Sometimes symmetry is what you don’t want to happen, even when it benefits one’s cause. This is the situation we find ourselves in as we launch the first phase of the Council’s campaign against racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. In our very many discussions and debates about the content, analysis, tone and messaging of the campaign we talked about competing isms, about intersectionalities, about social construction of identities and about the very real soul destroying experiences of individuals and communities who are marginalized, excluded and ‘othered’ within our society.
Waking up to news of the violent tragedy that occurred in Orlando, Florida over the June 12 weekend was heart-wrenching. I watched and read the countless news broadcasts and social media commentary about the event, knowing that this was the result of hate – of a virulent transphobic and homophobic discourse that dehumanizes and encourages (intentionally or not) the violent response we are bearing witness to as we enter the second week of a month-long agenda of LGBTI+ Pride activism and celebrations across North America.
Within a few hours of the news breaking the discussion quickly turned to the ethno-racial and Faith identity of the shooter. Islamaphobic commentary came from everywhere including from those seeking high office in the US. Social media was afire with debates about violent Islam and the need to shut down geographic borders to immigrants and refugees, especially those from ‘Muslim countries’. Of course the discussion of gun control came up and just as quickly was dismissed.
Here in Canada, we had words of sympathy expressed by Prime Minister Justine Trudeau, who spoke out against hate and in favour of acceptance and pluralism, echoing the sentiments expressed by the US President.
The LGBTI+ community in Toronto organized a vigil attended and addressed by the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne and the Mayor of Toronto. Ontario’s Premier, herself a Lesbian, spoke of Ontario as a beacon and cautioned that we should not rest on our laurels. That homophobia and transphobia exist here, and after some prodding from the audience (a few folks yelled racism) that racism and sexism also exist here. That hate exists. She cautioned against responding to homophobia with Islamaphobia. Many LGBTI+ ‘leaders’ spoke eloquently about who we are as a city, province and country of tolerance and acceptance of diversity in all its forms and of our inclusion agenda as Canadians.
Yet this narrative of Toronto, Ontario, Canada ‘the good’ left a bitter taste for many in attendance. Those in the audience who were racialized and queer knew too well that the words spouted by the politicians and community leaders who were primarily white, didn’t capture their experiences. They felt deeply the erasure of the many lives of trans* women of colour particularly who have been brutally murdered in the recent past on the streets of Toronto and elsewhere. Many said they experienced this invisibilizing of their experiences – as Muslims and Latino/Latina, LGBTI+ folk inhabiting Brown, Black bodies as othering. The omission of acknowledging that those killed in Orlando were primarily these bodies, Latin, folks who live at the intersections of their many identities furthered their marginalization even in death.
It is these subtle forms of exclusions that we want to tackle in our public education campaigns. While using blunt examples like our “Go Back to Where you Come From” poster campaign, we are aiming to spark conversations and self-reflections with those who see themselves as tolerant, supportive of diversity in all its forms, yet often do not see the discrimination and exclusions that many around them experience. We want to start a movement of proactive, aware citizens who feel a responsibility to intervene when they see discrimination; to name micro-aggressions when it is being displayed by those around them. To disrupt.
As we mourn the loss of the many lives in Orlando, Florida and renew our commitment to political struggle against all forms of discrimination and exclusions, let us also get out the message and take the pledge that we will not allow hate to beget hate.