Come Home Queer 2022: “Home is a Powerful Word”

14 queer Newfoundlanders and Labradorians—both those born here and those who chose this place later in life—share what ‘home’ means to them.

What does it mean to come home? This was the question at the heart of Newfoundland and Labrador’s very first Come Home Queer festival, and one that was explored deeply at the “There’s No Place like HOME” panel on Saturday, July 16, 2022.

Depending on who you are and where—and when—you are from, ‘home’ can mean many different things. Home can be a welcoming space or a threatening one, a safe harbour or hostile territory—or sometimes all of these at once. Home can be a place you are from, or a place you find, or a place you make yourself. It can be rooted in a very specific time and place, or a kind of timelessness you access in and through the body you bring with you everywhere. It can be as big as the sea and the sky, or as small and subtle as a smell, a taste, a sound, a colour.

And sometimes, as many people discovered that weekend in Small Point-Broad Cove-Blackhead-Adam’s Cove, you can find yourself coming home to a place you’ve never been before.

Eva Crocker. Photo: Alex Stead.

Organized by broadcaster Angela Antle, the idea was to explore what the concept of ‘home’ meant to a number of queer Newfoundlanders and Labradorians—some who were born here, and others who made this place their chosen home later in life. Moderated by author Eva Crocker, the stories we heard were moving, funny, painful, uplifting, tragic, and joyous, and everything in between.

“I’m from St. John’s and I live in Montreal, but my Aunt Wanda has been bringing me out since I was a baby, and it’s a really special place to me,” Crocker explained. “My girlfriend came last week from the mainland, and I was a little nervous ’cause she’s a big city girl so I didn’t know what she was going to think. But she was driving the quad. She called me yesterday to say she missed the bay and she felt so welcomed and at home here.”

“It was really moving to hear my Aunt and her friends and members of this community tell stories about the past 30 years on this shore,” she continued. “Now we’re going to have some more powerful stories.”

Denise Cole

Denise Cole. Photo: Alex Stead.

First to speak was Denise Cole, a Two-Spirit Inuk Labradorian residing in St. John’s who holds ceremony, protects land and water, and walks in a spiritual way. They are fluid in their gender, sexuality, and relationships as a form of decolonization. For them, ‘home’ is both community and healing.

“When you come from complex trauma, the word ‘home’ does not give safety, right,” Cole began. “Home was a pretty troubling place. So I’ve had to reclaim the word ‘home’ in many ways. So where has home been for me? Home has become community. It’s how I sought out community—how community has sought out me.”

“I’m a recovering addict,” they added. “It’s taken a long time to stop destroying myself and to start that healing work. I found a recovery community that’s led me to moving to St. John’s. They’re very much home for me. I found people who have become home for me—like my late friend and elder, Jim Learning.”

“There’s a lot of different things over the years that have become this sense of home,” Cole continued. “At one point, when we could go to Muskrat Falls there’s a cove—it doesn’t exist anymore now, the land has changed drastically. But there was a lookout, and if you’re Indigenous to Labrador, there’s something there—you feel it, it’s generations who have been there. Our worlds, their worlds, they all coincide—we fall together in this place. I’ve gone back to that place many times in my mind, and in my ceremony.”

“We make community, we decide where our footprint is going to be and where close connections are going to be,” they concluded. “That was a big part of my healing journey and I thank you all for allowing me to share it here. Because now just by telling it, we extended home right here. This gets to be a piece of home as well, and you all get to be a part.”

Sue Rose

Sue Rose. Photo: Alex Stead.

Next was Sue Rose, an educator and longtime activist for queer and trans students as well as those with ADHD and autism. For her, home is a sense of belonging, a sense of being loved.

“You know, home is a building, right? It’s a building,” Rose began. “But it’s so much more, because home is where your foundation begins. For me, my foundation began when my parents Bertha Warren and Johnny Rose adopted me. They had no idea what they were getting themselves into. But I was a person that was adored—I was dad’s little boy (and girl), I was my mom’s everything. I knew I was loved. So that guided me.”

