Speech for “Don’t Be a Bystander” Candlelight Vigil, Sept. 26, 2015
I believe that the most important way that we can stop bullying in our schools is for adults to be an example to our students of how we care for the most vulnerable of our society. If students see teachers, principals, administrators, chaplains, trustees and yes, church leaders, supporting our LGBTQ students, our special needs students, our English as a Second Language Learners, our FNMI students, I believe they will grow up to be compassionate adults.
Why did I stand up for a transgender girl’s right to use the washroom she identifies with? Because I grew up with Christian parents who taught me the true message of the Gospel—that Jesus stood up for and reached out to the marginalized, the outcast, those without power. I think that my father who was of mixed race, particularly appreciated Jesus’ affiliation with the marginalized. My father grew up in Toronto during the 1930s. He told me the story how he was asked to leave a public swimming pool because users thought he looked Jewish. His sister (my aunt) recently told me that one of her cousins would wear makeup to lighten their skin whenever they came to visit. My father also shared with me his disgust that during World War 2, Canada turned away boat loads of Jewish refugees due to anti Semitism.
These experiences left a deep impression on him and so my brothers and I were raised with the understanding that everyone’s dignity was to be upheld. I hope that in standing up for the grade 2 transgender student, I am passing along to my 3 children what my Catholic parents passed along to me and that is that we must always stand on the side of the vulnerable. Our humanity demands it, civilized society expects it and as Catholics, the Gospel impels us. If we envision a future where everyone’s rights are protected, then we need to teach our children not only by our words but by our example. Our children are watching us and it will be our actions not so much our words from which they will learn. If in the face of injustice we remain bystanders they will become bystanders. Rallies such as this one tonight teach our children the vision we hold of a society where everyone’s dignity is maintained — no matter what their gender identity and expression, their sexual orientation, their race, colour or creed, etc. We need to go forth from this rally to realize in action our vision of a just and equitable society.
One last thought I want to leave with you comes from Blessed Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador who was murdered for standing up for the oppressed in his country. He suggested that “when we hate, we become like that which we hate”. I know I have had to remind myself of Romero’s words many times in the last few weeks and months. We need to take the high road, to be an example even to bullies of how we are to treat everyone with dignity. We need to be strong and firm in showing them a more dignified, more Christ like, more loving way to exist in this world. Hatred begets hatred, love begets love. Let us bring love into this world by standing up for what we believe is right and not be a bystander. And let us do this in a manner that provides an example to our children of everyone’s dignity in the eyes of God.