Grand Theatre artistic director ready to lead parade utilizing the talent and rich culture London offers

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Arts, culture, and togetherness.

Pride London is about celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of the LGBTQ community, and for the Grand Theatre’s artistic director, it’s about being “London proud.”

Dennis Garnhum and his partner, Bruce Sellery, along with daughter Abby — who they adopted about seven years ago — will be marching side-by-side in this year’s Pride parade Sunday to demonstrate just how proud they are to be together and to be Londoners.

“My forefathers and mothers have worked much harder and (have) gone through much worse things so that I could get married,” Garnhum said. “So the least I can do is get married and tell everybody about it.”

Garnhum and Sellery are both London natives who met in Toronto and shortly after moved to New York City.

While in New York, gay marriage was legalized in Canada, which prompted their return home and an intimate, one-of-a-kind wedding ceremony at the Grand Theatre.

“A few people said ‘I’ve never been to a gay wedding,’ and I said, ‘neither have I,’ ” Garnhum recalled.

As someone who directed theatre for a living, Garnhum chose to direct his own wedding and said it was full of love and support.

When the couple were about to sign their marriage papers at the ceremony, Garnhum said the officiant asked everyone to stop talking.

“She said, ‘I just want you to stop and watch this . . . history is being made because these two people in our country are allowed to do this,’ ” Garnhum said.

“There was pride and that was it. It was easy and all of our family was there.”

The couple moved to Alberta where Garnhum ran Theatre Calgary for 11 seasons. Garnhum said it became clear his partner would be a great father, so they asked about adopting.

At the time, there were about 100 families on a waiting list for adoption but Garnhum and Sellery lucked out.

Abby, their daughter, came to them through open adoption, meaning her birth parents made an active choice of who the adoptive parents would be. They chose to give her to same-sex parents, bumping Garnhum and Sellery to the front of the line.

“They chose us. In Alberta. You know that sentence itself is kind of incredible,” Garnhum said.

Now seven, Garnhum said Abby has grown into a strong, charming and confident girl. He said that what’s beautiful about having an open adoption is she knows about her “papa” and “daddy” as well as her birth family and she embraces what the world has offered to her.

“She just gets it,” Garnhum said. “None of it is complicated to her.”

The family moved back to London last October when Garnhum took over as artistic director at the Grand. Garnhum said it has been intense being back home, but he takes pride in seeing how the city has changed.

Garnhum spent his formative years in London and left when he was about 18.

During that time, he was still closeted because he said it wasn’t common to come out in London 30 years ago.

Now, Garnhum said it’s wonderfully surprising to him that he can look around and see gay youths openly holding hands, proud of who they are.

When Garnhum returned to London, he asked about the city’s Pride festivities and was blown away when he heard it is a 10-day affair.

One of his pledges to the Grand was to ensure the theatre made a real commitment to London and he said Pride was a great way to do that. With his team backing him, Garnhum and the Grand made plans to march in the parade this year.

“I’m very London proud to be able to wave the flag and say, ‘We have a lot of LGBTQ people working here,’ ” Garnhum said. “Of course, theatre is a place where everyone should be accepted …and we’re hoping to have a hundred people walking with us.”

He said he hopes marching in the parade will be the first of many things the Grand does this season to get emotional, visceral reactions out of people, utilizing the talent and rich culture that London already offers.

While Garnhum doesn’t feel comfortable holding his partner’s — or anyone’s — hand in public, he said he has been given something very special with his daughter.

“I love holding her hand and walking down the street,” Garnhum said. “There’s an intimacy that comes with having children that I never understood.”

And the couple will be doing just that at the parade, holding hands with their daughter, leading by example and showing Londoners that all are welcome here. 

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