“I found out I was adopted at 11, and it did something to me,” she added. “Oh my God, you’re not my mother? It was so dramatic for me. All of a sudden I feel, ‘wow, I’m alone.’ I also knew I was very different. I felt alone, and I was also attracted to girls. My mom knew I was getting really depressed, and she had a friend who said: ‘listen, I can get her in to see a psychiatrist at the Waterford.’ So I left in Grade 9 around the middle of December.”

“When I went into the Waterford I was told I was going to go in and just chat with this man,” Rose continued. “They lied. They didn’t let me out. And my parents were in Corner Brook, and I wasn’t allowed to make a phone call. Christmas is approaching, and I said I want to call my mom. I was not allowed. So New Year’s Eve comes, and I knew that they were going to have a big party. And so I planned it—I left to go to the washroom and crawled away, and made the phone call to my mom. She was there the next day!”

“The psychiatrist was walking with her and when I turned, there was my mother,” she recalled. “I ran to my mother, who I was really unhappy with, and told her I hated her because she lied to me. The doctor told her there was going to be shock treatment and my mom just looked at me and she said ‘there’s no shock treatment, go get your suitcase, Susie.’ I got my suitcase and the doctor kept saying ‘well I’m not taking responsibility if something happens and she’s a suicide.’ And my mom stopped right in the corridor: ‘this is my daughter. I’m taking responsibility for my daughter.’ And she put her arm around me, and when I walked out of the Waterford that day, I knew I had a sense of belonging like never before. This is the woman: not flesh of my flesh, not bone of my bone, but still mysteriously my own. She said: ‘Never forget for one single second, Susie: you didn’t grow under my heart. You grew in it.’”

“It is the belonging,” Rose concluded. “If you do not develop a sense of belonging, you go nowhere in life. You have to belong. That gave me the strength to stand up and say: I don’t care if I’m in the room with the queen. I’m as good as anyone on the planet.”

Xaiver Michael Campbell

Xaiver Michael Campbell. Photo: Alex Stead.

Next was Xaiver Michael Campbell, a writer born and raised in Jamaica and who has called Newfoundland home for more than a decade. He spoke about finding his home at 216 Water Street—”but most family members called it The Zone,” a gay club in downtown St. John’s that closed in 2010.

“I had considered myself pretty lucky to have moved to St. John’s at a time where I could’ve gone into The Zone and discovered what I considered to be my home,” Campbell began. “Of course, the first time I went there it was closed. This little gay boy from Jamaica had finally found the courage to dress up in a polo shirt and jeans that were low rise—it was 2008—and go to The Zone, but it was closed. So the next day, I put on the same outfit because nobody was there and went back. And then I went back the next Saturday, and then I went back the next Friday, and then I went back the Saturday after that, and then I went for every weekend for the rest of 2008 and 2009. If you don’t get the picture, I was there until the doors closed in 2010.”

“And it really is that place that feels like home,” he continued. “I didn’t meet any prince charming, but I met some amazing people. I met people who taught me to maneuver the unwanted advances—but still manage to get the free drink. They reminded me that there’s always someone feeling left out, even if this is a so-called inclusive space, so that really taught me to be aware. In that manufactured mist is where I really learned to strengthen bonds—this foundation that I can’t seem to shake and I don’t want to shake.”

“Sadly, while The Zone no longer exists, when I walk by 216 Water Street I do say a little prayer and hope that its ghosts haunt the executives that now occupy the nice fancy suites there,” Campbell concluded. “And when the new fall line of little queerlings show up to the big city in the hopes of finding their place in this brand new world—whether it’s from their small rural community or the big conservative cities in larger countries—I just hope that the idea of searching for that home will live on forever.”

Stel Raven

Stel Raven. Photo: Alex Stead.

Next was Stel Raven, an Inuk Cree settler, Two-Spirit, queer trans person from Labrador (and currently residing in Passamaquoddy territory in New Brunswick) who runs a therapy practice focusing on complex trauma. They spoke about locating home in their body. 

