June is a month of many meanings, with the Wisdom of our Elders celebrated through Seniors’ Month, National Indigenous History Month honoured in Canada and the struggle for inclusion and equality among those in the 2SLGBTQ+ community recognized during Pride Month.
For several years, Pride Month has been an opportunity to
discuss what inclusion means in the Villages. The conversation
must be ongoing, however, and education is critically important.
It has always been important to honour diversity and the spirit of inclusion within Schlegel Villages. In fact, one of the organization’s key aspirations is to “Honour Diversity in Village Life,” and this conversation has been sparked anew this month as Village teams look towards a shared Pride Day on June 8. To suggest, however, that because a community flies a rainbow flag and marks the spirit of Pride with a celebration means it has covered all the bases of inclusivity for a diverse, evolving group would be false. Like environmental greenwashing, tokenism is a real risk in such complex conversations, and there are most certainly people who will feel left out of the conversation when their views are not represented.
The question of which flag to fly symbolically over our Villages illustrates the complexity of the conversation, as does the idea of listing a person’s identified pronouns at the end of an e-mail signature. Factor in multigenerational relationships among people who grew up in every corner of the globe during vastly different eras, and new layers of density emerge.
To be committed to the conversation, however, is to recognize that it must be ongoing, just as the quest to improve the lives of our residents must always be evolving. Our villages are in different stages in this regard, and we would never claim that any one Village has it ‘right.’
So, instead we ask: what does the pride flag mean to you?
I consider a friend I knew long ago, who I daresay struggled with his identity as adolescence in early High School in small-town Ontario marched forward in all of its many awkward nuances. I recall the day I joined a chorus of other teenaged boys in their bullying of this young soul, and the heartbreak he felt when he heard my voice among the others, for he was surprised by my insensitivity, but not surprised by theirs. I chose then to be wiser about who I followed or led. I chose then to always seek to understand another, and never demean anyone for any reason, and I think of this when I think of the Pride flag. It is one of the greatest lessons I ever learned in life.
Years later, my wife and children helped organize our small town’s first Pride event, held in the Legion Hall. Many who had left town after High School returned that day, pleased to see that change had occurred where it was once unthinkable. But change takes time, and it takes education, commitment and understanding among all involved, and we must be careful not to lump everyone in the 2SLGBTQ+ community together, for so many different experiences are by their very nature separate.
“I don’t speak for the community,” says Christine Hames, a white, cis gay woman who supports Schlegel Villages as the Director of the Program for Active Living. “I can only speak from my experience and perspectives. I think sometimes we lump people in the 2SLGBTQ+ community together and that is where it starts to become very harmful, because when you do that, you leave out people’s voices.”
When asked what the Pride flag means to her, Christine pauses, her hesitation another clear example of the complexity of the conversation.
“To me it means recognition of individuals and who they are,” she says. “It makes me proud to see the pride flag because it signifies a safe space where open conversations can be held about the diverse community that we are. The pride flag represents celebration and beauty but it also represents struggle, both current and on-going. It represents community and solidarity over what has been overcome.
“It makes me proud of the accomplishments that we have made in terms of equal rights and of being seen within our communities.”
The quest for true inclusion is an effort that must be ongoing, however, and as Schlegel Villages marks Pride Month and looks beyond, the commitment to such effort has been renewed.