Sunday, 16 September 2012

Sunday Salon: The Protest

I am very excited about today's guest post - Brittany writes about taking a stand for who you are and what you believe in. Brittany is currently pursuing her PhD  at the University of St Andrews and she's one of those people who make me think that I shouldn't have left before finishing up my write-up. 
I find it frightening that, in a world where we have access to so much knowledge and information, people are judged not based on their choices and their actions but based on how they were born. I am not trying to offend anyone here, but to me that is like saying 'I don't think people who are not part of the majority race should be allowed to go to the swimming pool' (which then later develops into taking away more and more social rights, then legal rights and economic rights). Oh, but isn't that already happening again? Anyhow, I am awed by the strength it must take to stand up in a situation like the one Brittany describes below.

On April 15, 2012, Cardinal Keith O’Brien came to speak in St Salvator’s Chapel at the University of St Andrews.  His bigotry and narrow-minded views preceded him; in response to his previous statements, the University of St Andrews LGBT Society staged a silent, peaceful protest.

Have you read this man’s words? I have. And because of his words, his proclamations of abhorrence and intolerance, I went to the protest. How disappointed I was.  To set the scene: St Salvator’s chapel is extremely old (est. 1450).  The kind of old where pews are in vertical rows, people facing each other rather than an altar.  Ostensibly good for a protest – visibility central! Unfortunately, the members of the LGBT movement were seated in chairs at the back of the church, barely in the peripheral vision of the rest of the audience.

As we filed in and took our seats, the rest of the audience looked on with curiosity – the other students had probably heard of our protest, and those who hadn’t were surely tipped off by the solid-coloured t-shirts in various colours of the rainbow. Their staring was full of discomfort, perhaps from pity, or uneasiness with overt displays of pride, or both. It is already strange to be outcast by virtue of sexual orientation; even stranger to have this ‘casting out’ embodied in a seating arrangement, where we were virtually unable to look the rest of the audience in the eye, people trying and failing to subtly look at us from their peripheral vision.

I’m not one to case wanton judgement. From most of his speech, I could see that the Cardinal was indeed a scholar well versed in scripture. But near the end of his speech, his voice took a hard tone. And his words, his very manner, were so hard and full of hate. My blood was running hot with fury as the ‘normal’ listeners cast awkward glances and pitying looks, fully aware that the subtly virile comments were most certainly offensive to us.

It was the first time (mark it: the first time) that I had ever, ever felt ashamed, judged, or disrespected. A feeling caused by a leader – leader! –of an organization I was raised in, an organization my partner loves and forgives for its firm disbelief in her kind of love. A feeling caused by other members of the audience, who shifted uncomfortably in their seats or snuck glances at us from the corners of their eyes to see if there were any sort of overt reaction.

Now, I am notoriously strong-minded. I like to say what I think, and I like to say it loudly. And there, in that chapel, I considered all the things I would say to this little man after his speech finished. I debated lambasting the University of St Andrews for the role it played in propagating the staring and ridicule. I drew parallels in my mind of Rosa Parks, relegated to the back of the bus, and me, relegated to the back of the church. Oppressed for different reasons, but both the victims of injustice. I thought of Mrs. Parks, and how brave she was when she sat in that bus seat and believed in her equality to the white person who wanted her seat. I wanted to follow her example as best I could.
So I stood.

I turned to the boy next to me, a stranger. “Stand up with me. Really – stand up with me.” So we stood, the two of us; holding hands (my knees were shaking as people stared). My partner stood. And slowly, one by one, with an increasingly obvious scraping of chairs, everyone at the back of the chapel stood as the rest of the audience watched (I will admit to some small satisfaction that nobody seemed to be listening to the Cardinal’s words at this point).

We did not raise our voices; we did not cause a scene. We only stood silently, and somewhat ridiculously, in our rainbow t-shirts, a bright reminder of what we literally stood for.  We held hands with the person next to us (Stranger…if you read this…I’m sorry for my sweaty palms).  We were respectful, but pointed. With that small act of standing, thirty or so St Andrews students demonstrated their worth to a man who actively oppresses them with his ardent opposition to gay marriage, and to an audience who glossed over us in shame.

As the sermon ended, I turned to my left and whispered, “Thanks for being so brave and standing with me”.  The stranger looked at me for a moment, considering my words, and said only: “It felt good”.
Yes. It did.

Brittany Fallon

1 comment:

  1. Wow... just wow. I can't believe St Andrews gives a person like that a platform. Good on you for standing up to him.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...