“What is home? What is home for me as somebody who has lived across this country?” Raven began. “I know that Labrador is home, but I can’t live there. And I’m living in New Brunswick, but that doesn’t feel like home. So then I started thinking about my body, and how home is our body. I have a very complicated relationship with this body, with this very queer, very trans, very all over the place body.”

“I stopped at the Pow Wow in Flat Bay just a week ago, and I attended a sweat, and it’s the first sweat I had gone to in years,” they continued. “This was the first sweat that I entered into in this body that I have taken significant steps—steps that could be considered very ‘colonial’ steps—to change. There’s controversy to that. Is this body still sacred? Does that somehow take away the sacredness of this physical body, this gift I have been given?”

“My answer to that is no,” Raven said. “This body is still sacred. So I took this body into a sweat for the very first time. And then I came out of the sweat and just sat for a bit. There’s something that felt different. I was asked: ‘what did it feel like?’ And I sat there and just said: ‘it felt like home.’ To be in this incredibly sacred space, in this body, unapologetically, to fully show up as me in all of these ways—it felt like home.”

“There’s a teaching that has been coming to me from those on the other side lately about the directions,” they concluded. “Oftentimes we talk about there being four directions: north, south, west, and east. Sometimes we talk about seven directions and multiple directions, but the teaching that continues to come to me is the circle—the compass. The compass is not four directions. There are an infinite amount of directions on a compass, an infinite amount of points. And we all get to take up space on the compass, in an infinite amount of ways. Home is wherever I am on the point of the compass. In this sacred body, home is everywhere that I am—all of the points.”

Vicki Doyle

Following Raven was musician Vicki Doyle, from nearby Northern Bay. She described a very positive experience growing up queer in rural Newfoundland.

“I’m going to be honest, growing up I felt very safe,” Doyle began. “I felt like I grew up in a home that was safe. Great family, great friends, great community. I had my parents’ support from such an early age that I didn’t feel like I needed to ‘come out’. When I told my dad—my dad’s a real jokester, right—I said to him: ‘dad, I like women. I might be a lesbian.’ And he said: ‘well, I might be a lesbian too then.’”

“For me personally, home is also rooted in music, and singing, and expression,” she continued. “Expression through music is definitely home for me. I write a lot of Newfoundland music because I’m so grounded and rooted here. Home is a sense of belonging—a sense of acceptance, not tolerance. I don’t like the word tolerance. It’s acceptance. My family was so safe that it gave me a sense of home. Northern Bay is my home, buddy!”

“I feel I was privileged to feel safe,” Doyle concluded. “I’m a program manager for the Boys and Girls Club in St. John’s, and every day I see a lot of struggling youth—struggling in many ways, whether that be coming from low-income families, coming from single parent families, coming from drug addiction and abuse, coming from the foster care system, struggling with their sexuality and identity. My only hope for all of them is that we as a club, and as caring adults, can give them a sense of feeling safe and at home to come out or to talk about their struggles.”

Jane Walsh

After Doyle was Jane Walsh, a psychotherapist and feminist advocate who splits her time between Newfoundland, Toronto, and Mexico.

“I was a lesbian pre-Ellen—back when it wasn’t actually all love and rainbows,” Walsh began. “I turned it into a joke, but it’s not a joke in those early days of coming out. My father didn’t miss a beat of telling me ‘whatever made me happy,’ but my sister said to me: ‘you’re going to have an impact on who I can marry.’ She was right. There was a dinner party where a friend undermined her in front of this guy—who might have been the son or grandson of someone who drove a Bentley—by saying ‘Susan’s sister is a lesbian.’ The reality was, it was something to undermine her with. Those were the days. So I didn’t come back to Newfoundland for six years.”

“But through my friendship with Gerry [Rogers], there was a place that started to be created where I could start to feel at home, and I could feel safe,” she continued. “I wanted to talk about this whole idea of us creating safety by our own visibility. In fact, I had a friend in St. John’s who ended our friendship because I was so out in Toronto. She felt I was outing her because she was friends with me in St. John’s. Those were the days.” 

