world where same sex relationships remain illegal, he has worked hard for change over his adult life.
Chan is on the board of Open for Business, an international charitable organization based in the U.K. It’s a coalition of almost 40 corporations dedicated to the advancement of LGBTQ rights across the world.
“That’s one of the ways that I can help people fight for equality of rights as humans,” says Chan. “It’s an obligation that I feel I need to fulfil. It’s an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge the sacrifices made by the women and men who came before me, who put their lives and careers on the line.”
“And it’s also an opportunity to be a bridge to the younger generation,” he adds. “The ability to be out in the workplace shouldn’t be taken for granted. And there’s still so much more work to be done. We have to all come together to continue the fight for equality.”
He also values the work put forth by the many Canadians who fought the battle for same sex marriage in the courts, leading to the July, 2005 enactment of the federal Civil Marriage Act legalizing same-sex marriage. Chan and Duffy were married in 2015 at a ceremony in Toronto, surrounded by family and friends.
Chan admits the Anderson Lane location was not his first choice for the crosswalk. He would have preferred to see it at the corner of Queen’s Parade and Wellington Streets, near the entrance to the Shaw Festival Theatre. He saw that site as another opportunity to showcase the richness of the town’s arts and culture.
When asked about the back-and-forth within the community about the need for a symbolic crosswalk and the debate about where it might be placed, he is graciously matter-of-fact.
”I appreciate that members of the community provided feedback about the location,” says Chan. “Ultimately, where it’s located is less important than the fact that we’re going to be getting a rainbow crosswalk. The decision has been made, and now it’s time for all of us to come together to support the decision and make it a success.”
Chan is also heartened by the fact the town will complement the rainbow crosswalk with matching benches in various locations. On July 25, council passed a motion to place these at Mary and King streets in town, as well as at the Queenston firehall, Sparky’s Park, Niagara-on- the-Green Park and Centennial Sports Park in Virgil.
“This is a time when we move away from divisive issues and come together as a community to erase differences,” he says. “At the same time, we continue to look for ways to live together as an inclusive society, whether it’s based on ethnic, racial, religious, or gender identity differences.”
“At the end of the day,” concludes Chan, “as Canadians, we all live with each other, and are respectful of our views.”