Thanks, Rick, for the generous opportunity to write a guest piece for your wonderful blog!
As I considered what I could share of value with your readers, I realized that my perspective, both now and before becoming aware of the issues facing LGBT people, might resonate for gays and lesbians, as well as for straight people: in the case of the former, wondering how straight people can often be so clueless, and, the latter, becoming aware of the current climate in which LGBT people are trying to live their lives.
I’ve tried to remember what was happening in my life when former Prime Minister Paul Martin made same-sex marriage legal in Canada, because the debate is but a dim memory. I wish I could say I was writing letters and campaigning with the same devotion I do today, but that’s not the case. I was building a house (me, the English major, taking on the role of general contractor) and raising (I use the term loosely) three kids. Gay marriage simply wasn’t on my radar.
But that’s my point: For better or worse, I just didn’t care. I was far too busy pleading with recalcitrant roofers and stoned dry-wallers to worry about what honeymoon plans two guys down the road might have. Had I paid closer attention, and been aware of the opposition to same-sex marriage that came from some quarters (most, notably, my own province of Alberta), I probably would have gotten involved, for the same reason I’m involved today: Because it isn’t fair to deny a person’s human rights on the basis of sexual orientation, any more than on gender, race, or religion.
It never occurred to me to think that same-sex marriage would have any effect on my own marriage, as some anti-marriage activists suggest. Which makes me wonder: What drives some straight people to so fervently deny the rights of others, or, in the case of the recent Institute for Canadian Standards ad in the National Post, request that we not tell children at all about gays, lesbians, or transgendered people? Whether the discussion is about same-sex marriage (six years ago here, now in the US) or current classroom anti-homophobia and anti-bullying programs in Canada, there is a vociferous group of people who are under the impression it is their job to deny human rights to anyone who isn’t straight.
I certainly understand being so wrapped up in one’s own life that he or she simply doesn’t have time to think about current events; it’s not an ideal situation, but it is reality for certain periods of one’s life. What I genuinely do not understand is why certain straight people, like conservative radio host Kari Simpson, who filed a police complaint about Burnaby’s anti-homophobia school program, make it their life’s mission to promote discrimination and hatred. What can they possibly gain?
Personally, I believe that if you are straight, it is your responsibility, as a member of the group that primarily does the discriminating, to defend others. While I am blown away by the huge amount of work gay activists have done to move LGBT rights forward, straight people need to join in as well. The civil rights movement got a huge boost when whites joined blacks in marches and demonstrations. We need to do the same for LGBT people today.
In his wonderful rebuttal to John Carpay’s bigoted editorial in the Calgary Herald, Professor Darren E. Lund quotes Elie Wiesel: "I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." And, similarly, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
For any straight person reading this and asking, “What does this have to do with me?”, I urge you to speak up. Challenge your children and their friends, your friends and co-workers, when they say things like "that’s so gay." Tell them comments like that offend you. It’s difficult the first time. It’s not in our nature as Canadians to be self-righteous, to draw attention to ourselves. We tend to be British about it and pass it off.
But, as someone who was born in the United States, being opinionated comes as naturally as eating chocolate. For the polite Canadians reading this, I encourage you to channel your inner American! Start small, start with your own family. If your kids say "that’s so gay" or "faggot" with regularity, make sure they understand how comments like that affect every gay kid who hears it at school. Studies have shown that all kids, gay and straight, bullied and not-bullied alike, do better in schools where anti-bullying programs are in place. Please make sure your kid is on the side of providing solutions rather than creating problems.
Don’t assume your kids are straight. Maybe they are, but, in some cases, you won’t know for sure until they’re adults. Consider this when making statements.
If adults you know make homophobic comments, tell them, “I find that offensive.” Repeat it every time it happens. They may react with denial or justifications at the time, but, in my experience, they’ll stop saying it eventually. Too often we consider the feelings of those making the bigoted statements, rather than the feelings of those targeted. I promise, the first time you call out someone for a making a hateful remark is the hardest. After that, it becomes a refrain.
It isn’t enough to support gay rights; you must challenge those who are against gay rights. It isn’t enough for our kids to stand back and not bully; they need to defend their gay and lesbian classmates. Part of what makes a country healthy is its ability to look out for everyone, not just those who are members of the majority. I truly believe it’s our duty as members of a productive society to stand up for people, to defend those who are persecuted, and not to remain silent.