“It’s amazing to feel like I can be here and feel so loved, and create a community,” Walsh concluded. “I want to thank Wanda [Crocker] for beating the path. And we wouldn’t be here without Gerry. There was no space to be the person that I am in this province—and now there is.”

Mayra Sanchez

Next to speak was Mayra Sanchez, an aspiring filmmaker and producer who worked with Paul Pope on a number of local productions like Hudson and Rex. Initially from Mexico City, Sanchez first moved to the United States before making her way to Canada. 

“I thought the US was so impressive—I can just be who I am,” Sanchez began. “Eventually I made my way to Chicago, and that was great. But it was still very hard for me to start going to LGBTQ meetings. And then the political climate changed for the worse. People who looked like me were dehumanized, demonized, criminalized—people took the liberty to say anything they want, especially when they heard me speaking Spanish. That was an issue before, but it became very, very obvious. I had a dream of going to Canada since I was six years old, so I applied for grad school at Grenfell.”

“I took a road trip from Chicago to Corner Brook,” she continued. “Driving from Port aux Basques to Corner Brook, I was impressed with the beauty of the land. I had no idea what was coming. One day, I went to the grocery store and this really nice cashier, she said: ‘have a good day, me love.’ I almost cried. That was the first time that I felt like Newfoundland was my home. I’m a very loving person and I really enjoyed living with people who are just as loving. Everything my friends were doing, they let me join them—it was very welcoming.”

“I got my permanent residency in 2020, and I was ready for something more,” Sanchez said. “I found this program called Axis, where they connect newcomers with jobs. So because my resume had media or something, they sent me an email about doing a film. I came to St John’s and I started working in film, and I was out, because I wasn’t afraid to express myself. I usually don’t see or think about how I look, but every time I go to the bathroom here I’m like: ‘I’m so brown!’ But it’s something that doesn’t come up for people—they just don’t care.”

“People in St. John’s, and in Newfoundland—they’ve been wonderful,” she concluded. “Like the librarian in Grenfell who gave me a pack of moose meat. A cab driver gave me capelin. To this point, I know that I have found home. I met my fiancée here, we got engaged not long ago—I found myself a beautiful baygirl, and her mom cooks really good Jiggs dinner.”

Sara Tilley

Wrapping up the first panel was artist, poet, playwright, and novelist Sara Tilley.

“I’m from St. John’s, but when I hear the word ‘home’, I think about Brigus South, which is a very small town on the Southern Shore,” Tilley began. “That’s where I spent my really early years, and then all my summers, and my parents still live there part time. It’s very beautiful, and also a little bit harsh. To me, that’s Newfoundland: beautiful but also very harsh in a lot of ways. I feel most at home when I’m outside, and by myself. That maybe speaks on how difficult it is to feel safe.”

“My home isn’t necessarily in a house, and it’s not necessarily with people, even though I love people,” she continued. “But to feel safe—it’s maybe not that. So I thought I would bring a poem to the storytelling event as a representation of chaotic bisexuality. This is basically a list of things I remember about this place in my youth. It’s called ‘A Child’s Pastoral of Brigus South’ but it could also be called ‘What the Tourism Ads Don’t Tell You’.”

Although ‘pastoral’ suggests a certain romanticism of its rural setting, Tilley’s poem at once captured both the wistful nostalgia and visceral pains of a rural childhood. Some lines: “Ducklings shook to death by dogs. Having to put the horse down. The chum bucket at the end of the fish table. Partridge caught in the fence, flapping. Moose, skinned and quartered. … Berry picking, and the feel of fairies watching you. The swing above the stinger nettle patch, falling in while wearing a bathing suit. The cloud of black flies hovering above the water at La Manche….”

Carmel Whittle

Carmel Whittle. Photo: Alex Stead.

After a short break, we gear up for the last five speakers. First is filmmaker Carmel Whittle, coordinator for the Indigenous Artists Coalition, program coordinator for the Thunderbird Sisters Collective, member of the Digital Arts Resource Centre, Ottawa, and co-host and developer for Podcast#83, a series of discussions with non-Indigenous and Indigenous poets, musicians and artists.

