My first International Women’s Day celebration, as memory serves me, was in Vancouver on March 8, 1987.
Picture me with a broken heart, dumped (but not unceremoniously) by my boyfriend of three years. Grieving, lonely, bored… and then Sandra, a gay friend, invited me to a women’s day dance in a hall off Broadway Avenue.
The venue was filling up with women of all shapes and sizes from all over the world. I soaked up the energy, a bit shy, but loving the taped dance music pulsating in the room. We started dancing, until Sandra vanished into the crowd.
Then it was up to me: to stay or to go?
I am glad I decided to stay. I recognized two more women, a couple from my Buddhist group, and they took me under their wings. Through them, I met Elisa, a gay woman from the Philippines, with a lesson in courage to share.
Elisa had met and married her Canadian husband in the city of Zamboanga in the 1970s. Once in Canada, they had a daughter together. “He was a good person and deserved to be with someone who could make a real commitment,” she recalls. “I knew I was a lesbian, and it wasn’t fair to stay with him.”
She hitchhiked to Vancouver with $15 in her pocket, unaware that she was pregnant again. She landed a job in a large engineering firm in Vancouver, making contour maps. Her second daughter was only six months old when she started attending the British Columbia Institute of Technology, becoming the first woman to graduate in civil and structural engineering.
Throughout her career, Elisa maintained a connection with her ex-husband. He agreed to take care of their first born and she took care of the second child. “Motherhood stirred in me again,” Elisa shares. “I was enjoying success in my career, but I wanted to have another child.” She chose her ex-husband to be the father and a third daughter was born.
While her ex-husband was supportive, his family was not. They forbade her from seeing her daughters. It was years before they forgave her for being a lesbian, years in which she wrote letters, sent gifts, and reinforced her love for her children in many ways. Eventually, mother and daughters were reunited, and continue to be close today. I learned from Elisa that patience and persistence does pay off.
Elisa now lives on Vancouver Island with her longtime female partner. She is a proud grandmother, a spectacular gardener, and loves to tango.
Throughout our ups and downs, Elisa and I have continued to be friends. The circle keeps widening, on Vancouver Island and here in Edmonton. I have two sisters who are my dear friends, as well as female friends from many eras of my life.
International Women’s Day reminds me how much I value my women friends. They stand by me when I’m down, encourage me, laugh with me, and sometimes call me on the carpet when I make poor choices. Thank you to them all.