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June 23, 2018
June 10, 2018

Hey, straight white guys, we need to shut up for a minute

Time to listen

Written by Jeff Samsonow

Pride protest photo above courtesy of Abdul Malik

I thought I wasn’t going to write much about Edmonton Pride this week. I was going to mention the festival and parade were happening, reference recent stories from the news in our regular Headlines feature and do my tiny, little bit to spread the word about our ongoing need to be inclusive to LGBTQ2S+ communities. (There’s my privilege showing.)

Then there was a protest.

And seeing some of the reaction, I feel like I should say something.

Now, let me be really clear before we go any further, I am a straight white male, cisgender, pretty able-bodied, totally privileged in almost every way possible. So I am in no way aiming my words or thoughts at anyone who isn’t all or most of those things. I’m not telling anyone who feels connection to communities identifying as LGBTQ2S+, Indigenous or people of colour, or people with disabilities or intersections of any of those or more groups what to do in the wake of Edmonton’s Pride protest.

I’m just talking to my fellow straight men. Maybe a few women. Probably white. Definitely some who would have called themselves allies before the weekend.

My message is this: We need to shut up right now.

That goes to other guys in the local media.

That goes for people on and off Twitter.

And that certainly goes for city councillors and agents of government, policing and power.

(Councillor Jon Dziadyk did delete that tweet, and amended his thoughts, but it can’t feel good for some in the LGBTQ2S+ communities, or within any marginalized group, to have had him officially proclaim Pride on Saturday on behalf of the City of Edmonton, and threaten their funding on Sunday if they don’t act how he wants them to. This is a dangerous precedent to set and now connects city council and Pride festival funding directly to the conversation.)

In my opinion, we can either amplify the message of QTBIPOC right now or we’re oppressing them (QTBIPOC= queer, trans, black, indigenous, people of colour). It doesn’t matter how hot our take is, how inclusive we think we’ve been, how many good police officers we know, this isn’t our fight. We don’t understand what the people who protested the pride parade have had to go through, and why they felt this was the only way to get their voices truly heard by Edmonton’s Pride organizers.

It seemed that all us progressive, inclusive folks were quick to agree that Jason Kenney’s conservatives hadn’t done enough to earn the right to march in the parade. Now here’s a group from within the LGBTQ2S+ community saying they don’t feel included and safe with police and military being afforded the same marching opportunity. We need to listen to them this time too.

That’s even if you don’t like what they’re asking for. Even if you don’t like how they went about this. Even though it may challenge your privilege.

If you want to call yourself an ally of Edmonton’s Pride communities, you have to listen. Because Pride organizers agreed with the protestors that there is a conversation to have.

(Sidenote: This is about systemic problems with police and Pride. It’s not about any individual. Just like you can act in a racist way without being a racist, this protest asks to address concerns over systemic violence and oppression.)

So what’s the next step for you and me, straight white folks? Well, we don’t get to choose, as uncomfortable as it may be not to be the centre of debate.

The Pride organizers will meet with groups from within Edmonton’s QTBIPOC communities and talk about why it doesn’t feel right to have police and military marching. They’ll talk about why Pride needs to keep its history as protest front and centre. They’ll talk about how Pride itself can become a more inclusive and intersectional organization.

We don’t have to sit on the sidelines and wait for the LBTQ2S+ communities to do all the emotional labour though. There are some things we can do.

We can support the QTBIPOC communities who felt the need to protest.

Listen. Ask them what they need. Offer support and help.

We can support all LGBTQ2S+ communities in Edmonton.

Listen. Ask them what they need. Offer support and help.

We can use our privilege to pressure government, policing agencies, businesses and corporations to reduce and remove real barriers to inclusion in society. That means organizing behind politicians who support human rights and dignity for all (even if they’re not from your party of choice). That means pushing for hiring practices and workplace laws that no longer hinder minority and vulnerable communities. That means eliminating policing practices that profile and target communities of colour, Indigenous peoples, LGBTQ2S+ communities, the homeless, people with disabilities, people with mental illness and other vulnerable, minority and marginalized groups.

It also means shutting up about how the protest affected your experience of the parade. It means shutting up about whether the protest was the best way to ask for changes. And it means shutting up about whether police, the military, or any other government or group systemically hurts or punishes people who don’t look like you and me. We know it happens.

As a journalist I’ve always liked the idea of the work “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable”. When we look at this protest, let’s think about which side of that statement our actions, and reactions, are on.

Right now, we can offer comfort by shutting up and listening to hear how we can help.

***

Alright, this straight white guy has talked long enough.

If you identify with a QTBIPOC community and feel there is any value in using Edmonton Quotient’s platform to share why this protest is needed, please get in touch.

If you want me to stop writing so much and pay more writers of colour, women, Indigenous journalists and those with disabilities, please consider becoming an EQ supporter by hitting that big blue button below. My goal is to make EQ a place where more than just white guys get to talk about local issues (irony noted).

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