As a politician, the topic of Pride has been something I’ve been wrestling with for the last couple of years. Leading up to this year’s event there was a lot of discussion about Black Lives Matter and how/whether support and solidarity could be shown. I was heartened by the meaningful discourse that ensued; I had rather expected the idea to be brushed off, even if the result was more watered-down than had been hoped for. Still, it was great to see our leader, Elizabeth May, wearing her BLM shirt and the passion with which she defended this choice. This is exactly the kind of progress that I believe our party needs to see – rather than just waving our anti-pipeline signs, which further perpetuates the false notion that we are a single issue party.
As a queer youth activist, there is much work that needs to be done on the ground, and while the reality of equality is hopeful, we still have a very long way to go, both as Canadians and as global citizens.
As Greens, one of our core values is Social Justice. Since I joined the party, I have not only felt included and welcomed, I have been elected a number of times for council positions and am frequently included in decision making processes. I am, in fact, immensely proud of and empowered by my party, but I must admit that this also comes through the lens of a cis-gendered white male.
As someone who actively volunteers within the LGBTQ+ community, I have learned that despite how open and inclusive I once thought I was, I actually take up a great deal of space. I like things to move along in discussion groups, and I often find it hard to not shout out the answer immediately, rather than waiting for someone with a less pervasive voice to be heard. I frequently find myself talking passionately about political opinions without assessing my audience or considering who might feel uncomfortable hearing these thoughts. It’s a struggle, but the more often I keep it in the front of my mind, the more I find myself able to dial it down and make space for others to have a voice.
It is this thinking of how others might feel by what I say and do that has helped guide me down the road of a political activist. When, for example, I am in a delegation at a city council meeting about adding a rainbow crosswalk to my city’s streets, it is not only my goal to tell them how I feel, but also to consider how everyone else who might not have a voice at the table might feel by council’s responses. When one councillor tells me that despite understanding that the rainbow is a symbol of universal inclusion, that many of his constituents will see it as a proclamation exclusively to the LGBTQ+ community, I have to have my sensitivity on extra high alert. While the majority of my being understands what he’s saying, there is still a tiny, nagging feeling that something is not quite right about that.
What is it?
While I might personally not be harmed by this notion, it is a place of extreme privilege that has allowed me these feelings. For everyone else that hears this as the majority further marginalizing and compartmentalizing the minority, their voice needs to be heard.
Just because you know someone who is queer, or you’re related to someone who is gay, that doesn’t necessarily make you an ally. Just thinking and believing that you are inclusive and welcoming in nature doesn’t make it so. Furthermore, just because you are part of a party that flies the social justice flag, you aren’t automatically a social justice warrior.
Social justice is like a verb. Setting a quota is not an ongoing action, it is an attempt at resolution through a single act. Like many issues, implementing legislation is only a small part of the picture- true change comes through continuous, internal efforts. Marching in a parade doesn’t make your party inherently more inclusive, though like legislation, it is an important first step. When our leaders parade through major cities with rainbow accessories, what message is the marginalized community taking from it? Do they see a goofy hat and assume that the party is truly inclusive in nature, or do they see politicians looking for a selfie opportunity? Do they see people promoting equal human rights, or do they see people looking to position themselves for more votes?
For all the political parties that participate in these events, the answer to me is not crystal clear. While I might not doubt our intentions, I have only to look at our track record as a country for doubt to be cast for the rest of the population. What more can we offer the communities that we hope to represent?
It’s here that I remind us that social justice is a verb. Like most things in life, you can’t get to it by simply agreeing (or clicking ‘like’ for that matter), but through continuous actions and efforts.
And surprisingly enough, it’s not hard to do! If you’re a federal party, have you heard about our country’s outrageous HIV non-disclosure laws? If you’re a provincial party, have you considered that our education system (in many places) continues to leave children feeling marginalized by inadequate or non-existent sex ed? If you’re working on a municipal level, what sort of visible contributions have you made to communities that are frequently left feeling invisible? And of course if you’re a truly concerned citizen, what tangible work have you done to make your home more inclusive?
If you want to make a difference, it’s not hard! But you must first open your eyes to the amount of space you’re taking up, and consider who you’re taking that space away from. Take some time to educate yourself on issues like race, class or colonialism by listening to the voices of marginalized people. This is truly an example where actions speak louder than words- when asked what we have done to contribute to a minority of the population, we must be able to point to ongoing actions, not just historical achievements. When elected to a position of power, we must actively think about what more we can do today and how to make it a reality for tomorrow. And of course, when you have that nagging feeling that perhaps something is not right, unpack those thoughts and say something!
While I felt this year that my best contribution would be to attend Pride as a regular citizen, it is my goal for next year to march proudly alongside my party and reject selfie politics. We’re going to get there, but we’ve got to start thinking and acting now.