Sunday, September 06, 2015

Hurt, Fear and Moving Forward

Rainbow Crosswalk
Gillian Cornwall, c. June 2015

It's me. My Voice. One Voice. 

I won't say it's "just" me because none of us are "just" anything. I am one who has stood, at times alone and at times with many, through 35 years, or more, of advocacy and activism. I say "or more" because even when I was a child I had to fight for a space to be myself rather than the person who others wanted me to be. At school, at camp, at home, at work, at play - for most of my life I have had to expend an uncommon amount of energy vying for space to be myself instead of just being and doing in the realm of what someone else sees as "normal" or fitting in. It has set me back in career and financial resource and continues to set me back. Over time, I have been labelled as a trouble maker more than a change maker. Rest assured, I would love to live without the "trouble." I'm bloody tired.

On a Thursday afternoon this past June, within the stretch of three hours, I went from a) listening to a few members of the LGBT* campus community calling me a perpetuator of violence when I spoke and cut the ribbon at a campus pride crosswalk opening to b) listening to the sound a raisin makes when you squeeze it at a mindful meditation workshop. The juxtaposition of these two events in such a short space of time does not only appeal to my sense of irony but also to my sense of how we traverse difficult encounters.

Until this post, I have not responded publicly or directly to these community members to let them know I will not carry the label they yelled at me that day. I am not "perpetuating violence." I am putting down their label: "perpetuator of violence." It does not fit who I am nor the path I have travelled.

The folks using this term indicated that painting a rainbow crosswalk on our campus is dangerous because it will lead community into the false assumption that the campus is safe for members of the LGBT* community when there is still work to be done and spaces on campus that are not safe for some. They feel the crosswalk gives a false sense of safety and will potentially leave LGBT* community members more open to acts of unexpected violence than if it were not there. For my part, I do not think that this is the case. I do not feel a rainbow crosswalk anywhere means I am safe or not safe. I don't think it reasonable to think that lines on a road could prevent violence, hate or subjugation of a people. I do think it marks an intent of advocacy, hope, and a recognition of some hard-fought battles surrounding issues of equity and work toward diversity.

There are quotes from the crosswalk protesters in this Martlet article.

It has taken me months to consider my response. I have been afraid to speak because I felt afraid, silenced and unheard by the protesters and I have been afraid of the response I might receive from them. I feel they made assumptions about me and my beliefs without knowing me, asking me or listening to what I had to say. I am tired of being afraid. I was not asked to participate in the interview or article produced by The Martlet newspaper. My speech and video of the speech are available in my blog article, Walking the Path of PRIDE.

I would like to point out that not only am I a staff member at my school, but I have been a student (non-credit), a step-parent, a volunteer and a teacher. I am a multi-faceted person and I do my best to listen, learn and help others in my community daily.

While it has been over 3 decades, I remember being 20. I remember how hurt I was and how angry that no one recognized that hurt. I remember that, sometimes, the only way I could express that fear, hurt and anger was to yell or to act out - repeating aspects of the violence to which I had been victim throughout my young life. When young voices are silenced by their families, their elementary schools, high schools and communities, they can disappear from us forever or, at times, strike out hard and fast.

I have experienced both silence and acting out in anger. I was silenced for years. Obviously, I still am at times. It's cumulative. It builds up. It erodes us. I have faced beatings while people walked by doing nothing to stop it, some staying to watch or to cheer the queer bashers. I have been sexually harassed and not spoken up because my experience was laughed at, negated, or I was told: "Oh, you know how people can be. I'm sure they didn't mean any harm." I've been pushed down and punished for the times I have stood up and spoken up. It has cost me jobs though I don't think I could ever prove it. I have been verbally, physically, sexually and emotionally abused because of my gender and sexual orientation. I certainly know that the work is not over. I am still doing the work everyday. I have been doing the work for my whole life and I will continue to do the work because I have seen the difference it makes and the cost is secondary to the path I hope to have cleared for those who come after me. I honour and respect those who forged a path ahead of me. I honour and respect myself, though, at times, that too is eroded.

