Comforting Words: Threatened Species

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Threatened Species

Thanks to all of you for your emails in which you shared with me bits of your own stories, after reading the latest installment of mine entitled "Upside Down."

The next 'installment' of my story is in the making. Members of this community will be automatically notified when it is posted.

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Your ‘membership’ gives you a chance to be the recipient of our monthly surprise. Speaking of which, we have a winner!

The September draw took place on the 30th and the winner was my dear woman-friend in British Columbia, Canada. She will receive the unabridged audio version of the book, "The Invitation," read by the author herself Oriah Mountain Dreamer. You could be the next winner of a Comforting Words Monthly Surprise by simply joining our mailing list.

My Words of Comfort, delayed as they are, is entitled "Threatened Species: People of Colour, LGTBQ and Women." The idea for this piece occured to me after receiving one more email about how discrimination, prejudice and narrow-mindedness have reigned supreme in another community.

Never one to deal the race card nor promote my own sexual orientation, I simply could not avoid sharing my thoughts on recent developments that affect the humanity of millions of people across the world. Along with the Sacred Words and Words from the Heart, I invite you to explore the Words of Comfort and let them open up a space in your heart that will allow you to take action - big or small - to end discrimination, of any kind, in your community.

As always, if you read something here that inspires you, please share it with a friend. Should you read something here that triggers you and you need someone to "talk it through" with, as the host of this Blog and the Comforting Words Community, I willingly open myself to you and I am here to support you as I am able to, whenever and however needed.

You may contact me via email or you can join the continuing conversation at the InComfort Discussion Forum. If needs be, I will call you, if you provide a telephone number or you can call me - members have access to my telephone number.

Sacred Words
(By using Sacred Words to describe the quotations that I chose to use in this section, my intention is to share with you words from a variety of sources that are dedicated to Truth and to what is holy in our experiences as human beings.)

From "Women's Words: The Columbia Book of Quotations by Women" compiled and edited by Mary Biggs, (191, 165-166,):
"We are your daughters, your sisters, your sons, your nurses, your mechanics, your athletes, your police, your politicians, your fathers, your doctors, your soldiers, your mothers. We live with you, care for you, help you, protect you, teach you, love you and need you. All we ask is that you let us. We are no different. We want to serve, like you. Need love, like you. Feel pain, like you. And we deserve justice, like you."
Margaretie Cammermeyer (b 1942, U.S. Nurse and Army Officer who was discharged after 26 years of service in the U.S. Army because she stated she was a lesbian.)

"Justice is not blind - she very often 'peeks' to determine the race, economic status, sex, and religion of persons prior to determination of guilt."
Connie Slaugther (B 1946, African-American civil rights attorney and activist).

From the Hebrew Scripture:
Job 19:7:
"Even when I cry out, 'Violence!' I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice."

Words of Comfort

Some articles are far more difficult for me to write than others. This one falls in the category of very difficult.

The challenge is not in finding the right words or stringing the phrases together. That is easy enough. Whether my sentences are grammatically correct or sound poetic is hardly my concern. Whether one day I will win a Pulitzer Prize is even further from my mind.

What makes writing difficult for me is the pain, physical and spiritual, that surges through my body, causing my breathing to come in gasps and threatening to choke me.

Sitting at the computer to begin this article took some doing. As I have confessed before, very often I have no early warning or sign as to what my next article is to be about. There are times when it is clear, then there are other times when up until the day that I am due to post an article, I have no clue what I am to write about.

For a week my thoughts kept returning to the question, "What will you write about for next Monday's post?" My muse was playing around with me again and information kept coming to me but I just was not putting them together. Right up to an hour before I sat down to put this article together, I had no idea what to share.

Returning from the hospital where I had gone earlier in the morning to journey with a patient and his family as he made his transition, my daughter told me a friend had called and as I was not home, he would send me an email.

Having a fair idea what his email was about - telling me that he cannot make it to A.'s 18th birthday dinner in a couple weeks - I rushed to the computer to confirm my notion. The fact that I was right, that this dear man was reneging on our plans, for good reasons, was not what gave me the idea for this article but it led me to it.

