Being allies

Dear Editor,

To say I was disappointed in Council’s decision to deny the rainbow crosswalk would be an understatement; I was disheartened. It’s not the first time I’ve been embarrassed by a decision made by our current Council but it is the first time it’s brought me to tears.

My experience of gender and sexuality is along a continuum, stemming from conformance and/or non-conformance to socially-constructed heterosexual assumptions, and self-knowledge. The problem really isn’t fitting individuals into a labeled constraint, but rather how to take the public from intolerance, or tolerance, towards a celebration of diversity.

I see heterosexism as the main obstacle; society prefers one kind of love above all others and forces its members to classify behaviour according to its standard. Heterosexism oppresses the single, cohabiting, common-law, gay men, lesbians, bi-sexual, two-spirited, transsexual, trans-sensual, transgendered, gender transient, drag queens and kings, transvestites, celibate, abstinent, androgynous, asexual, autosexual, polysexual, questioning, one-parent families, childless couples, and anyone else who does not fit the mold.

This is an opportunity for public education and to truly commit to becoming allies. The Informal Booklet for People Who Care about People outlines an attitude continuum with eight stages. One is active participation in supporting oppression, two is denying or ignoring the issue, three is recognizing the situation and not taking action, four is interrupting heterosexist actions, five is educating yourself, six is questioning and educating others, seven is supporting and encouraging, and eight is initiating and preventing oppressive attitudes in institutions. I encourage council and community to locate themselves on this continuum and decide where they’d like to be.

“Who am I?” is something we all struggle with. As a fifth-generation white Canadian of anglo-european decent, born into a middle-class home in the rural north, I can safely identify as a heterosexual, cis-gendered female, who grew up with virtually no knowledge of the violence my hereditary colonialism had caused. My limited experience of oppression, however, means I must work extra hard to remedy the naivety this creates. This is a daily practice for me to be able to accurately consider my possible biases, and effectively work as an ally.

The unearned benefits I gain from my privileged social location are innumerable, ranging from access to power, education, employment, love, freedom from racial stereotypes and the intergenerational effects of colonialism, to the less obvious freedoms from limiting heterosexual assumptions, racially discriminatory systemic policies, and the ability to find reflective role models in the media. I believe with privilege come responsibility to advocate for those whose vulnerability to oppression and violence leaves them relatively silenced.

The only way to work as an ally is through recognizing I am part of the problem. As I try to articulate how I am working on this I need to persuade people to join me. Thus I write this letter. We are all affected by the social constructs of gender, race, and heteronormativity, and thus are responsible not to further impede another human’s access to live their truth.

For these reasons, from my place of privilege, I respectfully implore Council to revisit the painting of a rainbow crosswalk, and ask us all to delve into the possibility of our own personal biases and unchecked privilege. At the very least I ask that the concept of celebrating diversity be carefully considered as a constant on the Village of Valemount’s council agenda.

A rainbow crosswalk is one of many ways that Valemount could reflect its capacity for love; its subtle, not everyone will get it but the people that need the reminder that they are loved and accepted will receive this colorful hug from our community.

With love and admiration for this community,

Donalda Beeson

Valemount, BC

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