We must listen to our children, celebrate their difference, their questions, their fears and their hopes and dreams. 
We cannot expect our children to be what we want them to be, what we perceive as right for them to be, or even what we perceive to be their easiest path.

For our university students, I believe we can teach skills some may never have had the opportunity to learn in their childhoods. We can teach ways of love over ways of fear and acts of kindness over acts of aggression. For if we do not make space for this in the education of our young people, who will? I believe in protest but I do not believe in unkindness or thoughtlessness as a way of bringing people together to affect positive change. I do not wish to shame anyone or say anyone should not be heard. I did everything I could to create a space for the protesters to speak on that day and they did speak. They had time at the microphone. I only knew of their desire to speak an hour before the ceremony and then made every effort to seek them out and listen to what they had to say.

I was asked to speak at the event to represent the Positive Space Network on campus - a visible network of students, faculty, staff and alumni who are working to make the University of Victoria a more welcoming and inclusive space for people of all genders and sexualities. I had the support of the PSN to speak at this event and I am proud to have done so.

We must continue to teach the history of activism, not just in Canada but worldwide, so we hear and understand the voices raised before ours, with ours and those that will follow. So much has been done toward equity, diversity and inclusion and so much remains to be done. To most people with whom I have spoken, this campus rainbow crosswalk represents that journey:
  • the difficult path so many have walked to date in order to make it better for those who have followed, 
  • where we stand individually and together in this moment, and 
  • the long view ahead at what must be accomplished. 
The work ahead must be done by everyone - equity and activism can no longer be relegated to the marginalized groups affected. We must stand together as a community and support equity and diversity with solid goals and financial and human resource. I believe in the work I do and will keep doing all I can with positive intent - despite my missteps, errors, failings and through the dissent.

Personally, I was saddened and hurt by some of the behaviour and words during that protest, by the meanness of some of it, because it has been a very long path for some of us, a lifetime's difficult journey. To be negated and to know that some of the LGBT* community activists and advocates who were there felt negated or shamed - that's unkind.

The issues mentioned at the microphone by one of the protesters were valid and many of their concerns, such as a university policy on gender, are issues I, too, have been raising since another Canadian college came out with an excellent policy.

It was the protesters lack of knowledge of who I am and the lack of knowledge of the histories of the people who were there that was inconsiderate and subsequently harmful. I feel they engaged in the very assumptions against which they rail. Not to be seen as valuable to, or worthy and knowledgeable of, the LGBT* community I have served for my entire adult life was harmful to me because I do see you, I do hear you and what you have to say has always meant something to me.

Let us light the path for one another, offer words of kindness and support to those who are on their way and let us think before we say someone is perpetuating violence without knowing the work, history and beliefs of those at whom we are yelling. I am pleased that the event has brought greater attention to LGBT* issues on campus, but I am not comfortable with the means by which it has happened.

If you are at a public institution, remember, as school starts for the fall term, it is not something separate from you, you are that place. Whether you are staff, faculty, student, alumni or larger community, it is yours. We have chosen to be part of a community and, within it, we have rights AND responsibilities. We need to know our policies and work together to change them when they no longer serve us well. We are our schools, our governments and our communities. I hope we can all learn together, within a culture of kindness and respect, to manifest change and inclusion. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. September 6, 2015.

(Note: Apologies for the portion of text in lighter grey, 
it's a default from posting on the mobile application...)

Self Portrait
Gillian Cornwall, c. June 2015

12 comments:

Jon D. said...

Hi Gillian,

This is an excellent post. I really appreciate how you have articulated the impact that this incident (and others) has had on you.

Jon D

Kat Palmateer said...

It's wonderful to see you are spouting your ideas from a public platform without hearing the voices of the people you keep talking at and about.

Piotr B said...

