KINKORA, P.E.I. – There were no celebrations, no sense of relief and certainly no pride when Bernadette Mulligan and Catherine Boyd came out as gay in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“I was brought up in a strict Roman Catholic household. There were nuns in my family. My mother belonged to the Catholic Women’s League,” shared Mulligan, a Kinkora resident. “I went to school with nuns, my brothers were involved too, and we had catechism every morning at school for 30 minutes.”
Mulligan, one of seven children, was in her early teens when she noticed the way she looked at some of her girlfriends differed from the way any of them looked back at her.
“I struggled with keeping it to myself, and I felt very much alone and isolated, because in my heart I knew from my Roman Catholic background that my feelings were wrong, so I rejected them.”
With bottled feelings, Mulligan graduated school and left P.E.I. for Toronto.
“In Toronto drinking was a social thing and it made my feelings go away, so I drank to forget,” she said. “The gay community was mostly in the bars and connected to drinking, so it became a big part of my life and I became an alcoholic.”
Mulligan pushed her instincts, emotions and desires aside when her close-knit family began to fragment.
“My parents died when I was 18. They both took their lives within six weeks, so we were all split up as children. It was devastating. My father, I think, had schizophrenia because he would have electric shock treatments and come home as a different person, but it was never talked about.
“Mom’s suicide was tragic because to me she was the strong, solid rock. My younger sister was only three at the time, so now I had to be strong for them.”
Caught in the throes of family discord, Mulligan tried to go straight for fear of hurting her loved ones.
“Every year I came home people would question, ‘Why you are still not married.’ The pressure was so strong, and I just wanted to be seen as normal so I went and got engaged to a man.”
Eventually Mulligan found the courage to break the engagement. She shared her true identity with a friend first, then one by one with family members.
“If I could tell my younger self at age 11 or 12 what I know now, I would say ‘It’s OK to have those feelings and you don’t have to hate yourself, punish yourself or reject them,” remarked Mulligan, now 70 and 38 years sober.
“For the younger people of today, it’s very important not to keep these feelings inside because it will manifest and tear you down. Find someone you really trust and share how you feel. I would not be here today if my faith had not led me to a good and trustful friend.”
Boyd, now aged 65, ran away from home at just 15 after her father beat her for discovering she was gay.
Her advise was, “Stop worrying about what other people think. Live your life the way you want and don’t look back. Do your own thing because it’s important for your health and your whole life.”
Mulligan and Boyd, after 20 years together, exchanged rings and vows in a special laid-back intimate wedding ceremony in their Kinkora backyard on Saturday afternoon.
After the ceremony was conducted, guests raised their glasses to the cloudless sky in a toast that love, ultimately, conquers all.