In Apathy We Trust?

Posted: 06/06/2012 by erichblayde in Gay Pride, Homophobia, Human Experience, Life Lessons, Queer Rights
Tags: , , , , , ,

She wraps one thickly muscled arm around my shoulder and looks at me with a crooked smile. Silver hair close-cropped, shining softly in the sun. Eyes of soft blue twinkling slightly as they regard me. Her voice, like gravel sliding down a hillside drowns out the roar of traffic, the excited voices of our comrades as they rehash the day’s events and the snickers of the people walking behind us. “Don’t ever let ’em forget what we did here today kid.”

The year was 1999. A group of us had come to hold a protest outside a Langley coffee house to fight the refusal of service one lesbian couple had received at the hands of the shop’s fundamentalist Christian owner. We had stood in the baking sun for hours, attempting to leaflet passers-by, being jeered at by patrons, and having little success at anything.

The turnout was meager, those who had showed were unwilling to truly shake things up, opting instead to stand across the street quietly and placidly accept the leaflets being balled up and thrown back in their faces. The old speaker system I had doggedly dragged three miles on my bike that morning steadfastly refused to work, and the coffee shop owner had blatantly posted a note on his sandwich board stating that the shop reserved the right to refuse business to anyone who chose to mock God.

After an hour of unrelenting humiliation I wanted to quit, I had organized the protest and was immensely disappointed with the results. Just as I gave up the last shred of my hope, one of the older bulls that had come out from the city walked over to me. She wasn’t tall, her profile was less than impressive, but her eyes shone with an internal fire unlike any I had seen before. She stared at me a minute and then grinned. “You as tired of this apathetic bunch of hens as I am kid?” she asked. Disgusted, I snorted “What do you think?” She grinned wolfishly, “C’mon kid, I’ll buy ya a coffee” She grabbed my arm firmly and pulled me across the street to the shop.

Moments later we emerged from the shop empty handed, both grinning like fools, the enraged shouts of the shopkeeper and yells of dismay from the patrons trailing behind us like so many ribbons adorning what was surely about to be a party.

The effect on the gathered crowd of protesters was electric. As the shop owner stormed out after us the once silent crowd of queers on the other side of the street surged towards us. Voices that hadn’t risen above a whisper were now raised in a proud cacophony of defiance. Picket signs were snatched from where they had lain since I unloaded them, someone gave the speaker system a swift kick in the right place and the strains of “We are Family” joined the fray. It was utter chaotic GBLT glory.

What a victory

The shop closed some years later, its owner had kept it gay free to the day he passed. The people of Langley were no friendlier to us after the protest than they were before it. In fact, the very next week a young man was suspended from a Langley high school for kissing his partner in a hallway, and told he would not be allowed back unless he publicly apologized.

We didn’t win the battle for Langley that day, but it was and is still the greatest victory of my life. Thanks to one old bull who took the time to show a young queermo that sometimes you have to fight not only to defeat your oppressor but also to awaken your friends, we won something better than acceptance in some shop.

That was the day we beat back apathy.

Now, years later I see the familiar signs of apathy creeping into the heart of our community once more. Queers who only a few short years ago stood proudly, hand in hand with their friends at the “Join Hands for Justice” march sit quietly on the bus never moving, never speaking out as the young heterosexual teenagers call each other “faggots” and curse each other with “You’re so gay”. Once proud couples who fought so valiantly to achieve the right to gay marriage sit idly by, calmly ignoring the FCK H8 group’s mass of postings on Facebook asking people to share the videos to support the fight for equal marriage rights in Tennessee. GBLT individuals across the globe who mere months ago screamed and raged about the rising flood of suicides in the queer youth population have suddenly fallen silent despite the fact that the queer youth suicide rate has not dropped at all.

When and where did we as a community adopt the idea that the war was won. Who made the announcement that, since queer Canadians had achieved the majority of rights they had demanded, we could all shut up? When we Canadians fought for marriage rights, queer Americans raised their voices as one to cheer us on, yet when they fight for the same thing we can’t even be bothered to hit the “share” button? When we first fought to abolish the practice of calling others gay as an insult, we swore up and down it was wrong, but what lesson does it teach our youth when we walk away from correcting the wrongs we see? When Aaron Webster was murdered, or Mathew Sheppard or Rita Hester or Gwen Araujo we raged and stormed for years fought like devils to have laws passed in their honour, but when immense numbers of queer youth commit suicide each year from bullying we give them a few months of rallying round the flag and then crawl back into our recliners, leaving our queer youth in the midst of a fight for their lives and totally bereft of the knowledge and experience of their elders.

You have got to be kidding me.

I never got the old bulls name those many years ago. But I will never EVER forget the lesson she taught me that day. Apathy is wrong, and if we would do nothing about apathy when we see it infecting our comrades spirits, we are no better than the murderers, bullies and small minded idiots who harass and torment us.

The fight is cooled here, but around the globe millions still live in fear and horror every day for the lack of the rights we so apathetically ignore.

Stand up Canada; Stand up queers, gays, lesbians, transsexuals, bisexuals, intersexuals, fags, dykes, bulls, femmes, trannys and queens. Get off the couch. Remember your history. Let’s work together to make this world a better more accepting place. We’ve come far in a short period, but the resting on our laurels is over now.

Time to start caring again.

  1. Allexia says:

    your blog is a great source of information.

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