Growing up I must have known people who were gay, but if they were, they were completely and totally mum about it and I remain ignorant of their number to this day. Even into high school, I have no idea how many gay students might have been there. I didn’t know many in university either and even among those people I know now, I don’t make it a habit of asking anyone what kind of people they’d be into. Growing up, I was ignorant of the possibility of my friends being gay. Now for me, I don’t feel like I need to know – not because I don’t want to know, it just feels like a non-issue. Okay, you’re gay. Now where are we going for dinner? I don’t know if I’ve explained what I mean very well… I’m accepting, I’m accommodating, I’m okay with it, you know? Why is this such a big deal?
Because it’s a big deal for a whole lot of other people, that’s why. And that’s why the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education has been putting on this Break the Silence conference for 14 years and will continue to do so. This year was the first I’d ever heard of it, let alone attended.
The first talk today featured Emily Carr and Shawn Sanford Beck who shared their experiences as ministers at a local Anglican church and their Wardens freaking out over Emily’s recent marriage to her same-sex partner. They both wound up resigning voluntarily rather than stay in the hostile environment created by these members of their congregation who wouldn’t accept her as is. Shawn used to bless same sex partners at the church but I think he said he’s now teaching theology on campus and Emily has an even bigger role with the church than she did before, coordinating with their Bishop on youth related projects of some kind. I scribbled pages and pages worth of notes into my little book, some of which I can’t even read now; I was in such a hurry to record key points.
One thing I can read off my notes, what lesson did this congregation learn here? They weren’t all against Emily, but Shawn wondered if their decision to leave let the Anglicans off the hook as far as the need to challenge and change a homophobic atmosphere. Then again, why willingly stay around people who think like that?
The second talk was by Constable Hal Lam who discussed hate and bias crimes in Saskatoon and Canada. He revealed some incredibly appalling and stupid things done here, one to Muslims where people smeared ham all over their cars and another to a Jewish family where high school kids got it into their heads to build a cross, burn it, and leave it on their front lawn. He explained how difficult it is to prosecute for hate crimes, but also how important it is for people to report any and all of them anyway. If prosecutors and judges are aware of a history of complaints about that person, it might suggest that escalation to violence was only a matter of time, and that will play in the victim’s favour when sentencing comes down.
These kinds of events against anyone, be it due to religion, or race, or sexuality, have long lasting, long reaching implications for a person’s feeling of worth, and a community’s sense of safety. He brought up a massive protest in Calgary a few years ago on Anti-Racism Day when an aryan group massed a protest against the first group. He showed a news clip of that, and another of a lesbian couple in Ontario who got assaulted at a school when picking up their kid – by a larger man who’d come to pick up his own kid and didn’t like the look of them. Ontario Court Justice Katrina Mulligan felt Mark Scott’s self-defense story bordered on ridiculous and he was declared guilty.
After that was a “Good News” session to promote Camp Fyrefly, a LGBTQetc event for youth in Saskatchewan and Alberta. PFLAG Canada passed on some news about their movement, including the donation of My Princess Boy to every Catholic elementary school library in the city. I nearly cried reading that book and I don’t even have kids. They also talked about Day of Pink which runs April 13th across the country because discrimination hurts everyone. There’s a rally at the Roxy Theatre for fund raising tonight, actually, starting at 6pm (which is right now as I write). And a student from my home town got up to talk about the Gay Straight Alliance that now exists there thanks to her and some help. Yay for Swift Current. After hearing her story, it’s about damn time, too.
And then it was lunch time. Part 2 to come later.