The last few months I’ve been trying to find ways to express my desire to be involved in community activism again. So when I went to the Queen City Pride AGM last night, I wasn’t sure what to expect except I knew that I wanted to get back into working with Pride.
The last time I was involved with a Pride committee we met in a member’s living room and had an operating budget of well under $500. I think I went into the AGM naive, thinking this would be pretty much the same kind of experience. It was not. Pride has become a well oiled machine with a bigger budget and a bigger festival. Regina’s now home to the longest Pride festival in Canada. Parade attendance has tripled in size since the last time I was at a parade.
I felt awkward, and a little daunted because the format has changed so much, the language has entered into a place that I’m a little unfamiliar with (I’m someone that hasn’t had much exposure to non-binary individuals, and my classic english trained mind has difficulty wrapping around the idea of “they” being a singular pronoun not used by a monarch). I’m starting at the bottom, and I expected that was going to be the case because I’m coming out of the shadows after almost 20 years of hiding.
Towards the end of the meeting the subject came up regarding uniformed officers marching in the Pride parade. I’m not totally sure if the police are marching with us in Regina, or if this is an issue, but I know that for some people this has been on our minds.
A few months ago I held the opinion that police officers should be permitted to march with the uniform on. Then I met someone with a different perspective on the matter and I decided to maybe think a little bit harder on the matter. That, like dealing with wasps in your garden, can be tricky and uncomfortable if you’re not prepared. A great tool set for this kind of endeavour can be found in this article here.
So what I learned actually changed my perspective in a few ways. The best way to describe the transition is to talk about how the conversation flowed last night.
The subject came up and the opinion was expressed that when we limit who can participate and how they participate we are closing the door on a very important aspect of the inclusiveness of our society.
Then I raised the point that I, as a Franciscan Friar, marching in the parade in full habit might make people feel uncomfortable because (without knowing about my denomination, or knowing me), they might draw a conclusion based on the significance of that “uniform”.
Making a judgement based on appearance is something we all do. Those judgements are based upon definitions that we believe to be true and part of our larger world view. So, in the case of a uniform that some individuals see as a signifier for safety, others who wear the uniform would see it as a signifier of their duty, and an aspect of pride; others still, like my friend Ashton, would see the uniform as a signifier that this is someone who needs to be feared.
Rather than run from what is making us afraid, it would be a refreshing experience to instead embrace the fear, dialogue about it, and begin a process of redefining in ways that are conducive to constructive co-operative behaviour. Which is basically a big complicated academic way of saying: Let’s get our terms right so we can all play together nice.
For some, this is going to be the fear of the uniform. It’s going to be discussing openly with people who have never had that experience of the uniform in a very personal way that is going to require a risk of being vulnerable and trust. Others may have to embrace the fear of cherished ideas and custom: we may not see something is wrong because it affords us a great level of comfort. It’s going to take a willingness to embrace an idea that is completely opposite to one we may hold dearly, even if it means doing so with the condition that we don’t have to continue to agree with that idea. We’re walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Both sides of this issue have one thing in common: the risk that if they continue to hold dearly the struggle, the goal of the struggle will never be achieved. There’s a cliche conspiracy theory about how the cure for cancer has existed for decades, but that if the cure was permitted to be used in medicine the industry of fighting cancer would collapse. I often think that we have settled in the same way. Pride as a political movement was begun to say no to the establishment, no to having to hide behind barriers the establishment had set for us. If we in turn set up the same barriers, are we not becoming the establishment we had fought against for so many years? And yet, should we not as a minority within society afford the same compassion and love to the minorities within our own communities regardless of how uncomfortable we feel?
It’s too easy to hide the discomfort, to run from it, to celebrate around it. It needs to have the blankets ripped off of it, it needs to be exposed to the light of day, and it needs to have the power it has over us taken from it and put into the place where it needs to be.
The point was brought up during the meeting that if dialogue like this were to take place, it would be impossible for that dialogue to reach everyone who needed it. It isn’t possible to hear everyone. What is possible is for the people who are heard, the people who experience a kind of reconciliation to take that transformative experience out into their own micro-communities and continue the momentum. To not proceed with dialogue because everyone can’t speak and be heard at the same time is a foolish logic. You give up before you start, and nothing changes. It’s too convenient.
At the end of the night, I told my boyfriend that I’d be willing to serve with Pride and get my roots down if that meant pushing broom, making phone calls, sealing envelopes, or leading workshops in Spirituality from a Queer Perspective. Whatever it takes. I have to start from the ground up all over again. Having an open perspective on things makes this challenge a little less daunting and a lot more exciting.
You don’t grow a garden by just thinking about it. You put seeds in the ground and you wait, sometimes for a very long time, sometimes for a time that seems longer than what you expect, until something sprouts out of the ground and renews your faith in all things wonderful.
After the meeting, my boyfriend and I went to a cafe to talk about how I felt about what had happened and enjoy a drink and a piece of pie. We sat on a couch together, he put his arm around me, and we talked casually. The gentleman sitting behind us was visibly uncomfortable by this even though the majority of people in the cafe couldn’t care less.