Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Demonstrating Respect - or the Lack of It

You may have caught the story in Monday's Daily Herald about the annual Gay Pride Parade, which was on the previous Saturday. Unfortunately, the focus on the story was that, despite having been invited, nobody from City Council was present to deliver greetings on behalf of the city, and the security staff that had been promised weren't there, so the flag could not be raised.

I got a call from the Herald on Sunday afternoon, asking how this happened. I'm not sure why I was called; perhaps it was because at the previous three parades, I had been asked to represent the city, since the mayor wasn't available, nor was whoever the deputy mayor was at the time. With this mayor, all requests for a member of council to attend an event are funneled through the mayor's office, and he decides who will represent the city. The rest of us usually aren't even informed as to what events are happening. But this year, I didn't receive an email, or phone call, or anything. In fact, it was only the day before that Andrea told me that she had seen a public service announcement that the parade was the next day, but she wasn't sure what time, and she wondered who from the city would be there, since I hadn't been asked, and it hasn't been the sort of event that other members of council rush to be at.

It was bad enough that nobody representing the city bothered to show up, or sent their regrets, but the security that had been promised and paid for wasn't there either.

In my mind, this is totally disrespectful. It's easy to sign a proclamation declaring Gay Pride Week, but a proclamation means nothing if the only public event celebrating this is not supported, and worse if commitments were made and not kept. And, of course, the final disrespectful action was to not apologize for the non-appearance - it wasn't even mentioned at Monday's council meeting.

I realize that the whole gay issue is a sensitive one for some people, but as members of council, we have to remember that we are elected to represent all of our constituents, not just the ones that we feel match our values. And as council, we set an example for the rest of the city. This was the fourth annual Gay Pride Parade - none of the others had caused any problems. It's just a relatively small group of people who believe that gays and lesbians need to be supported in their ongoing attempts to overcome long-standing discriminatory actions from society - a brief parade, a few speeches, the raising of a flag - that's it. But I know that for the participants, it's an important and meaningful ceremony, one which indicates that the city, among others, supports their efforts to be free to be as they are, without fear of recrimination, discrimination, and worse.

I'm not going to say that I know gay people and they're all fabulous. Like any group, they are widely divergent in their interests, their activities, their personalities. But they do tend to be a group that some people feel are an acceptable target for discrimination.

At the first Parade, I spoke about how, a few centuries back, left-handed people were considered dangerous, working on the side of evil, and we still have the adjectives sinister and gauche as hangovers of that now out-moded discrimination. And lefties still have a harder time of it - our son is left-handed, and Andrea still remembers his joy when she got him a pair of lefty scissors when he was about three - finally, he could cut paper. So he is part of a minority - thank goodness, nobody ever suggested that he could be trained out of it, or that this was some sort of choice that he made. And I look forward to the day when being gay is considered the same sort of thing - something that is just as much a part of an individual as their hair colour, or handed-ness, or height, but not something that is considered an acceptable reason to make fun of someone, or beat them up, or that they should be ashamed of.

And I'm afraid that not showing up for the flag-raising ceremony demonstrates that for some members of council, the gay community is less deserving of respect than other groups. It isn't. In one way or another, each of us is part of a minority - whether it be age, race, gender, handicapped - the list is endless. When we allow others to be discriminated against, we increase the likelihood that at some point, we will suffer as well.

"Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me." - Martin Niemoller

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