“My experience of being queer on this rock was very strained,” Whittle began. “I was born in Placentia in 1961. My father was a serious drunk, and my mother, who was an extraordinary woman, had 20 pregnancies—11 survived. I couldn’t be out. I would have died. So I basically became whatever I needed to be to survive. I didn’t know anything about myself. I didn’t even know I had a body, let alone a sexuality. I became invisible to myself. I was terrified of being seen. My life was about fear, growing up, on the island. I was completely in a state of dissociating. By the time I hit Toronto, there wasn’t much of me there. ”

“Fortunately I found healing,” she said. “And I found support. And love. Because I didn’t know what love was. What did I know about love? It took me a long time to figure out, really, what it is. And let me tell you: when I fell in love for the first time, it was like drinking water.”

“You know, I love my mother,” she added. “I love my father—I learned to love him and let him go. I couldn’t tell him he was a good father. But I could tell him he was a good man, because he gave up drinking at 60 years old and died not drinking for all that time. Ultimately these are the first people that we love. They’re the first people that we see. And if they are damaged, and they’re hurting, and they’re in pain—it took me a long time to get here, to understand the suffering that they were living. And it’s important that I embrace that.”

“So a lot of my ‘home’ has been about escape, and not so much about finding comfort,” Whittle continued. “How do you get out? It was many years before I took a flight back here to Newfoundland, after all the work I’d done, and stood on the rocks out there by Signal Hill and said: ‘I belong here. This is my home.’ It’s interesting, the word ‘belonging’: I separate it as ‘be longing’. Ultimately that’s what my whole life has been like—it’s a longing for what, and where, I am right now.”

“My whole life has been obsessed about home,” she concluded. “Looking for it, trying to find it, trying to meet those that could share their home. There’s so much to say about home. Home is just a word, and in Newfoundland it’s a very powerful word. But for me, it’s about right where I am, in the moment that I’m in. I can’t say that I’ve ever felt home like I do here.”

Robert Chafe

Next was Robert Chafe, writer, educator, actor, and arts administrator based in St. John’s. He is also a playwright and the artistic director of Artistic Fraud. For Chafe, ‘home’ is bound up in his physical house—and the brother who helped make it a home for him.

“In 2007, I was 36 and still renting a room at the back of my friend’s house—so I began the half-hearted hunt for a house,” Chafe began. “A little place turned up in a private sale in a neighbourhood I really liked. It was old and it was run down, but it was cheap. So I called up my big brother Howard to do a walk through with me. I was really just looking for his advice, and some rough estimates about how much it would cost to whip it all into something livable. And in retrospect I was hoping he’d talk me out of it. But he didn’t. He talked me through the ‘how’ of it all, and then he started to automatically refer to himself as the ‘who’, the person who’d be doing the work. So I took the plunge and I bought the place.”

“He started showing up to my little money pit fresh from work in his Metrobus uniform,” he continued. “And he completely renovated that house. My house. And he never accepted a dime for it, or really even a hot meal. And around this time a work trip came up unexpectedly right in the middle of all this. So I begged him to leave all the painting for me when I got home. But he was really insistent that I at least pick out the paint colours—‘just in case the work progresses.’ He was really adamant, so paint colours were picked.”

“When I got back, Howard was picking me up from the airport,” Chafe laughed. “Which is very strange. I was a little worried. And he was really sheepish, and apologetic. Did he burn the house down? But he was there, he said, to tell me the bad news: that he hadn’t finished laying all the baseboards. He had done everything else, including all of the painting, but he hadn’t finished with the baseboards—and he felt bad enough about all this that he showed up to the airport to apologize, because he wanted me to return from my trip and walk right into my brand new house. That was the kind of brother Howard was.”

“He was the first of my brothers that I came out to,” he reminisced. “He was the brother that gave me a house. And as you can probably tell, from the past tense, he died just a couple months ago after a very short and very vicious illness. So my little house is a constant and beautiful reminder of him.” 

“Every room has a story,” Chafe concluded. “I see him in every finished detail in that house. I hear his voice in the squeak of the floorboards. His sweat labour turned that rickety little house into my home. And his death has turned it into something else entirely.”