Hi Gillian,

It has also taken me a while to respond to this post as I am not only processing the events that occurred that day, but the process that has resulted since.

I am one of the members of the UVIC community who came to protest the event. I will not speak in this comment to why I protested; that has already been established in the Martlet article and through various posts I have written since the event.

What I want to say is, however, thank you. Because of the event, a process was created with the university and respective partners to address that which an aesthetically pleasing rainbow cannot. The university agreed that our concerns were founded and an accountability process has begun not only to address the harm that was caused that day, but to actually create *meaningful* changes that address the multiplicity of barriers facing queer students. It would be great if "putting a rainbow on it" could result in 'inclusion' and 'safety, but it doesn't.

The unfortunate part about this is that it took queer/trans/Twospirit students protesting their erasure and tolkenization to start this process. It is also those same students students who are continuing to provide unpaid labour and expertise to ensure *structural* changes come about. It is these students who have received backlash from the rainbow.

In the end, it is these students who unfortuantely have to be the ones to educate the university about what 'meaningful inclusion' looks like, and quite frankly, it doesn't look like a rainbow.

Noah D said...

The only unfortunate part about this is that UVIC feminists have essentially managed to create an old boys club of self selecting ideologues on the dime of students from which they can sling mud at their benefactors and then cry oppression. These vicious, antisocial, self-promoting "students" are disgraceful.

Gillian, you're not alone.


"Unpaid labor." Piotr, thank you for giving me a good laugh at the end of a long day.

Unknown said...

PART ONE
Hi,

We (I) are one of the protesters that you speak of in this post. We use plural pronouns, just as a point of clarity.

We would like to respond to this post and take the time and consideration to let you know that your words have been considered and given contemplation.

Firstly, let me address the following quote:

"Until this post, I have not responded publicly or directly to these community members to let them know I will not carry the label they yelled at me that day. I am not "perpetuating violence." I am putting down their label: "perpetuator of violence." It does not fit who I am nor the path I have travelled"(Cornwall, 2015).
We never directed the chants "perpetuating violence" directly at any one person. Our actions that day were to address the institution, the top-down forces that recreate the violence of colonization and capitalism. The "perpetuating violence" was chanted when the inauguration continued despite the pleas of advocacy group members and their supporters, which included University Student Society leaders. It was never directed at one person. Further it is not a label to be put down, it is a description of the actions that were occurring before us. The very fact that the crowd, after passionate speeches were made to alert those present to the complicated issues with this rainbow crosswalk, turned their back to enjoy and applaud a ribbon cutting speaks to the exact violence that we were there to address. Nothing is more silencing then a crowd turning away to continue on as if nothing had happened. Again, it was not about you personally.

Unknown said...

PART TWO

"The folks using this term indicated that painting a rainbow crosswalk on our campus is dangerous because it will lead community into the false assumption that the campus is safe for members of the LGBT* community when there is still work to be done and spaces on campus that are not safe for some. They feel the crosswalk gives a false sense of safety and will potentially leave LGBT* community members more open to acts of unexpected violence than if it were not there. For my part, I do not think that this is the case. I do not feel a rainbow crosswalk anywhere means I am safe or not safe. I don't think it reasonable to think that lines on a road could prevent violence, hate or subjugation of a people. I do think it marks an intent of advocacy, hope, and a recognition of some hard-fought battles surrounding issues of equity and work toward diversity"(Cornwall, 2015).
It is dangerous as it does create a false sense of security. We talked and interviewed many students in the past weeks and many agreed that the University (Not you personally) must have policies and procedures in place that meet a level of excellence that ensures that icon of inclusivity means something beyond some lines painted on a road. It is an icon, and it means a lot to many people. Again, this is not about you personally just because you may feel it is reasonable.
A student this morning came to us and remarked that they were called out by their birth name, rather than the preferred name they indicated on the registration website, by all five of their professors. They had to discuss their body and gender in front of a whole class five times! Further, they have had to repeat their preferred name to the professors several more times. This person is one of many who continue to struggle with ongoing daily things that many others do not have to consider. This student feels like the crosswalk is good at providing comfort to non-queer students and faculty. We agree.

The next block quote is especially interesting;
"It has taken me months to consider my response. I have been afraid to speak because I felt afraid, silenced and unheard by the protesters and I have been afraid of the response I might receive from them. I feel they made assumptions about me and my beliefs without knowing me, asking me or listening to what I had to say. I am tired of being afraid. I was not asked to participate in the interview or article produced by The Martlet newspaper"(Cornwall, 2015).
Let us address the Martlet statement first. We do not work for the Martlet. We were asked about the protest by the author of the article. We would presume that they would follow up with other involved parties. Also, the Ring published a lovely article, with no mention whatsoever of the protest, and none of the advocacy groups were asked to comment.
Let us talk about silence. We do not know you, and you do not know who we are either. We made no assumptions about you or your beliefs, because it was not about you, it was about holding an institution accountable for their actions. Further, after the event there was a meeting with UVSS and UVic persons to debrief about the crosswalk. We were invited and attended hoping to have access to persons involved in its planning and finding out how our differences could be ameliorated, and we did not see you at that meeting or any of the subsequent meetings. This meeting was called by the University and we would presume that the Positive Space Network, as a stakeholder, would have been invited. If you were not invited, we suggest that you contact to the university as it would good to have PSN there and to be involved.
We felt very afraid to go up and speak that day too.

Unknown said...

PART THREE
"I believe in protest but I do not believe in unkindness or thoughtlessness as a way of bringing people together to affect positive change. I do not wish to shame anyone or say anyone should not be heard. I did everything I could to create a space for the protesters to speak on that day and they did speak. They had time at the microphone. I only knew of their desire to speak an hour before the ceremony and then made every effort to seek them out and listen to what they had to say"(Cornwall, 2015).
We are disappointed. You claim that you have no intent to shame, and yet this whole post is about shaming those who had the courage to speak up against an institution, because this was about the institution and not you personally. Here is a qoute of you not shaming "Personally, I was saddened and hurt by some of the behaviour and words during that protest, by the meanness of some of it, because it has been a very long path for some of us, a lifetime's difficult journey"(Cornwall, 2015). We have life's too and ours are painted over with rainbow crosswalks!
You believe in protest but immediately follow that with the remarks of unkindness and thoughtlessness, that subversively infers that the protesters were malicious. We were not unkind nor were we thoughtless. A great deal of thought went into crafting the words we spoke that day. Our voice trembled as we read them and we had to stand stiff and tensed to stop from crying. Further, we had to fight to get speaking time on the microphone. We were pressured to not speak, we were told that discussion could happen afterwards. We were told to just let the inauguration go by without debate and we could talk later. You did not do everything to let us speak, we took that space! Further, the reason you only knew of our desire to speak an hour beforehand was because WE WERE NEVER CONSULTED! And we are curious as to exactly what effort you made to seek us out and listen to what we had to say. We stood there with a bullhorn in hand and we demanded to be heard despite the pleas to be silent.
You say "We must stand together as a community and support equity and diversity with solid goals and financial and human resource"(Cornwall, 2015) and yet we never hear from your office to collaborate, consult, or work on anything. You claim to support community, except when that community shows up at your event apparently.
Maybe you should consider reading your own words.
"Let us light the path for one another, offer words of kindness and support to those who are on their way and let us think before we say someone is perpetuating violence without knowing the work, history and beliefs of those at whom we are yelling"(Cornwall, 2015).
We have said this before, but this was not about you personally. This was about us confronting an institution. An institution, we might add, that we often feel powerless in approaching or having our voices heard at all. Personally we have tried to connect with PSN over the years to report things like the University stores selling Jelly Belly's, the CEO of which gives money to queer aggressive campaigns, and we never ever get a retweet or a comment or an email to open discussion, we GET SILENCED! So tell us again how PSN is there for us.
Further, we do not know you because you have never been by, to my knowledge, to introduce yourself. Also, we spoke strongly about the issues and did not yell offences at anyone, because we were there to protest the institution and not you personally.

