By Tammy Plunkett
I first met Shaun Proulx when he emceed a business event that I spoke at in Ottawa Ontario almost a year ago. He is not your typical emcee. He had us equally in tears from laughter as a gregarious proud gay man and in tears when he shared his personal story of surviving high school in rural Ontario. As he told his story, I could envision the same thing happening today in Airdrie. I approached him for this interview hoping he could share some of his wisdom with our community.
First, a bit about Shaun today. Known as Canada’s Gay Oprah, he has credits as a television personality and host, producer, radio host, motivational speaker, columnist, author, publisher, actor, spokesperson, life coach, and activist for the issues of mental health, animal rights, and HIV stigma. The guy gets around. He unapologetically lives life on his terms and is exactly what you think of when you hear the phrase, “It Gets Better.”
Better from what?
When Shaun shared his story with me, I couldn’t help but notice an overlap in my son’s story of being bullied. The problems were in the transitions; in the halls between classes and on the bus on the way home from school. But the similarities stop there. In Shaun’s words, “Day in and day out, it was a rinse and repeat. The bus ride home was 45 minutes, and I would count down all the minutes by certain signposts along the way until I got off that bus. Once off, the windows of the bus would drop open and the kids would spit, they would call me horrible names, they would wish terrible things for me, and home I would go.” But home was not the refuge for Shaun that we associate with the warm and fuzzy word. “My dad was an alcoholic, and he had a lot of difficulty with who I was. And so, I went home to some of that same stuff. High school was a long five years, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.” He shared with me that as he got off the bus and walked the half-mile-long driveway, he would repeat to himself, “One less day. One less day,” which planted the seeds of his current brand #ThoughtRevolution – Your thoughts create your reality and you create your life.
Shaun moved away from home as fast as he could to the big city of Toronto. His coming out was not linear. Some friends knew, his boss eventually figured it out and called him out on it and his work environment actually got better. It was when Shaun applied to be a Big Brother that they insisted his mother needed to know he was gay in case the little brother let it slip out. So, he told his mom. Shaun said, “The thing to know, and this is going to sound airy-fairy, is that we’re all at our best when all the cards are on the table. Even if the person you’re telling is somebody who struggles with sexuality or gender—maybe they’re older, maybe they were raised in a certain way, maybe they just don’t understand—their respect level, whether they’ll tell you it or not, or whether they can even vocalize it or not, their respect level for you, their vision of you rises. Because any time you’re real, any time you’re authentic, it’s universal law, it’s human nature, it’s the way we respond. When we see truth, we respect truth. We know it’s good, and we love it.”
Secrets Carry too Much Weight
“This is a different coming out story, but I was diagnosed with HIV in 2005. At that point, I was in the media. I didn’t want the label stuck on anything to do with me. I was very at peace with it, and I’ve never had any shame about it. But I didn’t want that attached to my professional career and have opportunities narrowed or be thought of in a small box. Almost a decade had gone by, and what you might consider to be private had the weight of a secret.” Shaun was chairing the 25th anniversary of the Scotiabank AIDS Walk in Toronto and was spending a lot of time at the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) that summer as he prepared for it. “I saw the people who beat themselves up, and I saw the people who beat them up. Stigmatizing. Blaming. For what? Having sex? Having unprotected sex? Find me the person who’s had sex, who’s ever had completely protected sex 100% of the time. They don’t exist. I wanted to scream, ‘You did nothing wrong!’” He came out about his HIV status later that year on CBC.
Final words of wisdom
I’ll leave it to Shaun, “When you come out, you’re more real, and you’re more authentic. Even for me, because of being in the media, the exact opposite that I feared happened. I got more opportunities, more people who wanted to talk to me. The news made different news outlets. The response from people around the world, writing to me, who didn’t know me or anything, but writing and loved what I had to say. It was beneficial.”
“I’m a big believer in controlling your orbit. You show me your friends, I’ll show you your future. You are the product of the people you surround yourself with. If you have people who are not going to stand by you, when you reveal who you really are, they are not meant to be for you. They will fall away, and this is their excuse to leave, and this is yours. As they say, when you get married, when you get divorced, when you leave your religion, when you quit your job, when you get fired from your job, you find out who your friends really are. And this is one of those moments.”
You can hear Shaun on Serius XM on channel 167 three times a week, you can also subscribe to his online magazine at https://thegayguidenetwork.com/, you can work directly with him as a life coach or have him speak at your event through his website https://www.shaunproulx.ca/