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Hawkes, Brent (b. 1950)  
 
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The Reverend Doctor Brent Hawkes has been the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto since 1977. In addition to ministering to the glbtq community there, he has worked with fervor and dedication to secure equal rights for all glbtq Canadians.

Brent Hawkes comes from a deeply religious home, but a highly atypical one: his mother was a devout Roman Catholic, and his father a firm adherent of the Pentecostal church. In order to favor neither religion, they decided to raise their son, who was born on June 2, 1950 in Bath, New Brunswick, as a Baptist.

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When he was about nine years old, Hawkes felt a calling to the ministry and "played church" with his friends. Around the same time, however, he realized that he was gay and that therefore becoming a Baptist minister would be impossible were he to be honest about his sexuality.

As often was the case with children of his generation, who had few if any positive gay role-models while they were growing up, Hawkes felt a sense of isolation and of being the only person who was gay. Despite this, he neither felt shame about his sexual orientation nor lost his faith in God. "I felt that God was my best friend," he stated in a 2007 interview. "It was the church that was the problem."

Having given up hope of a career in the ministry, Hawkes decided to become a teacher. He enrolled at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1972 and a Bachelor of Education degree a year later.

Hawkes had been teaching high school in Nova Scotia for several years when an ad in The Advocate caught his eye. Seeing the symbol of the cross in a gay and lesbian publication filled him with a new hope that he might be able to express himself both as a gay man and a Christian. He wept with joy at the possibility and resolved to find out more about the denomination that had placed the advertisement, the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC).

Hawkes learned that there was an MCC congregation in Toronto. Founded in 1973 with only twelve people at the first service, the church was still small and lacked a building of its own, but as soon as he went there and joined the congregants in worship, he recalled, "I knew that I was home."

His dream of becoming a minister was once again something to which he might aspire. He moved to Toronto to pursue this goal.

Around the same time, Hawkes came out to his parents by writing them a letter that was very poorly received. His father told him that his mother would have committed suicide from shame had he not been there to prevent her, and both condemned his homosexuality as sinful. Eventually, however, they became accepting of their son's sexual orientation and supportive of him.

Hawkes became the pastor of the MCC church in Toronto in 1977 and guided its expansion both physically and in its commitment to social justice for glbtq people. Under his leadership, the congregation grew, and in 1985 they were finally able to buy their own church building. Six years later they moved to another property consisting of a much larger church, a gym, and a hall.

Even the larger building cannot accommodate the throng that has turned out each year since 1990 for MCC Toronto's Christmas Eve service, which is held in a concert hall and has annually drawn thousands of people.

"The service is our gift to the gay and lesbian community," stated Hawke. "Many people in the gay community have lost their birth family through discrimination or distance, and it's hard to make up for that, but the Christmas Eve service gives them a family to be with and allows them to see the extended family that they're part of."

The ecumenical service also affords an opportunity for supportive families to celebrate the holiday in a way that affirms the faith of their glbtq relatives.

In addition, Hawkes conducts an annual inter-faith service as part of Toronto's Pride festival, held near the end of June.

As the pastor of MCC Toronto, Hawkes has overseen many initiatives in support of the glbtq community, including a care program for people with AIDS, the organization of a PFLAG chapter, and the formation of the Lesbian Gay Bi Youth Line, which offers confidential peer support to glbtq young people suffering from feelings of isolation, loneliness, and despair.

In order to serve his flock better, Hawkes also continued his studies. He earned two degrees from Trinity College, University of Toronto: a Master of Divinity in 1986 and a Doctor of Ministry in 2001.

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Brent Hawkes. Image provided by the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.
  
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