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13 November 2008

french fights and equal rights

Back to the issue of anger in a second language that I mentioned a few days ago. Today was freaking frustrating.

Basically, 5 minutes after inviting me to her wedding, and telling me that, "it doesn't matter that we don't have much. Love is all that matters," the same girl who I mentioned in my previous post proceeded to go on a homophobic tirade.

It's as hard for me to translate the class discussion that followed, but it essentially consisted of this girl and a Peruvian man saying incredibly offensive and closed minded things about queer people. I don't even want to repeat the things the girl said. Suffice it to say that our teacher had to reprimand her. When she began to backpedal and said she doesn't respect gay people but she would talk to them if she had to, I called her a hypocrite (which is the same word in French).

When she said she sympathizes with people who say they would kill their child who have what (in her words) "is widely considered a mental illness," I asked her if she would be equally eager to kill a child that had any other kind of "mental handicap." Thankfully, my classmates and teacher stood behind me.

Our teacher told the girl that she has the right to her opinion, but that the school insists on tolerance, and she has to at least respect that while she's in the building.

The Peruvian man said: "the problem begins when you let them marry. It's even worse when they want to adopt. They should NOT be able to have children. " For him, gay marriage is as the destroyer of the nuclear family and basically heralds the apocalypse.

I am not a person who gets easily angered, but discrimination and hate speech are things that I refuse to tolerate. The girl and the man attributed their viewpoints to being latin-american. This excuse angered a lot of the other latin-American students in the class, who absolutely disagreed with them and were furious to be lumped in with their beliefs. For me, being intolerant has nothing to do with what country you come from, rather it is a matter of personal choice.

Anyways, this argument went on for about half an hour, ending only because the class did. Our teacher asked the two students to, if nothing else, reflect on what we've discussed today, and to consider opening their minds and hearts. She asked them:

"If you were in a car accident and someone came to your aid, would you ask them what their sexual orientation was before they saved you?"

I wonder if my classmates will go home and think more about this, or if they will go home to their respective households and reaffirm their close-minded beliefs with their sympathetic partners. I have been thinking about this discussion, and the protestation against equal rights a great deal lately, especially in light of Proposition 8, which "eliminates the rights of same sex couples to marry."

Jessica recently posted a video of Keith Olberman on MSNBC, discussing this very issue. In his words:

"This isn't about yelling, and this isn't about politics. This is about the human heart. And if that sounds corny, so be it. If you voted for this proposition, or you supported those who did or the sentiments they express, I have some questions, because truly, I do not understand.

Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don't want to deny you yours. They don't want to take anything away from you. They want what you want: a chance to be a little less alone in the world."

Olberman claims to have no ties or sense of obligation to the gay community. He simply cannot fathom why people would be so against giving the equal rights to people who are in love and who want to marry.

I do have ties to the queer community, as many of my close friends are gay and lesbian, but that is not the sole reason I get so angry when I encounter intolerance.

I get angry because I believe that all humans who are honest, good people should be treated equally, and should be given equal status as citizens in country that claims to offer equality and freedom for all. I am always for things that promote love, and against things divide and discriminate.

I have a hard time dealing with the notion that immigrants who arrive in Canada with refugee status, and are given a chance by this country after suffering some kind of injustice or persecution in their own, would not be able to grasp the concepts of equality, compassion and respect for other humans.

I think it's obvious how excited I was by Obama's victory and the election of North America's first African-American leader. On the same day of his election, however, people voted yes for proposition 8. While a step forward was taken, there was also a large step back.

Today I struggled again to express my opinion in French. It's unfortunate that anger is what's driving me to push myself harder to speak well, but that's the way it is.

I am not giving up on either fight.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful.

Eric said...

In time, Dallas, society and the state will come to see this issue with more clarity. The gay and lesbian community, like the slaves in the nineteenth century and suffragettes in the twentieth, are at times the victims of intolerance and ignorance; but in time, they, like those victims before them, will see the day when the various voices of bigotry -- like the ones that elicited anger on your part -- will be muted by logic and the source of compassion that is the 'human heart.'

Of these two in your class: forgive them, for they know not what they say. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't tell them to smarten up.

Dallas said...

Eric,
Thank you for this comment. I will write a post tomorrow as a follow-up. One of the girls actually spoke to me the next day and gave a very heartfelt apology for her words and actions. It gave me hope.