Monday, April 22, 2013

The "Rebel" Alliance

Perhaps I'm a bit late to the party, but this is an issue that I wanted to spend a bit of time talking about since it was mentioned.

In the past few weeks, an issue that wasn't on anyone's radar made its way to the forefront of everyone's minds when Cam Broten rose in the legislature to ask the Premier and the Minister of Education about the existence of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Saskatchewan schools. Brad Wall gave the standard right wing boiler plate warning of ensuring religious tolerance and freedoms were protected, while Russ Marchuk has tried to say that there is currently no legislation that prevent GSAs from being formed in schools across Saskatchewan.

Brad Wall further embarrassed himself, and Cam Broten rightly called him out on it, when in the media scrum afterwards the Premier seemed unable to bring himself to even say the word 'gay'.

While many people may be scratching their heads and wondering why this is an issue, especially given that Saskatchewan has allowed same-sex marriage since 2005, I think the Premier's behaviour is a perfect example as to why this is still an issue.

Allow me to share a story from my own high school experience, and perhaps that can give you some idea.

I went to a Catholic High School, I grew up in the Catholic education system, and it was in 2005 that Saskatchewan legalized same-sex marriage. As editor of the school newspaper, I used my editorial space to praise the province for legalizing same-sex marriage and talked a bit about why it was important to do so. I tried to address the standard arguments ("It's a choice", "Hate the sin, love the sinner", "the Bible says...", etc, etc, etc.) and talked about some of the prejudices that young gays and lesbians faced.

I'll be briefer than I was in the editorial, but basically: Who would chose to be a member of an ostracized community with an abnormally high suicide rate for youths? Jesus preached love and tolerance, and condemned judgment "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone" and all that, as such, judging and condemning an action does not lie in the purview of humanity and belongs solely to God. The Bible also says you can't wear clothes made of two fabrics, eat shellfish, crossbreed animals, talk to a woman with her monthly visitor, and non-virgins who get married should be put to death...You know, stuff from the same section of the Bible (mostly Leviticus) that modern Christians have shrugged off.

At the end, I invited anyone who disagreed with anything I had said to sit down and have a civil discussion with me. Ultimately, no students took up that challenge, though one staff member did and sort of left the idea of civil discussion at the door. A "student" did publish a rebuttal editorial, shrugging off the points I made above, and after a conversation with our staff adviser for the paper, no rebuttal to the rebuttal was printed.

The reactions to my editorial were varied.

The Priests in the parish at the time had after school staff meetings with the teachers, during which time they were given lectures on marriage and even given pamphlets to give to students who had questions raised from my editorial. Some fellow members of the SRC condemned my editorial, stopping short of demanding a resignation (which I never would have given), but did make it loud and clear they disagreed with me.

But the moment that stands out the most for me, is when one of our staff members pulled me aside in the hallway the morning after the editorial was printed. It was no secret that her eldest son, a former student of the school from years before me, was gay. She simply hugged me, and thanked me for courage and conviction to write what said.

It was a moving moment, and if there were any doubt in my mind about whether or not I should have published the editorial, it was certainly erased by that interaction.

The varying responses to a simple editorial show why the need for GSAs, in both the public and private system, continue to remain. While we may have accepted same-sex marriage, many in the province have not fully accepted LGBT2Q people as a whole. I can point to the Star Phoenix's decision to run a Valentine's Day cover with a lesbian couple, and the backlash that it sparked from certain members of the community who were appalled to see such a display on their morning paper.

Homosexuality and other sections of gender identity are still not fully accepted in Saskatchewan; to try and say otherwise is tantamount to putting your fingers in your ears, closing your eyes, and denying that LGBT2Q people exist in the first place.

Adolescence is the first step out of ignorance and the first step in to determining the ideals and values that a person will hold throughout their lifetime. Education is immensely important, as it broadens your worldview and gives you a better understanding of not just who you are as a person, but who other people around you are.

We no longer live in the 1950s, where people spent their entire lives in the closet and worried for their careers or seeing their immediately family members if their sexuality was ever revealed. It's time that our political mindset accepted that as well. Like the Civil Rights Movement, it is only by discussing issues and beginning to reject the idea of "the Other" that we can even hope to make steps towards progress.

There is no us and them, there is only us: As in, there is only the human race. Being a member of the LGBT2Q community does not preclude you from being a member of the human race, and we need to make that message loud and clear.

There is so much hatred and vitriol directed to homosexuals in our world, and that is hatred that is passed onto and even directed towards our children. We are raising a generation that is still being told that the feelings they may be experiencing are shameful, immoral, wrong, and disgusting. It wasn't that long ago that we expressed these sames feelings towards all human sexuality, as we condemned the idea of sex for pleasure as shameful, immoral, wrong, and disgusting.

You can wrap up old ignorance and condemnation in a new shawl all you want, it doesn't change it. The world only spins forward, and holding onto the past and emulating it doesn't bring it back.

And as to the issue of religious freedom....

Even religions can change. Prior to the Council of Trent, Christianity was completely different from it was today. There were sects that denied the divinity of Jesus, rejected transubstantiation, and even some who viewed Christianity as a polytheistic religion.

Let's go even further.

Even after the Roman Catholic Church fully formed around a basic tenant of beliefs, those beliefs changed. Take the sale of indulgences, a practice that had no basis in the Bible, but was used and then fell out of favour. Take the moving away from the Bible as literal truth for all books, to some being credited as allegory. Take the moving of the mass from Latin to the common tongue.

It may move slowly, but the Church has evolved and even religious practice has evolved with it. I mentioned our good friend the book of Leviticus and some of the "Laws" that have fallen out of use, while it is still used to condemn homosexuality.

The fact of the matter is this: If you believe in Jesus Christ, you believe that he was the Messiah and that he spoke a gospel that you must follow. Furthermore, Jesus issued only one commandment that he said all must follow: That you love one another as I have loved you. This was Jesus' command, and as such, it is the only command that matters. You cannot love someone as Jesus loved you, unconditionally, if you then find you need to condemn homosexuality because a previous part of the Bible told you to. 

I fear this is becoming a sermon, something I am not even remotely qualified to attest to, so let's get back on political footing.

The truth of the matter is that it all comes back down to education. Religious freedom doesn't give you the protection to openly attack and persecute people; if it did, we'd be little more than a fundamentalist theocracy that didn't tolerate other faiths, let alone homosexuality. We need to educate people, let them know that members of the LGBT2Q community exist in their circle of friends, in their families, and in their communities.

We need to break down this idea that there is anything wrong or 'sinful' about homosexual behaviour; and more importantly, we need to let LGBT2Q youth know that there are people out there who care for them and support them exactly as they are. These kids need to know that they are 'normal', and that there is nothing wrong with them, and GSAs provide the best venue to create such a system.

We have a Premier who seems to be unable to even say the word 'gay', and was evasive on the question of whether he believed homosexuality was a choice. (He did hem and haw, though he did eventually concede that from what he 'knew' of it from people that it wasn't....though it still left quite a bit of doubt over whether or not he actually sees it as a choice as he never actually gave his opinion...)

We don't need to let another generation grow up where 'gay' is muttered as an insult; or worse, where people can't even mutter the word at all. 

No comments: