People gathered at the Peace Arch Border Crossing Sunday afternoon, January 12, 2017 to express concern and opposition for recent American immigration policies and attitudes impacting immigrants and refugees. This peaceful demonstration had originally been planned for January 5th but had to be postponed due to poor weather conditions. Photo by L. Salazar
The land of the Free and the Home of the Brave? The True North Strong and Free?
On February 1 I was jolted out of hibernation by a Facebook message that read: “Lisa, I should warn you that I suggested your name to the organizers of the rally on Sunday when I heard they were looking for a trans speaker. I think you’d be awesome!”
The event was only four days away and was to take place at the Peace Arch Border crossing. The “No Ban No Wall” rally, as it was called, was meant to denounce recent U.S. policies and attitudes towards refugees and immigrants. I had heard of a peaceful protest being planned for February 5, but hadn’t really given it much thought since it was also Super Bowl Sunday and U.S. commercials weren’t getting bumped for the firs time ever. I didn’t want to miss them. And what did being transgender have to do with that theme of the rally anyway?
Then, a short time later I received an email asking if I would like to say a few words and if so to send a short bio for the speakers line up on the web. They were inviting people from as a diverse cross section of Canadian society as possible. Reading some of the other names was humbling; I felt honored to be included.
Yet, it was with about as much enthusiasm as agreeing to getting a root canal I accepted. Though I’ve spoken to large groups before, it’s always been conferences and workshops that deal with transgender and spiritual issues. I’ve never spoken at a “demonstration” of any kind. Part of my trepidation, I must admit, was paranoia. What if there were government agents taking pictures and writing names down? Perhaps not an irrational fear under the circumstances.
What pushed me out of my comfort zone was my conviction that my privilege as a member of Canadian society comes with responsibilities. How immigrants and refugees are treated is therefore every bit my business, whether I am transgender or not. Anytime a group is singled out as the scapegoat and I remain silent, I become complicit and I squander my privilege.
Before you get an elevated impression of me, I must confess that being a cynic comes easy for me. For example, I can’t help but mock the misplaced patriotism of military jets doing flyovers at football games or hearing someone belt out a national anthem like an X-Factor competitor. I just shake my head and gag.
Maybe it was because of memories from previous Super Bowl games these things were on my mind when I sat down to write my speech, hence the title.
It came as a relief when I heard the event had been cancelled due to the snow storm that was forecasted for the region. Had it all been for naught? I was sorry for the organizers and commiserated with all the other persons who had probably stressed like I had about what to say at the event. The snow came and blanketed the South Coast and it took several days for life to get back to normal. Early the next week I got the news; the event had been rescheduled for the coming Sunday. On February 12 the rally went ahead and we got to speak.
Below is an excerpt from my speech; I was encouraged to put it out there by people who spoke to me afterwards. I’ve posted it on my blog and shared it on a contributor-based site. I was content to leave it at that. Earlier tonight I shared the link privately with Jody Vance and to my surprise, she invited me to share it with her friends at MyBackYard.press—with a bit of the story. Thank you Jody!
“…Like every single person who has ever lived, I had no choice in which country I’d be born in; Nor into which religious tradition. I did not get to choose my parents, I had no choice over my mother tongue. I had no choice when it came to the color of my skin. I did not choose my sexual orientation And I did not choose to be transgender.
Of all these things I have listed, only one did I choose for myself. I chose to become a Canadian citizen. I had no choice over anything else on my list.
Isn’t it ironic, indeed, isn’t it tragic how the very things none of us get to choose are the things which historically have been used to justify vilification, then discrimination, then persecution, and ultimately—and potentially—annihilation and erasure?
Isn’t immoral how any one of these un-chosen things can become a liability when a group needs someone to blame for their woes and needs a convenient scapegoat?
That is what we are witnessing today, and it’s not just the immigrant and the refugee who is being singled out. The same mentality that has resulted in the Ban and the Wall is casting a wide net. Women’s reproductive rights, race relations, LGBTQI rights, to name just three, are threatened…
…I am particularly aware of how my trans and non-binary friends in the United States are losing protection from discrimination, medical coverage, and access to public restrooms, to name a few.
The seriousness of the situation cannot be underscored enough. I personally know of one 21 year-old trans woman, who one week after the new President took office, chose to end her life.
She could no longer imagine a future for herself. Executive orders wiped out her access to trans-related healthcare, and she feared future executive orders would make her life less safe.
Her parents buried her on Monday, January 30th. This was so unnecessary. This is tragic. This is so incredibly sad. Her name was Amber.
It is a travesty how so many people in America are suddenly made to feel devalued, marginalized, ostracized, rejected; hopeless; and like the convenient scapegoat!
When I trained to be a multi-faith chaplain, I chose to embrace the radical and downright scandalous teachings of inclusion proclaimed by Jesus, the Nazarene.
He dared to challenge the notion of exclusion on the basis of where someone was from, what they did for a living, their economic or social status, or how they chose to live authentically. He spoke against intolerance. He challenged the gender hierarchy.
He championed the inherent worth of every person, of the prostitute, the beggar, the leper, the physically disabled, the tormented by personal demons, children and the aged.
More importantly, he invited us to seek the face of the Divine in the face of the orphan, the widow, the imprisoned, the hungry, the untouchable, the homeless and the refugee.
This was good news to me.
But these are not the good news I hear coming these days from those who are consolidating power in the United States. Indeed, these are not the good news coming from those who support these policies, yet claim to be Christian.
Shame on them for their hypocrisy!
What happened to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do unto others as your would have them do unto you?”
I am sickened by how some in the United States—and Canada—have been emboldened to spew out their bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and islamophobia, in recent weeks—with tragic consequences. While we shook our collective heads at the headline: “Hate crimes soar after the election,” we were jolted by the senseless shootings in Quebec City!
Our countries are better than this.
The United States’ anthem ends with the phrase “The land of the free, and the home of the brave.” A similar sentiment is expressed in the Canadian Anthem, “The True North strong and free.”
Would that both refrains be true and not just wishful, empty claims in patriotic songs.
There is nothing freeing about banning or rounding up people on the basis of their creed, race, or color. There is nothing brave about building walls or placing handcuffs on grandparents and children.
Let these refrains inspire our two countries to be lands where there is freedom from rejection, marginalization, discrimination, and violence for being different. Let our countries be known as lands where one’s freedom does not come at the expense of another’s. This is true freedom.
Let our countries be known as lands where one’s bravery is not measured by valor in the battle field alone, but by the resolve that it takes to welcome the refugee and the alien, the courage to protect the marginalized, and the generosity to feed and house the destitute. This is true bravery.
Let our countries demonstrate their strength by how they lift the burdens off their neighbor’s back. This is true strength.
So let’s be truly free; truly brave; and truly strong.
But more than anything else, let our compassion be what truly defines how we as “Brethren dwell together in Unity!”
Lisa Salazar, MAPPL — Lisa Salazar trained as a multi-faith chaplain as part of her Master Degree at Vancouver School of Theology. She is a transgender advocate, author and educator and sits on the Board of Directors for Qmunity, BC’s queer resource centre and also PFLAG Vancouver. She blogs at lisanow.blogspot.com