When I walked across the Fort Erie bridge between Canada and the U.S. with a Colombian family, it was a cold day. The snow was blowing and I was excited and afraid, facing a new reality in a new country. That was 1998. I was 12.
I escaped Nicaragua because I couldn't handle the pain of being beaten by my father from the age of seven. Even worse, at school I was subjected to verbal abuse and attacks because of my feminine appearance.
To Nicaragua's Catholic and evangelical community, gayness was a disease coming from hell, and I grew up in fear, believing that's where I would end up.
I hated myself for being gay; I wanted to change, and struggled with it for many years. Very early on, I figured out that I was stuck, and eventually I began to dream about a better place.
In Toronto, it took me over two years and the help of counselling to embrace my homosexuality. I attended workshops and sex education and learned about gay culture and stereotypes. Being gay, I realized, is a gift, and every creation of God is perfect. God doesn't make mistakes. There is a reason why gay people exist: to love and to love others.
In 2005, my immigration application was rejected. The adjudicator said there wasn't sufficient evidence that I had been sexually active in Nicaragua and later in the U.S. After that, while I continued to apply for citizen status on humanitarian grounds, I was living here illegally.
During that period, I managed to invest in my own art exhibitions despite being homeless. And I discovered community.
Last May, while waiting for the Ossington bus, I was approached by police who asked my for I.D. I could only show my expired identification. Immediately I was arrested, and within minutes Immigration officials arrived and sent me to a detention centre for deportation.
I was afraid - of not knowing what to do in the situation, of being forced to leave Canada, and most of all, of losing everything I had worked for over so many years.
My community organized public demonstrations, rallies and an online petition of almost 10,000 signatures, and MPs Olivia Chow and Bob Rae offered me support.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney could not ignore these pleas. On June 1, just one day before my deportation date, my application on humanitarian grounds was granted. So many people to thank: Supporting Our Youth (SOY), Jumblies Theatre, No One Is Illegal, the People Project, Mayworks, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the 519 Community Centre, immigration lawyer Richard Wazana, refugee lawyer/activist El-Farouk Khaki, human rights advocate Suhail Abualsameed, social worker and art therapist Sheri Cohen and more.
Pride celebrations are a joy, a reminder of what LGTBQ people have achieved and will achieve in the future. There is still so much ignorance and homophobia. Pride is about remembering all our struggles. It's about living the experience and embracing every moment. Pride tells us who we are and where we came from and reminds us of the obstacles so many people have overcome through generations.
It's a relief to be able to celebrate and enjoy my freedom.