I don’t think that there is anyone who hasn’t experienced some sort of injustice – whether they were judged for the way they looked, missed out on an opportunity because of some arbitrary detail, or were treated unfairly thanks to a misconception. It is just a fact of life that you’re going to have situations in your life where you are forced to stand up and fight for yourself. And some fights are going to be larger, more difficult, and affect more people than others.
I feel that I have been quite lucky in the battles that I have needed to fight. While, as I pointed out in the article Me vs My Body, I have dealt with a certain level of sizeism in my life, I have never been put into a situation where I felt like a target for physical harm. That, to me, is the scariest form of discrimination. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for some of the people I hold most dear to me.
Since I started high school, I have been friends with many people who were part of the LGBTQI community. I was a part of musical theatre groups and while it might seem cliche, this was a safe haven and a common meeting place for many young gay man within my small town. And because they were my friends and colleagues, I never imagined anyone treating them with anything other than respect. And, behind the shelter of being around this group but not really part of it, I never saw any discrimination happen. I thought that my hometown was as safe and accepting for them as it had always been for me.
Today, I am still a member of the theatre community and I have an amazing group of friends from all walks of life, all over the world, who each deal with finding their own safe and accepting place within society. And I still have many close friends who are gay. So, naturally, I have always been passionate about fighting for equal rights for all people.
But, there has always been a part of me that felt a little like a fraud as I went to Pride events or spoke up about how isolating and terrifying it must be to experience the sort of discrimination that I had only heard about. While my heart has broken at stories I have heard of violence against members of the LGBTQI+ community and by statistics that show that they are not given the same rights as me as a cis heterosexual woman experience, I will never have that fire and drive of someone whose lives these issues affect on a daily basis.
I have never felt more helpless as an ally as when I turned on the news and heard the story of the horrific shooting at Pulse nightclub. That same night I had been celebrating with friends on Church St (the gay district) in Toronto. I thought of how different my life might be if this had happened in my city, and I was one of the people who spent the next morning desperate searching for clues to see if any of my friends might have been inside that club.
I watched, in the following days, as friends of mine truly felt this impact of this targeted attack. This was not a random act of terror meant to incite fear and horror. This was someone directing their anger and hatred on people very similar to those I held most dear. And I became almost paralyzed by the fact that the safe bubble that I lived in was not extended to them. That no matter what I said or did in those days, I couldn’t stop them going to bed a little more afraid of the world than I was at the end of the day.
I was meant to write a post for this site in the weeks following that attack. But, I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t figure out why in this important time – one that would hopefully inspire positive change out to ensure that such devastation could never be repeated – my voice would at all matter. What could I say that could be helpful, healing, or significant?
As the one month anniversary of this attack passed, I still had no answer to that question. I am still not sure that I have one today. But, one thing I have done over this time is to genuinely try to imagine what it is like to walk in another’s shoes, body, mind and heart. While I might never truly see the world through their eyes, I can be there to listen and support whenever possible.
One thing this experience has taught me is how important it is to stretch the limits of my bubble and not accept my reality as truth for everyone. It seems like every day, with the wealth of voices twisting stories for their own purposes online and in the news, that it has gotten harder to fight for something like equality – a concept that seems like it should be so simple and should be guaranteed to all. I guess I have learned not to just listen but to dig to find the truth.
Being an ally to me is constantly trying to understand even if I know I never will. Trying to heal wounds I have never felt. And mostly, just being there for others when needed.
Written By: Jessica de Bruyn
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