Today, news hit when a large evangelical church in a relatively conservative town was covered in the Winnipeg Free Press. I hadn't had the opportunity to read the article yet, but I already had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. When I did read it, it confirmed the sinking feeling.
Having worked for the last 7 years in a ministry which seeks to be a safe and confidential place for those dealing with relational and sexual issues including gender issues, this article didn't sit well with me.
Let me begin by saying that Bill 18 is flawed. There are many parts of the Bill that will only propagate bullying and in its segregated statements it will only facilitate an us vs them state of mind. As I read the Bill I wonder about a huge segment of kids left to in the fray of a specific agenda...
...the disabled kid...the fat kid...skinny kid...acne prone kid...the geek...the nerd...the jock...the cheerleader...the slut...the virgin...the fag...the dyke...the fairy...the bucktoothed beaver...the Christian...the Sikh...the atheist...the black...the white...the native...the Asian...and the list goes one!
The Bill is flawed when it comes to 90% of the population who in their own right have a right not to be bullied. I love groups, especially ones that provide a safe and respectful environment, but this bill has only identified one specific issue...the gay one! If we can get a handle on this one which is the most prevalent then we've done good....right? Okay...lets just stop right here for a minute or two.
From the age of 11...bullying began. I was called every name in the book...tossed around in school...every day (yes every day) until I was 17 I was subjected to ridicule and harassment. Even some teachers took their insecurities out on me...only to further push me further into a mess of confusion. Was the school safe for me? NO. But neither was the community. I had a few good friends, but for the most part growing up in small town Manitoba (hockey haven), I didn't fit the mold. I rubbed up against the insecurity of those around me. Running the water in the sink with the razor in my hand shocked me and I couldn't do it. Holding the pills in my hand wanting desperately to pop them and just go to sleep...shook me awake. Things changed when I switched schools and went to a private one in grade 12...or did they?
Kids were still picked on...having had traumatic experiences of bullying, I could well see subtle and blatant bullying...social standing vs poverty, jock vs geek, but it was subtle and yet still damaging to both the bully and the victim. Most kids who are bullied also bully!
Even after high school, moving back to my home town, I remember kids chasing me in a vehicle, taunting me, yelling obscenities...why? Because I was different and they couldn't deal with their insecurity...and most likely they too were bullied!
Years later I came out and proclaimed my gay identity as my right and I was adamant that no one would hurt me, ridicule me or do this to others, regarding their gender, sexuality or for any matter. I worked for 20 years in the daycare and school system and fought hard to do my part to stop bullying. I jumped on the EGALE bandwagon and began to see a focus that wasn't healthy. Sure, this segment of the population needs a safe place...but so does every kid! Regardless of who or what they are.
Then because of my faith, I chose to not identify myself as gay and sought to understand the complexities of my gender and sexuality, surprisingly I faced bullying again. Subtle bullying as well as blatant. I was now taunted and ridiculed by those to whom I fought for! The ones that were bullied were now bullying me. Saying I was hateful, a bigot and a liar. I was slandered and run through the mud. Even though I have a differing view, I also view everyone's decision to live their life...just that...THEIRS. Does it affect me? Sometimes, but I am called to be Christ's hands and feet. I am called to love my neighbor and we find our commonality in our human-ness a need to feel safe and respected. When this isn't felt, insecurities and projections and anger rise it's ugly head!
I wonder...ARE YOU GETTING IT? Do you see a bigger picture in this? I do!
I see that this Bill 18 is not the answer. The bigger picture is..."Are our children safe?" When I sit back and think about that...I don't think they are. None of us can be there fully for our children 24/7. They are at risk everywhere they go. We as parents need to be intentional in EVERYTHING we do. We need to be involved and not passive as we parent our children. Who is raising our children? TV, VIDEO GAMES, TEACHERS, DAY CARES, GOVERNMENT? We need to be talking with our kids about differences and how in the midst of even our own fears and the complexities of life
Even though Bill 18 is flawed and not the answer, the reality is that there is something much bigger going on. Is the answer fighting?
Is the answer apathy?
I think people on both sides of this Bill need to see a BIGGER picture of the necessity of keeping ALL children safe from bullying. Being respectful of a very diverse world with which we live in.
Part of this process is realizing that for years the 'church' has been relatively silent. Only rising up when something comes close to causing discomfort and uneasiness, but in the silence they have lost their voice of influence. If you want influence and the ability to speak out about a certain subject, it's walking in the very area you want to be influential. It's being that safe and respectful place. It's seeking out wisdom and understanding, it's speaking and being proactive on education and not keeping your head in the sand, hoping the issue will just go away.
When we want to proclaim truth...we need to marry that with the grace extended to us...showing the mercy of Jesus.