In my mailbox was an email from my woman-friend, B. She had forward to me a message about the cancellation of a play, which in itself was harmless as I had no plans on going.

This play, however, was special. It was to take place in the Surrey school district in British Columbia, here in Canada. The school district officials had banned the play, however, stating that it had offensive and sexual content - or something like that.

This was a production of The Laramie Project and for those of you who have not a clue what that is - here is some of what B sent me:
"The Laramie Project is based on the 1998 murder of a gay college student, Matthew Shepard, who was beaten and tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo. The young man died five days after he was found. Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project spent more than a year doing interviews in Laramie before writing the play in 2000. Since then, the play has been staged about 1,500 times in the U.S. and Canada."

Whether the production was banned in the Surrey school district because of homophobia, as some claim or simply that the administrators really believed that the content was too strong to be considered family entertainment is being debated. My interest in this story has more to do with the timing of this incident and recent articles in the newspapers about the Vatican starting a new witch hunt - seeking out the homosexuals in its midst.

Then there is the continuing debate about what went wrong and whether racism and class had anything to do with the response to the plea for help from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It was also hard for me not to notice the fall out in Ontario as a result of the Premier's decision not to allow any judicial arbitration by religious 'laws', including Sharia.

Who remembers how much I hailed the recent appointment of Michaelle Jean as Governor General of Canada? Well, no sooner than I had posted that article, the critics came out to either denigrate this woman and/or the office of Governor General.

Questions arose about her loyalty to the Crown and Canada and her qualifications to hold the post became the topic of discussion. Amidst all of this, there was of course the comments about her being an immigrant and woman of colour.

As I watched these developments, my heart sank. And I could not write any further. I turned off the computer and thought I would finish the article later but never got back to it until one week to the day and one big scare.

Reflecting on what I had already written and what had happened with me in the meantime, it was not long before I identified the common denominator in all these situations - being the other.

Non-white, non-heterosexual and woman - these all constitute object for derision, exclusion and domination. The Government does it, the Church has made it the platform of its mission, at least that is how it has played out and those who have any bit of power see this - exclusion, injustice and dominance - as the name of the game.

Being a person of colour, a woman, a lesbian and an immigrant, I often feel like a threatened specie. Maybe the IUCN Species Survival Commission should put people like me on its Threatened Species Watch List. If not them, somebody should because if societies continue at this pace, people who identify as homosexuals, who have migrated from their countries of birth, people who have a non-white skin colour, people who earn less than the average two-income middle class, Caucasian North-American family and half of the world population - women, will soon be extinct.

Just read these few highlights and you will see what I am talking about. I found them on the Internet and in newspapers. While most of them refer to North America, women, people of colour and LGTBQ persons in other countries around the world share similar experiences.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which released a new report, Women’s Economic Status in the States: Wide Disparities by Race, Ethnicity and Region, its first such report in 1996 states:
"[In the 2004 Report, it is noted that] despite changes over the last half century, Americans’ economic opportunities are still greatly impacted by accidents of birth, according to report author Amy Caiazza. 'Being born Hispanic or African American, and being born female, make you less likely to earn a high salary than if you are born white and male.' African American, Native American, and Hispanic women all have lower earnings and higher poverty rates than white women. But all groups of women have lower earnings and higher poverty rates than white men. Women are less likely to own a business and are less likely to work in high-paid occupations, such as jobs in science and technology or top levels of business.

Sex discrimination and job segregation continue to play key roles in holding down women’s earnings. Factors such as women’s lower levels of education, job training, and work experience explain less than half the gap in earnings. Racial discrimination and job segregation continue to hold down earnings for Hispanic women, African American women, Asian American women and Native American women. The report cites statistics that nearly one-third of employees in the low-paying private household sector of the service industry are Hispanics. Asian American women are also disproportionately found in low-wage jobs as domestics or doing poorly paid assembly work in the garment industry or Silicon Valley."