Bin Chen

Following Chafe was Bin Chen, who works in a travel agency and over the last several years has lived in China, Japan, Mexico, and Newfoundland and Labrador. He linked his sense of home to his favourite childhood meal in China.

“Food is not only nutrients I absorb through my body,” Bin began. “It is also a connection between me and my home. When I was a kid, my parents were very busy with work, so I was raised by my grandparents. They took care of me, and they cooked for me. When I came back from school the thing I looked forward to the most was to see what was for dinner.”

“So many years later I went to Japan to study, and as a poor international student I started to learn how to cook in order to save money,” he continued. “In the beginning it was a disaster. But one day I had a sudden thought: why don’t I make the dishes I liked when I was a kid? And after many failures, I finally succeeded—and the moment I tasted it, I felt like I was back in my childhood home eating my grandfather’s cooking.”

“Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t really go back to China for the past two years,” Bin explained. “I’m a very adaptable person and I can live well no matter where I am. But I have a secret: to cook your own food, so I can bring home to where I am. Right now I’m living in Newfoundland with my boyfriend, who is a Newfoundlander. For a lot of Newfoundlanders, food also carries a lot of meaning. So for the first few weeks when I was here, I received several bottles of partridgeberries and bakeapples, and I was served toutons, cod, and lobster by his family and friends. I think that was their way of saying ‘welcome to Newfoundland, and I hope you feel at home’.”

Paul David Power

Next came Paul David Power, an actor, playwright, and the artistic director of his own theatre company, Power Productions—which specializes in stage plays about disability. His play Crippled was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for English language drama in 2021.

“20 or 30 years ago, I would never have felt comfortable to get up here and identify as a gay man,” Power began. “How time changes. So thank you to all those people before me who made that possible.”

“To me, home is a place where you feel safe,” he said. “It’s a place you always feel you can come back to. But it’s also a place that gives you the confidence and freedom to go out there and live and find your identity, to always have that independence and always have that safety net behind you.”

“I was born with a disability. Today I get around using crutches and leg braces, but from when I was born to four years old, I could not walk anywhere. But when I was four years old, my independence opened up, because for Christmans I got a plastic black motorcycle that you pushed with your feet. It was my first key to independence.”

“So every summer we used to go to Eastport for like 2 weeks,” he recalled. “We stayed at this place called the White Sails Inn on this major hill that comes down and overlooks the beach. One day I decided to take my plastic motorcycle all the way up to the top. When I made it to the top of the hill, I turned the motorcycle around. And as I was going down, I noticed my community—my family, my siblings, my friends, were all behind me, they were cheering for me. I felt so independent. They were cheering for my independence. This was my favourite memory.”

“I found out years later they were not cheering for me,” Power laughed. “They were running after me and yelling at me. But it was my first pang of independence.”

“Flash forward many more years,” he recalled. “I went to school in Toronto and that’s where I first came out. But every time I went back home to Newfoundland, I would go back in the closet. I wouldn’t talk about my sexuality, and having a disability, no one asked—so I had the perfect cover. But I got so comfortable in Toronto, that when I did move home permanently when I was done school I couldn’t keep that straight mask anymore.”

“I decided one night I was going to go downtown by myself and meet this guy I met the previous week, because I was totally in puppy love with my first crush,” Power continued. “His exotic name was… Trevor. So I ended up downtown, and I met Trevor, and we started dancing together at this bar, and then we went upstairs to have a smoke. And I hear a voice behind me, and it’s my friend Jackie. So I had a choice right then: do I keep following Trevor? Or do I go back to being Straight Paul and get the hell out of here with Jackie before she finds out what’s going on?’”

“I came out to Jackie, who was the first person I ever told in Newfoundland that I was gay,” he concluded. “Because I was so in love with this guy, right—who moved to London, Ontario like a month later and broke my heart. But that’s home to me: the concept of always going out there, but always having something to come back to.”

