It can be as little as someone making fun of your accent, or as great as someone murdering you in an "honour" killing.
With Whistler hosting some of our most fun visitors as part of WinterPRIDE week it is also a time to consider how open and welcoming we are and how willing we are to stand up and do something when we see events unfolding that are "wrong."
I was surprised to be reminded that each year during Whistler's gay ski week there are incidents of homophobia — not many, and thankfully none in 2011. But still I must admit I was surprised that there have been any.
As a child I moved around from country to country, and honestly, by country #4 I was sick of being teased about my British accent and using the word "boot" for the trunk of car, or calling erasers "rubbers" and so on.
Small examples to be sure, but I have never forgotten that feeling of being the outsider. I did everything I could to lose my accent, and when we settled in Canada, in just a few short years my British heritage was all but erased superficially.
Not so easy to do when your very being is defined by what people are calling out as different — say being LGBT for example.
That is why it is so meaningful that our council and mayor have stepped forward to honour the gay community and WinterPRIDE with an official proclamation of the week.
It will be made Feb. 9 after Whistler hosts its first Pride march.
To many in the resort WhistlerPRIDE is an important economic driver of visitors as we finish up Christmas and wait for spring break. Rainbow flags are hung in shop windows and municipal banners welcome all throughout the resort.
But this is about more than "business." It is about Whistler being a place that respects freedom and human dignity. Think about that for a moment because it isn't something any of us spend much time pondering in our busy lives.
But for some of those visiting us it is one of the few times a year they can hold their partners hand in public or even hug them.
There is no doubt that the situation for LGBTs has changed rapidly in the last decade in North America. Many in the 20-something generation simply travel with their friends to any destination they want — within reason. Fewer choose holidays based on gay festivals or events anymore. And if they do travel to enjoy particular Pride events there are more of them to choose from. Park City is getting ready to host its second annual Gay Ski Week later this month.
Many years ago I wrote a story about a high school student who had emigrated from a South Asian nation. He barely spoke. The series of stories was actually about how immigration was changing how our school system needed to work in order to reach all kids.
This young student was gay and had never told anyone. He believed he was cursed, evil, that there would be no salvation for him — all of these beliefs were based on what his family and his community had told him. He didn't speak in case he revealed himself and brought dishonour to them.
I often wonder what became of him. I hope he found hope and perhaps is even one of those in Whistler today.
He was also in my mind recently as we learned that a father, his second wife and their son conspired together to kill the father's three daughters and his first wife.
"It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous crime," said Judge Robert Maranger, of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
"There is nothing more honourless than the deliberate murder of, in the case of Mohammad Shafia, three of his daughters and his wife...
"The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your twisted notion of honour, a notion of honour that is founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honour that has absolutely no place in any civilized society."
Maranger imposed the mandatory sentences of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
All three accused protested innocence when given a chance to speak in the courtroom.
By all accounts the lives of the three daughters were difficult as the polygamous family, which moved to Canada from Afghanistan in 2007 struggled to settle in.
The three-month long trial revealed that Shafia was enraged because he felt his daughters had violated strict cultural rules about sexual modesty, they dressed in revealing clothes and they were disobedient.
All the victims complained to others and one even ran away to a woman's shelter, yet it seems no one really listened to their plight.
Honour killings and gay-bashings are no doubt in different places along the spectrum of behaviour that is unacceptable in Canada — but as we can see it still happens.
As Whistler hosts WinterPRIDE let us be truly welcoming.