The Edmonton Journal on Sunday, September 25, 2005 reprinted a centrespread feature on "Canada's Stolen Sisters." While the article focuses on the plight of Aboriginal women of this country, one could easily see this affecting women of colour in any Caucasian majority country. It is a very long article but here are some snippets:
"The death and disappearance of aboriginal women has emerged as an alarming pattern, from western serial murders in Vancouver and Edmonton to little-known Atlantic vanishings. Grim statistics and anecdotal evidence compiled by The Canadian Press suggest public apathy has allowed predators to stalk native victims with impunity. The record also points to an ugly truth behind the political and legal lethargy: racism.

Many young women head for cities from reserves and small communities to find work and, all too often, to escape abuse. Lacking educational skills to find jobs, and frequently battling personal demons, they become trapped in a cycle of poverty, substance abuse and prostitution. They become easy prey.

There are strong suspicions some officers don't spend enough energy and resources on cases of lost aboriginal women - that they're too easily dismissed as addicts or transients.
[One law professor, herself an Aboriginal woman asks] 'why aren't we important?'"

If these stories were not enough, what about the recent reports about Bill Bennett's comments?
"The former U.S. education secretary-turned-talk show host said Wednesday last week that 'if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.' It is reported that he quickly added that such an idea would be 'an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do.' But, he said, 'your crime rate would go down.'"

Does that sound similar to the comment made last year by American televangelist, Jimmy Swaggart on a radio programme on a Toronto multicultural station, which is also heard throughout the US? Only this time, it was about gays:

"During the program, a rambling sermon by Swaggart who is trying to rehabilitate himself after an arrest for soliciting a prostitute, the televangelist turned to the subject of gay marriage. According to a transcript of the program, Swaggart said: 'I'm trying to find the correct name for it ... this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. ... I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died.' The remarks were met with applause from his congregation."

Unable to continue writing this article for almost a week due to the thoughts which kept swirling around in my head, questions having to do with my 'viability' as a member of the human species, one who is non-white, female and non-heterosexual, living outside of my country of origin, I found myself one early morning this week, about 2:30 a.m., alone on the street in Edmonton.

No, I was not walking aimlessly searching for answers but on my way to fulfill a mission I feel the Divine has called me to do and one that I feel a great sense of humility and privilege in being asked to do.

As I parked my car and exited the lot, uncertain where to go to enter the building that I needed to be in, I made a wrong turn and came across a few men. My gut told me this was not a good place to be and so I quickly turned on my heels and started to head back from whence I came. I could hear the men shouting after me and it seemed to me they were beginning to come after me.

Several thoughts crossed my mind as I ran. I will not repeat the expletives that came out of my mouth, but I can tell you I prayed for my life, begging God to not make me the next woman, and one of colour at that, to disappear. Somehow I remembered that I had my cell phone and I quickly called Juds and breathlessly told her what was happening, just in case.

Later that day, having done what I was called out to do and recounting the story to my loved one, I said laughingly, "Thank God, A and I we have been going to the gym again and I have been using those blasted treadmills!"

Jokes aside, however, this story could have ended differently and this article might not have been completed. When I think of that, it makes me realise how much our silence and non-action, even small ones, is helping to kill our sisters and brothers across the globe. For as long as we do nothing, men and people in positions of power will continue to think they have a right to rape, abuse and even murder human beings because they are different.

My plea to you reading this today, do something, anything, that will protect the life of a woman, a person of colour or the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or queer person living next door to you -- they are part of God'd diverse universe.

Words from the Heart
(We sang this hymn in church today and it seems a fitting end to this article. I share the first two verses with you.)

Help Us Accept Each Other
Words: Fred Kaan Music: Doreen Potter

Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us;
Teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.
Be present, God, among us and bring us to believe
We are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.

Teach us, O God your lessons, as in our daily life
We struggle to be human and search for hope and faith.
Teach us to care for people, for all -- not just some,
To love them as we find them or as they may become.

Blessings, until the next audiopost.


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