Remzi Cej

The penultimate speaker was Remzi Cej, a community activist who calls both Newfoundland and Labrador and Kosovo home. He came to the province with his family as a refugee, and is chair of the province’s Human Rights Commission. He also spoke about the relationship between food and home—in this case, his experience trying to get a big kilogram brick of Vegeta, a Balkan kitchen staple, through airport security in Ottawa. (“Vegeta to me is the drag queen of seasonings,” Cej joked. “It’s got pizzazz, it’s got flavour, it adds a lot of colour to dishes. For those of you who’ve grown up with savory, pepper, and salt—maybe a little paprika—vegeta is the seasoning that shows up and screams out: hello honey, I’m here!”)

“Food has this magical, incredible way of bringing home about when you’re so far from places where you’re born, places that you’ve grown up, places that you have come to call home,” Cej explained. “But also places that really reunite or connect your past with your present. When you’re tasting those dishes in some other dimension, some other world.”

“There are so many immigrant, refugee, first generation Canadians who are landing on the shores of this country, who are trying to build a future and rebuild their past,” he concluded. “Build and rebuild their lives all over again. And smuggling—whether it is of spices and seasonings, or stories, and lives and people, in whatever way they can find possible, they continue to resist and build a better future, hopefully in collaboration and reconciliation with indigenous peoples on this land. So often we talk about first generation Canadians as people who bring jobs, people who bring revenue, people who for some reason are that economic machine. But above all, and above everything, they are human beings.”

Zay Nova

Finally, Zay Nova, a musician and radio and podcast producer, spoke about his experiences growing up in Indonesia—and what eventually brought him to Newfoundland.

He recalled happy memories of his home around hunting, fishing, and fighting—”all good memories, until one mullah told us homosexuals had to be kicked out from the land or thrown out from high buildings,” Nova began. “And I realized… that that is me. So I left my hometown that year when I was 17 to attend an Islamic boarding school and ‘pray the gay away’ for three years.”

“The Islamic boarding school is hard to describe,” he explained. “I was beaten, bullied. They said you needed to be civilized, all kinds of stuff. But that was part of how you would grow up to be a man. I had to fight who I am. These days in Indonesia, the topic of LGBTQ—don’t even speak it. A couple of weeks ago, one of the most popular podcasters in Indonesia invited a gay couple to talk about their life. This guy is married to a German guy, he came to Indonesia for the invitation to talk. They got really bad backlash from people all across Indonesia. He had to take down the videos of that podcast.”

“So in 2015, there were around 144 gay men arrested in Jakarta,” Nova continued. “My partner told me he was about to come to Indonesia, and I said: ‘can we find another place to meet?’ We decided to meet in Singapore, because we didn’t want to take a risk. That’s the first time we discussed what’s next. We said: ‘what about Canada? Canada has legalized same sex marriage.’ So we stopped in Toronto for about four days. Then we flew to Newfoundland.”

“This place is amazing,” he gushed. “We spent time trouting, and at night, we go downtown. We saw the Irish Descendents, so my partner bought me their CD and I played it when I came back again to Indonesia. Then we visited Signal Hill. And I was sitting on Signal Hill, and I watched the lighthouse, and I took a deep breath at how beautiful this place is—how clean my chest feels, when I breathe. And that was the moment I felt: ‘this is a place that I can call home. This is a place that brings back together all that I have been during my life.’”

“So what is home?” Nova asked rhetorically. “I start to think: it’s because of people. It’s all about people. I don’t care about the land—beautiful land means nothing without people. People embrace you. I can call this place home because of people. I’ve been four years so far here in Newfoundland and people make me feel at home. I feel like everybody is my brother, everybody is my sister. Everybody is just friends to me. That is why I call this place home.”

“So that’s why I came up with the idea of writing the song I’m about to play called, ‘The Lighthouse,’” he concluded. “I wrote it for my partner—my lighthouse—and the people of Newfoundland as well.”

The panel ends with a recording of Nova’s song, and its lyrics perfectly capture that feeling of home—love, belonging, community—everyone here has been putting into words in their own way:

You’re the compass, I’m the lost
You’re the wind to fill my sails
You’re the lighthouse
I’ll find my way home.

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