09/20/2013 08:17 EDT | Updated 11/20/2013 05:12 EST

How I Went From Terrified Gay Teenager to Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Last night I received a Lifetime Achievement Award by Out On Bay Street, a national organization that promotes the professional development of younger gay and lesbian Canadians.

I feel lucky to have enjoyed the fastest time and space travel anyone like me could have ever wished for... in just three decades I went from living as a terrified and isolated gay teenager in my beautiful but incredibly homophobic and homogeneous birth country of Greece to living as a free, prominent, proud and productive citizen in the most inclusive, most progressive and most "human" country in the world.

I feel lucky to be Canadian... because the thing that bonds us is not our religion, not our language, not our origins, not our race, not our lifestyle, not even our vast geography; the only thing that really makes us feel Canadian is our one core value of mutual respect. We don't just tolerate; we respect. We build on our differences and turn them into national assets.

I feel lucky to be gay in a society like ours, because being "different" is actually a competitive edge in our country -- not a liability. When you're different, you stand out a little bit; and when you stand out, you're already a tiny little step ahead and your brand is already a little bit stronger. You are more noticeable, more memorable -- perhaps even a little more poised for success.

My recent memoir is titled Misfit. I am a misfit -- we're all misfits -- and that's exactly what gives all of us an edge, it's what helps us stand out. We can choose to hide and try to blend in and quash those very things that could make us special; or we can simply harness our unique edges to build better lives and better careers for ourselves and build an even better world around us.

I was reflecting on our good fortune just a month ago when I was back in Greece, speaking with friends there and comparing our incredibly different worlds. Even today in that beautiful country the vast majority of gay and lesbian people lead dual lives by necessity; they can't even imagine coming out at work; they can't marry; they can't contribute to their society by holding any kind of visible role or elected office; and, in many sad cases, they can't even come out to their own families.

That's why I feel so lucky to be living in a time and place where the basic human goals of being who you are and all you can be are so perfectly compatible.

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