Unknown said...

PART FOUR
This part is confusing.
"If you are at a public institution, remember, as school starts for the fall term, it is not something separate from you, you are that place. Whether you are staff, faculty, student, alumni or larger community, it is yours. We have chosen to be part of a community and, within it, we have rights AND responsibilities. We need to know our policies and work together to change them when they no longer serve us well. We are our schools, our governments and our communities. I hope we can all learn together, within a culture of kindness and respect, to manifest change and inclusion"(Cornwall, 2015).
We are confused. Yes it is a public institution and we are well aware that we are a part of it. We do have rights, like protesting things we see that compromise spaces. We do have responsibilities, like protesting things we see that compromise spaces. We know a lot about policies, because we are on several committees and often skip classes to take part in developing the communities that we reside in. An interesting closing point about collectivity in a post that is filled with "I's." Again, this is about the community, about the institution, and not about you personally. The very fact that you have taken this so personally leads us to believe that you painted this road for yourself, but it was, and is, not about you, it is about all of us.  

Noah D said...

Remember this, Gillian. Remember how they opportunistically spat on you, and then ganged up on you online for no higher purpose than their own gratification.

Ask yourself: Are these really are the people who lead us into a better society?

Justin D. Whitehead said...

Once again I am reminded of the reasons for which I wrote my original article regarding the Rainbow Crosswalk protest. The comments here, especially those from Piotr B, suggest that creating the Rainbow Crosswalk was some sort of 'be-all, end-all' action. That it was and is somehow the one and only thing that Gillian and the Positive Space Network have done. This is a fallacious argument.

I wrote my original response because I see this sort of argument all the time. That argument goes something like this:

A is the ONLY solution to the problem.
You are doing B to solve the problem.
If you're doing B you can't possibly also do A.
Therefore by doing B you're part of the problem.

That argument begins and ends with false statements. It is entirely possible that there is more than one way to contribute to solving a problem, and it is absolutely possible for someone to help in more than one way.

Additionally this is true for issues which are completely different. Someone can both do their part to support environmental action AND volunteer with the Pride Collective for example. Both are important, and someone can contribute time to both things.

Painting the Rainbow Crosswalk helped in some ways for some people in the LGBTQ* community. Gillian's efforts have not been limited to that venture alone. To even suggest that is insulting. Furthermore, suggesting that painting a Rainbow Sidewalk is "an act of violence" or "perpetuating violence" completely and utterly misrepresents the term "violence" as it is known and accepted by society.

The infighting here does nothing but push the general community of University Students away from these issues rather than bringing them toward them.

Thank you for the work you've done, and will continue to do, Gillian.

Now as everyone has agreed there is still much work to be done. I for one will continue working toward that end.

Justin D. Whitehead

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how the intolerance on display echoes what national news has called attention to here:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/

here: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/the-new-intolerance-of-student-activism-at-yale/414810/

and here:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/how-campus-activists-are-weaponizing-the-safe-space/415080/

Anonymous said...

You say: I did everything I could to create a space for the protesters to speak on that day and they did speak. They had time at the microphone. I only knew of their desire to speak an hour before the ceremony and then made every effort to seek them out and listen to what they had to say.

As someone who was there, you did not "do everything to create space for the STUDENTS to speak!" The students came and asked to speak and were told that they could not. The students who wanted to speak were told that there could be discussion later, after the inauguration. You Gillian pleaded with the students to not speak! The students got a megaphone and said they were going to speak, at which point the University conceded and said one student could speak for not more than 2 minutes! The students were there to talk about their experiences of being invisible or silenced on campus, and to talk about the institutional forms of violence, and no one called you anything Gillian! There are several witnesses to these conversations and a video of the event. The Art of life, more like art of lies!