Thursday, 16 June 2016 14:52

An open letter from Southwest Sask. Pride

Written by  Shaun Hanna
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Orlando, my heart is breaking.

This past weekend, two diverse communities were brought together as a result of the worst gun-related massacre in North America since Wounded Knee — those of the LGBTQ2+ community, and those of the Muslim community.
I imagine it’s difficult to understand how — or even why — the weekend’s events might impact us here, especially so far removed by space, or by ethnicity, or even by orientation, beyond our shared sense of human solidarity. How easy it would be to dismiss these events on the grounds of cultural nationalism (gun violence is something that happens to them, right?). How easy it would be for us to blame extreme, religious ideology.
Unless you’ve lived under a threat of violence, it’s impossible to describe adequately the constant sense of vigilance you feel growing up queer, and how that vigilance so often gives way to suspicion and fear, sometimes for your own life, in your own home.
These events trigger those fears like a shot gun in the hearts of every caring human being the world over.
If you can’t wrap your mind around how a bar or a nightclub can serve as a sanctuary, then you clearly have never felt the fear of holding someone’s hand in public.
Our community is small, made smaller through digital technology. It took me only three clicks through Facebook to know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody impacted directly by this hateful act. The sense of the indignity, and pain, and loss — utter loss — the LGBTQ2+ community woke up to on Sunday morning was underscored only by the immensity of our collective mourning at candlelight vigils on Sunday night.
But, grief gives way to healing.
This year marked Southwest Saskatchewan Pride’s 5th annual pride celebration — our best yet. When the Lyric Theatre opened their doors that night, guests were literally lined up down the block. And not just from our community, straight allies too, all of us joining together to celebrate the strength we gain from diversity. There was food, and drink, and drag, and dancing. We even received a letter of commendation from our Premier, Brad Wall. Ask anyone who was there, it was a fun time.
My heart was full of pride.
I contrast that night with a similar night five years ago, when, gathered around a small table, the organizers of Swift Current’s first pride celebration haughtily debated the safety of our guests: should we advertise? Will there be protesters? Should we hire security? Will people feel safe coming out?
Ultimately, we struck a compromise: we wouldn’t hire security, but we wouldn’t advertise publically either. Instead, we would rely on word of mouth to fill the seats. Happily, the event went off with no incidences of violence, or hate, or protest.
See, we had made a choice that night to hold our community — our entire community  — to a higher standard. We chose to trust in our friends and our neighbours and our coworkers, and, in turn they — you — held that trust.
In the years since, we’ve grown more open, celebrated more loudly, we’ve allowed ourselves to shine as part of our larger community.
I have to say, the support and love that we’ve seen in return has been overwhelming.
We’ve seen Diversity in the Workplace training, we’ve seen Gay-Straight Alliance groups form at Fairview and at Maverick, we’ve seen queer literary events at the library, and we’ve seen members of our business community stand up to make their work places safe spaces, not just for some, but for all (did you know that both our City Hall and our local college have non-gendered restrooms?).
We know that work isn’t over. We know, for example, that in our school division there’s a stark contrast between what is permitted and what is supported, even at the cost of the safety for our most vulnerable youth.
We know that the rapid shift away from hate towards acceptance and openness is perhaps too fast for some, but I promise you it will be ok.
Community always outshines hate. 
Every year in June, a criticism I often hear leveraged against Pride month is: “What about straight pride?” This criticism is often rebutted with: “Be thankful that you don’t need one!”
I disagree. When we celebrate pride, we celebrate diversity in all of its forms.
We host a whole season where we give ourselves permission to cut loose, be honest, be human. We celebrate love compassion and permit ourselves to be who we are.
Unless you’re a part of the LGBTQ2+ community, you don’t really get the chance to experience that in quite in the same way.
Our tent is an inclusive tent. When a straight person goes to a Pride event, you know what they see? Of course you do: they see drag queens, they see ‘dykes on bikes’, they see business people, and transgendered families, and boyfriends holding hands, girlfriends kissing, and... and... and...
They get to see that there’s no “one way to be gay,” and they get to take that away with them.
Hopefully, they get to take away the idea that there’s no one way to be straight either.
As it happens, this year, Ramadan — a time of reflection, generosity, and charity for our Muslim brothers and sisters — also falls in June.
Just as we in the LGBTQ2+ community know how events far away impact us close to home, we know too how easy it might be for hateful sensibilities to try and drive a wedge between our two vulnerable communities.
Your community is part of our community. So, on behalf our community, we wish our Muslim brothers and sisters peace and solidarity — Ramadan Mubarak!
Shaun Hanna is a spokesperson with Southwest Saskatchewan Pride.

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