We All Need To Be Better Allies

pride flag

About a month ago I spoke to several activists in the trans community about their work leading up to the introduction of a new federal bill. If passed into law, that bill will ensure human-rights protection for gender identity and gender expression in Canada, and would include those two categories in existing hate-crime legislation.

One of the women I spoke to became emotional during our interview. She was talking about all the work that her generation of trans and non-binary Canadians has had to do, and all the suffering they’ve experienced. But she choked up not because she was remembering all the difficulty she’s been through to get to this point, but because she could now imagine a better future for the young people coming ahead of her.

I thought about that today while reading about 50 people killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando during Pride Month, with just as many hurt and the city desperate for blood donations–ones its own LGBTQ community can’t give because the law prevents it. In spite of all the progress we’ve seen for LGBTQ rights in recent years, including Canada’s new bill and marriage equality in the United States, we still live in a world where a hate crime like this could happen.

It didn’t happen in a bubble. We need to remember that this crime happened in an environment that’s seen about 200 anti-LGBTQ laws introduced in the U.S. so far this year, including many that have passed. Those laws have already made the simple act of using a bathroom demonstrably more dangerous for some people. It happened in an environment where front-running presidential candidates could support those laws, could oppose legislation that provides LGBTQ people with civil rights, and could hire advisors who call gay people evil.

And before anybody thinks Canada gets off the hook, it happened in an environment where many politicians will oppose that new gender identity and expression bill, where the Conservative Party pats itself on the back for just now removing its official condemnation of same-sex marriage, where Ontario is only this year enshrining equal rights for LGBTQ parents and many other provinces haven’t done so yet, and where a Montreal clinic that does gender confirmation surgery was recently attacked in an arson.

I’ve done a fair bit of reporting on LGBTQ issues this year. I always try to keep in mind while I’m doing it that I am writing about a community that is not my own, and it’s important to represent it fairly in my work. I’m glad to be doing that work for editors who care about getting it right–who will ask questions to make sure we’re using the best words, and who will ensure the voices of the people we’re writing about are in the pieces. I don’t claim to have never screwed up, but I know we are trying.

We all need to try harder. I don’t mean LGBTQ people–they’ve been trying for a long-ass time. The rest of us need to do more. I have a few ideas for how we can start.

  • Have uncomfortable conversations with friends and family who say crappy, homophobic, transphobic things, even if it’s awkward for you and ruins dinner a little.
  • Attend Pride events this summer that are open to everyone, in order to show your support and solidarity. Also, Pride is very fun and you will enjoy it.
  • If you have kids, bring them to Pride events so they grow up seeing that there are a multitude of ways to exist in this world.
  • If a Pride event (or any other) is not open to non-LGBTQ people, accept that there are good reasons for that and don’t get all butthurt about it. It’s not about you.
  • If you are in school, join a gay/straight alliance or start one if one doesn’t exist. If you have a kid, encourage them to do the same.
  • Donate to groups that provide support for LGBTQ people in Canada and the United States. I will find some good ones and add them.
  • Learn about the history of the struggle for LGBTQ rights in Canada and the U.S. I will research good suggestions for this.
  • When LGBTQ people tell you what their lives are like, shut up and listen to them. Turns out they know more about their lived experience than you do!
  • Write to your politicians at every level and tell them you will not vote for or donate to them if they support policies that are discriminatory. Tell them that you not only expect them to not support those policies but to publicly condemn them.
  • Then put your vote behind it–don’t reward politicians and political parties that trade on hate and fear to score cheap points. I don’t care how much you like their proposed tax rates.

I am not pretending to have all the answers, or even more than a handful of them. But I felt like I had to at least put a few out there, even if only to remind myself to put them in action as often as possible. If you have more to add, please do.

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