Our very dear friends “Maddie”1 and “Queenie”2 are lesbians, who have been living together, openly gay, many, many years and were married just as soon as it became legal here in Ontario. They are both career professionals who live and practice in a small town, both are community leaders and team coaches. Both work countless hours on their local reservation, one addressing legal and social justice issues and the other addressing health issues. They are generous philanthropists who volunteer both time and money in equal measure.
Today we received some horrific news from these sweet friends:
Whilst doing their weekly grocery shopping, minding their own business, they were targeted by a homophobic idiot. They were verbally abused, veiled threats were made and he spat in their direction though, mercifully, not on them. It happened during a busy shopping time, the aisles were crowded and yet no one – not a single soul – stood with them, came to their defence or even called for help. No one!
“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”3
show attack was over, the other shoppers quickly dispersed leaving Maddie and Queenie feeling shattered, frightened, alienated, angry and terribly sad. Without witnesses, the police officer who responded to their call said there was very little he could do, though he did take statements from both women, carefully noted their descriptions of the man and offered to see them safely home. Despite his kindness, they were left feeling maligned and wronged.
Kindness is something I spend a lot of time thinking about and, on this site, writing about but please, make no mistake: This was a hate crime. This is not about kindness (or the lack of it) – it is an issue of basic human dignity, decency, respect and most especially, protected and guaranteed human rights as defined in our charter.4
It took me hours to fully process this story so I can only imagine the devastation the two women felt amid the assault and afterwards. I felt horrified, disgusted, worried and heart broken for this couple, this family. However do we make sense of this tragic act of humiliation? How do they? Impossible, non?
‘Though infinitely easier than in the 1990s, 80s, 70s and earlier, living openly gay is advanced citizenship. It is complicated and tests one’s inner fortitude and heart at every twist and turn. Our circle of friends includes five lesbian couples. We’ve heard their experiences with homophobia. Many of those stories would make you ill yet me, a life-long friend, has remained – for the most part – silent on the issue of LGBTQ rights. My silence is a privilege I’ve had my entire life, something I was reminded of this week by the very enlightened Shannan Martin:
“For example – the fact that I continue to grow in my understanding and awareness is a gift, but it highlights the fact that for 40-odd years it didn’t really cross my mind. And when it did, I could choose not to engage. (That’s privilege.)”5
Too often I’ve chosen not to engage. I’ve cruised through my life of privilege thinking that one day I’d speak up, perhaps take action. Most of us make the mistake of believing we have all the time in the world to right wrongs, speak up for our friends; in short demonstrate our love for them. Bottom line: The time has come.
Qui tacet consentire videtur.
I am older now, my time to make a difference is quickly evaporating. Outrage, balled fists, retweeting, hashtags and rants within the privacy and safety of my home don’t cut it. Being disgusted but
leaving expecting my friends to fight their own battles is not enough. Qui tacet consentire videtur: Who is silent seems to agree. When I say and do nothing, when I fail to stand with my friends, demonstrate my love for them, I am really consenting to the villainy committed against them. NO MORE!
On days like this one, when our friends’ personal tragedy comes to light, I’m ashamed of the enormous gap between the person my privilege has allowed me to be, and the woman I ought to be. It doesn’t feel like “the good” is winning and I’m not helping matters any with my silence.
Almost daily I am gobsmacked by what I watch or hear on the news broadcasts. After Monday’s Iowa Democratic Caucuses, almost all news outlets reported that a female voter had asked for her ballot back after discovering the candidate she’d voted for – “Mayor Pete” – is a gay man. Here is the video: Homophobia in Iowa
Regardless of one’s political leaning, it’s very clear that Mr. Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg is smart, charming and earnest. He possesses all the characteristics people value in their politicians: Honesty, compassion, a strong moral compass, competence, dependability and trustworthiness. The voter in the video clearly recognized and was drawn to these traits. Yet, in her mind, they were negated by his sexual orientation. I’ve watched the video a number of times and, though it’s being touted as an overt example of homophobia in America, truth is, it looks an awful lot like ignorance to me. An ignorance that can and must be addressed with education.
Homophobia has become an umbrella label for any and all anti-gay attitudes, speech and actions. A phobia is an extreme, often irrational fear but let’s call a spade a spade: Homophobia is hatred of gays, not fear of them and if that Iowa voter is anything to go by, it is a hatred spawned by ignorance. A lack of schooling and awareness of legal rights and social responsibility. Of acceptance, inclusion, empathy and compassion.
“…and control your urges to scream about all the people you hate
‘Cause shade never made anybody less gay.”6
So now what?
I believe education is key. Here in Ontario, one of the most effective actions we can take is to support our public schools and our teachers. Our educators capably and sympathetically deliver a sex education curriculum that sensitively and respectfully teaches the legal rights of people of all sexual identities, advocates for inclusion and acceptance. Teaches that there is no place for bullying. The curriculum does not promote homosexuality. It does not promote an active sex life of any type. It merely lays out the facts – simply, concisely, appropriately. It teaches our kiddos not to bully anyone who is different, to be kinder, less judgmental, more inclusive, more respectful of everyone.
This week a wise friend wrote “what is UP with middle aged men???”7 That’s it in a nutshell! We have the opportunity to address so many homophobia-related issues in our schools before our kiddos are old enough to have ingrained, prejudicial judgments. Before – like those middle aged men – they are set in their ways and their thinking. We have the occasion and obligation to pass this lesson, this awareness, this sensitivity on to the youth of Ontario whilst they’re still young enough to comprehend and absorb the beautiful diversity of humanity.
Some days it feels like the only thing we do share is our humanity. Some days our differences feel overwhelming – race, religion, sexual orientation, social and financial status, competencies… The path to equality and social justice for all is learning to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences. Education is at the heart of helping our children to thrive and live harmoniously in this world of heterogeneity.
There is one more step that is essential: Stand up and be counted. Whenever we see someone being targeted for their differences, we absolutely must stand with them, defend them, denounce homophobic rhetoric, be present if the police are called to give an accurate account of the incidents we’ve witnessed. No matter who is targeted. Everywhere. Always. That’s how we can help “the good” win.
‘Til next time, y’all…
1 & 2 – Elizabeth Wein (Character in her book: “Code Name Verity”.)
3 – Albert Einstein
4 – The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
5 – Shannon Martin @shannanwrites
6 – Taylor Swift and Joel Little, songwriters: “You Need to Calm Down”
7 – Kerry Clare @KerryReads Pickle Me This