A FAREWELL TRIBUTE TO A SON OF THE COMMUNITY: THOUGHTS ON THE HEROIC DEATH OF TORI JOHNSON

IMG_7634As Australia and Sydney mourn the sad death of one of her sons during the recent Sydney café killing at Martin Place, the gay community worldwide similarly mourns it.

News reports tell of how the 34 year old Tori was tragically killed as he tried to wrestle the weapon from the gunman Haron Monis.  Our hearts go out to Thomas Zinn, Tori’s partner for 14 years as well as to Tori’s family.

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Tori Johnson should serve as a role model for gay men for 2 reasons.

Firstly, he proves that being gay does not make him less of a member of society and a very courageous one at that.  He was selfless as he went all out to protect the other hostages instead of just caring about his own safety and he paid the price dearly with his own life.  I’m not saying that all of us should seek martyrdom but he is a perfect role model of self-sacrifice for the gay community, whether in Australia or any other parts of the world.

I only got to know about Tori being a member of the community from online reports and cyber tributes.  Our local media seems surprisingly silent on this.  Well, maybe it wasn’t really so surprising after all.  The Straits Times was cautious with their reporting and only alluded to what his parents said about him being a good partner.  That was the only easily missed clue that he was a gay man.  Maybe it wasn’t intentional; maybe no one deemed it important enough to even mention that he was gay.  But it was a missed opportunity for the gay community.  It was a golden opportunity to prove that the potential for heroism exists as much in the gay community as well as in the straight.

Secondly, Tori’s life is testimony to something which I have often questioned.  Are gay relationships so fragile that even one short year of relationship is often referred to as a long term relationship?  If it were so, then seriously it is, well, rather pathetic.

But Tori’s relationship with Thomas lasted for 14 long years, even outlasting many straight relationships.  It brings hope to our community because it proves that long term gay relationships are possible, and only end ‘when death do us part’.

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Another thought follows the example of Tori’s short life.

We in Singapore have been fighting not just for the repeal of 377A, in essence, we are really fighting for general social acceptance.

Two things have constantly been levelled against the gay community here and I believe in many other countries:  that gay people are selfish and self-gratifying, and that gay people are promiscuous and therefore cannot hold down a monogamous relationship.  Tori’s life speaks against this erroneous perception.

The example of Tori should motivate gay people to move away from being insular even though the temptation is to be such, and to become more others-centered.  When society perceives that gay people are not only existing members of society but movers for its greater good, as more examples of these acts are brought to the fore, society will invariably accept them.  It is hard work but changing age-old deeply ingrained perceptions is never easy.

Tori’s life is proof that being gay doesn’t make one bad; a gay life can be as exemplary as any life can be.  His life is a beacon to the way forward.

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Pictures of the overwhelming floral tributes left at Martin Place in Sydney surely must be testimony about how people in Australia must be feeling.  We may not be there to leave flowers for the tragic deaths but we can do so in our hearts as a gesture of our admiration of a life well-lived.

As Thomas Zinn, Tori’s partner said, “I think it’s amazing that he has been able to make our city smell like flowers. I think there is no more beautiful thing that he could have imagined.”

Let’s hope that it is not only Sydney that smells like a garden, that our whole community would likewise smell like a garden in full bloom as a result of Tori’s life.

Read Thomas Zinn’s tribute in: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2014/12/19/grieving-partner-pays-tribute-to-cafe-manager-killed-during-sydney-siege/

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