WARNING: This story contains some graphic language that some readers may find offensive.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has penned a personal message to an Edmonton man who received a homophobic Valentine’s card.
Degas Sikorski received a card at work on Valentine’s Day with the word “faggot” written on it. Sikorski, who has been openly gay since he was 14, told Global News he was stunned by the hateful language.
His story went viral and caught the attention of Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault.
Boissonnault said he sat in the House of Commons, trying to figure out how to show his support to Sikorski.
“I said, ‘Well Degas has allies. I’m an ally. These colleagues are allies. The prime minister is an ally.’ I texted my team ‘Please find a very nice Valentine’s card and bring it to the House,’” Boissonnault said.
The member of parliament signed the card before getting others to do the same.
Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan and Treasury Board President Scott Brison, who are both openly gay, wrote messages. So did Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef and Minister of Status of Women Patty Hajdu.
But the message that left him speechless was written by none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Dear Degas, know that your friends outnumber the haters by the millions and I’m one of those friends,” reads the message from Trudeau.
“I want to give him a hug. I’m just shell-shocked about Justin Trudeau signing it,” Sikorski said.
“Living in Edmonton, so far away from Ontario, you never picture hearing anything personal from the prime minister. To know that he has my back is beautiful.”
Shelley Sikorski, Degas’s mother, said she was stunned when Boissonnault’s office reached out to set up a meeting, and even more so when she saw the card.
“There’s no comparison. That was hate. This is pure love,” she said.
Boissonnault delivered the card to Sikorski during a brunch meeting on Saturday. He also brought along photographic evidence of the prime minister writing the note.
“I told him the story. [Trudeau] said, ‘That’s not right. Let’s write that young man a message.’ We went into his office. He sat down and signed this card,” Boissonnault said.
“As soon as I explained the story, people were like, ‘Where’s that paper? Where’s the card? How do I sign?’ Ministers and parliamentary secretaries and MP colleagues were thoughtful. People have seen this happen in their own lives. Nobody should be experiencing that kind of behaviour at work.”
Sikorski no longer works at Party City, the store where the incident unfolded. The company did not respond to multiple requests from Global News about their investigation into the hateful message, whether anyone had been disciplined or whether it would establish more sensitivity training for employees around LGBTQ issues.
While he did initially file a police complaint, Sikorski said he has since dropped it because he does not want the person or persons responsible to get a criminal record. However, he said he will be filing a human rights complaint.
Sikorski said his life has been a whirlwind since the initial incident but that things have since settled.
Boissonnault, who came out in his late 20s, said Sikorski’s experience with the Valentine’s card resonated with him.
“I remember being outed painfully by people. I could empathize with what [Sikorski] might be feeling by receiving an attack like that in the workplace,” he said.
“You’re just you and you’re awesome for being you. Why should anybody attack Degas for who he is in the workplace or anywhere else? It’s just not acceptable.”
Dr. Kristopher Wells, faculty director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, said companies need to be proactive rather than reactive when dealing with LGBTQ issues in the workplace.
“They need to: number one, have clear non-discrimination policies in place; they need to provide training for their employees and what they need to be doing is celebrating diversity and getting out into the community,” he said.
Wells said businesses that are not inclusive may find themselves losing customers, which is why greater education for employees is critical.
“Traditionally, when we think about diversity training or cultural sensitivity, it leaves out the LGBT piece, which is a problem. This is an invisible minority.”
As for Sikorski, he is now focusing on his schoolwork and looking ahead to volunteer opportunities within the LGBTQ community.
He is also holding on tightly to the messages from the prime minister, cabinet ministers and other politicians in Ottawa.
“I’m speechless. I have so much love for everyone who has been supportive this whole way.”