by Elena Plotnikoff
June is Pride Month, the most important month for the LGBTQ+ community. It marks the time that the Stonewall Riots took place 47 years ago and when the gay pride movement first began.
Throughout June, many events take place to celebrate the community. Recently there have been stories relating to the LGBTQ+ community on a local and international level, reporting of both celebrations and tragedies. It shows that this is an important time to look at the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in our area.
A few weeks ago, my girlfriend came to Grand Forks to visit. As we walked down the street holding hands we were met with an equal number of smiles and stares. It is nothing new for us, since being out with our relationship I’ve learnt not to internalize and become too upset with the nasty looks that we get.
But that is not something that I could have ever done several years ago and I’m sure that there are kids in this community who feel the same. The judgement can cause them to hide who they are out of fear. It is not an easy thing to let go of when someone scoffs at you or when someone mutters a slur at you, it is an even harder thing to deal with when people like you all over the world are getting assaulted and killed just for being who they are. It is hard, impossible really, not be scared.
Following the painting of the rainbow crosswalks in our downtown, there was a lot of discussion going on. It was heartwarming to see the support for them and the declarations of what an accepting community Grand Forks is.
These statements, however, were lessened by those who vocalized their opposition to them. It shows that while the crosswalks are a truly beautiful symbol, we cannot boast of our acceptance until we take real, tangible steps towards inclusion and equality.
I was very impressed to learn that a SAGA group now exists for youth in our community but if you go and hang around a group of teenagers for a short amount of time you will learn that homophobic and transphobic language is still tossed around casually. Those who say them may not do so with hurtful intentions, but to hear words that are associated with your identity used in a negative and hateful way is damaging and upsetting. Homophobia is ingrained into our society in small and hidden ways and it takes a conscious effort to shift the language and be aware of ignorance that you may be perpetuating.
There are always more opportunities for those young and old to learn to be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community. There are excellent resources all over the Internet for people to learn about LGBTQ+ history, terminology, and the issues that face the community today. Once people start actively showing their acceptance, they can brag about it. All it takes is a sign in your business’ window advertising that all are welcome or engaging in a safe space program to get official certification. In your personal life, being a good ally relies on one big principle, listening.
Unless you belong to the LGBTQ+ community, you do not have authority to be the sole voice on the issues facing them. As an ally, it is your responsibility to create a safe and encouraging space to let them share their opinions and experiences.
People may be hesitant to do all of this. It is true that being an ally is an active process that requires effort but I can guarantee that it does not require the same amount of struggle and bravery that it takes to live your truth when there are people out there who will hate you just for doing so.
This pride month and beyond, I encourage you to educate yourselves, to listen, and above all, to tell the people in your life that you love them no matter what because as long as there is such hate in this world we need our love to be louder.