For our special 50th anniversary issue, Canada’s brightest, boldest, and most rebellious thinkers, doers, and creators share their best big ideas. Through ideas macro and micro, radical and everyday, we present 50 essays, think pieces, and calls to action. Picture: plans for sustainable food systems, radical legislation, revolutionary health care, a greener planet, Indigenous self-government, vibrant cities, safe spaces, peaceful collaboration, and more—we encouraged our writers to dream big, to hope, and to courageously share their ideas and wish lists for our collective better future. Here’s to another 50 years!
When I first read the news about the massacre in Orlando, I sat and wept. My phone trembled in my palm as my newsfeed filled up with blood and bullets.
I wept like I haven’t wept in years. The grisly hate crime pounded a thousand drum beats on my chest, creeping into my marrow and heartbeat, shaking me to the core. I opened my mouth to scream, to hear my own voice and remember I am alive. Nothing would come out.
In the days that followed, the LGBTQ community wrestled with a collective grief and anger unlike anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime. I waded through post after post by broken-hearted friends and strangers struggling to find words, struggling to find energy to rage, struggling to find hope.
Struggling, while having their own voice stolen.
I watched as most of the media erased the skin colour, gender identity, and sexual orientation of the victims. I watched as religious leaders glorified the mass murder as an act of God. I watched as politicians used this as proof that their discriminatory beliefs are righteous. I watched, and I wept.
In the back of my mind, I wondered if we were even surprised. Although one of the most deadly acts of violence against the queer community, it was certainly not the first. Violence against us is shockingly common and sometimes numbingly so. This was not the first time that our deaths had been politicized for those in power to get what they want, while continuing to erase our dignity and humanity.
This was not the first time we realized that we are not safe. We knew this at such young ages; we knew this before we had words for anything. We knew this from the moment we realized that we are different and that our bodies and our relationships would be seen as different. We know this after decades of expending a tremendous amount of energy to defend our worthiness to live and, God forbid, to love, on this planet.
We know this because we receive so many invitations to self-extinguish that some of us can no longer refuse, and most of us have come too close to accepting. So yes, we were shocked, but were we surprised? While we wept for the deaths of 49 people we didn’t know, we were reminded of the millions of tiny deaths we experience and are witness to.
We haven’t wanted to seem ungrateful, because we are now allowed to marry the same gender and are not only seeing ourselves represented on TV as pedophiles and shallow gay best friends. But can we just quickly mention the jobs we’ve lost, and the family members who have forbidden us to see their children, and the churches who have excommunicated us, and the research we have to do before we travel to make sure we won’t be arrested for holding our partner’s hand?
Many Canadians were quick to lay the blame solely on America and its well-deserved reputation for violence and easy access to guns. “Thank God we’re Canadian!” people exclaimed. Believe me, I am thankful that I am in Canada. But the reality is that in our classrooms, in our faith communities, on our streets, we find a million ways to chip away at people’s lives. We may be less obvious, but we are not innocent. We have not yet arrived at the pinnacle of enlightenment and equality that we so often boast about. We may say “please” but we are just as lethal.
It’s true that things are much better than they were 50 years ago; we have benefited from the incredible pain and advocacy of our elders, LGBTQ and allies alike. But can’t our unwillingness to settle live in the same breath as our gratitude? It must if we are to have any integrity with the generations that follow us.
To achieve a better future, we must now move beyond lofty laws on paper and polite platitudes and hidden hatred. We must evolve into beings whose very DNA is imbued with an unquenchable thirst for equality, so that even one tiny death is one too many.
I look around at my community and see so clearly that inside our tears there is a stubborn and beautiful resiliency that fuels us. We are bone tired but more awake than ever. The wind may have been knocked out of us, but our voices are coming back stronger than ever. Too much of our lives have been silenced and spent on survival.
The crumbs and the closet are not enough.
Will the next generation of humans have to experience a million tiny deaths before they can even count to 10? Will we be able to live with ourselves, knowing we could’ve done more? All I know is that 50 years from now, if we stay awake, these tiny deaths can be replaced with a million tiny lights, each of us radiating in our unique ways, so that no one is forced to live or love in the shadows.
Photo courtesy of Pride Toronto/Flickr
Pam Rocker is an activist, writer, and speaker, working on a new book: I’m Here, I’m Queer, This Is How I Got Used To It.