Love Trumps Hate
A week ago while on the road I was tagged in a post on Facebook regarding several threatening letters received by a family here in Kingston (where I have lived since 2002), asking if I had heard about any others who had received similar threats. The letters (which are below – and mind you – are very graphic and could be disturbing to some) targeted a couple; the hateful and hurtful salutation said it all: ‘Lesbian Bitches’.
With such a homophobic, violent and sexist introduction you can imagine what follows. Threats of violence, reference to the (anonymous) letter writer being faith based (the signed with ‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour’) and demanding the couple relocate out of Kingston. The letter speaks of previous acts where they successfully ‘relocated’ others and goes on to say, ‘These are not empty threats. MOVE or else!’
A second letter arrived and it was equally concerning, for several reasons. This letter speaks of specific and targeted violence against the family, (‘Take our previous letter seriously or fun and games will turn into deadly serious action’) and recruiting youngsters and arming them with BB guns so they can, ‘hunt you down’.
The local police have responded and over the weekend, as the story grew, first via social media then by coverage in the mainstream press, elected and community leaders spoke out against these letters and their author’s actions. The couple came forward and have penned a wonderful response that can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/susan-belyea/kingston-hate-letter-to-lesbians_b_3632795.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false and the national media this week has been sharing this story across Canada. Many are, rightfully so, outraged.
First and foremost there is the obvious concern for this family’s safety and that of others who have experienced directed hate and intimidation based on sexual orientation. For me it is a reminder that Will & Grace, Modern Family, equitable marriage laws and other legislative shifts both in Canada and abroad along with the development of GSA’s (Gay Straight Alliances) in schools has yet brought the issues facing the GLBT community out into ‘the New Normal’. Yes, times have changed in the last twenty years and for many, especially youth and young adults, ‘coming out’ – simply being who they are, has become much more attainable; and can be perceived as safer.
‘Safer’ is not always true: families still reject youth, we still hear regularly about GLBT who have suicided, school mates still bully GLBT youth – often into submission. Many GLBT youth are still living, working and studying in places that are not safe. In 2011 the EGALE Canada (EGALE Canada is the national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans human rights organization: advancing equality, diversity, education and justice.) report, Every Class in Every School, 70% of all participating students, LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ, reported hearing expressions such as “that’s so gay” every day in school and almost half (48%) reported hearing remarks such as “faggot,” “lezbo,” and “dyke” every day in school.
Originally reading these letters I was equally concerned about the negative effect they would have on young people who learned about – and experienced this kind of hate and hurt in the world. I pictured a 13 year old, who knows they are different than their friends – and the power that this kind of hate and violence could have over them:, a 16 year old who already understands what violence looks like after being bullied and victimized in school last year. My concern wasn’t limited simply for GLBT youth but those who attack, violate or bully their GLBT peers. Would this kind of messaging reinforce their behaviour – providing them a ‘moral’ sense of righteousness – whether they knew it or not? Yes I was concerned about the family threatened and their well being; though was equally concerned with the larger picture this story would have on young people from coast to coast to coast.
I’m not concerned anymore. Not at all. What happened as a result of these letters, of these threats and this hate has been an outpouring of love. Of community. Of heart (in fact, may hearts). The idea that one small ripple can affect so many couldn’t have been so true. These letters mobilized others not simply within the LGBT community but ‘the community’. Kingston as a whole began to step up and speak out. Organizers brought together individuals in a local park to ensure the victims of this hate crime knew that they were not alone; the next day more people joined in at the park, signing a card and beginning a photo collage of people sharing their love – their heart, not simply with the targeted couple – but with all.
Pictures started being posted on a new Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kingston-Loves-The-Queer-Community/693300830695712 . If you need a reminder of what love looks like, be sure to like the page and spend some time seeing children, families, youth groups, and pets along business, political and entertainment leaders sharing their heart with both the couple and the GLBT community. Consider joining in, like others have from across Canada and sharing your own heart. Together, as one large community we can reinforce that hate is not a family value…not a Kingston value and not a Canadian value. Love is.
Hate and violence can easily breed more hate, more violence. We see it around the world. Yet here, in Kingston – and now from across Canada, thousands are standing up to hate with love, acceptance and support. Those young people know, the ones I originally thought of…they are seeing that they too are loved…and will be all right. They are not alone. They, and their safety matters. Their experience, in schools and the community, is important to others. Most importantly, the message, to youth and the original family targeted, is that they belong.
Warning: Letters Include Hateful, Hurtful and Threatening Content – May Be Triggering For Some People