To walk with pride isn’t something which comes naturally to me. It’s hard to do when the reinforcement of your existence has always based upon the negative qualities that another person decides are what defines you. For the young gay teenager trying to find their way in a world where they have few contemporaries is hard. For the person native to these shores who sees their way of life downgraded to halloween costumes and saturday afternoon specials in the cinema is equally hard.
Both are people who are have the right to feel proud on both a personal and community level of who they are, and yet society has historically done nothing but force them to become stereotypes. Pride is something which can be very hard to truly feel for the LGBTQ or to the First Nations person, because, in the end, we have so much stacked against us. To make it worse both communities have been present far longer than the people who vilify them. Homosexuality is part of the natural makeup of humanity, and the archeological evidence that the First Nations were thriving long before Jesus is supposed to have popped out of Mary is very convincing. Yet both have been, and are, dehumanized and told they must change to be acceptable.
On a social level things are getting better slowly. We are slowly seeing the LGBTQ community awarded some of the human rights and recognitions that they deserve. On the same level the First Nations are becoming united and the elders continue to teach others what their life and beliefs truly are about. Pride on a community level is shifting from being the stereotypes we were and now we can find ways to be proud of ourselves as groups. On a personal level though things are changing much more slowly.
Suicide and depression rates are still too high, more so than in other social groups, and this is because while we are learning to use social media to fight the stereotypes and the behaviours of others we are failing to take care of ourselves on an individual level. Our communities are gaining more rights and a better understanding in the world at large, but we are still dying by our own hand. True there are groups doing sterling work in both communities, but because it’s more fun to paint lipstick on a picture of Putin than go into our own community and interact on a human level the death rate remains pretty stable.
The main reason I suspect is because we have an innate fear of mental health. But to me, as a survivor, suicide doesn’t always fit into the safety of the mental health box. Someone who is suicidal may be doing it because the voices in their head are telling them and that is a mental health issue. In that circumstance there may a chemical imbalance or psychosis and a need for treatment of a hospital level. But within the LGBTQ and First Nations communities I see less of those “voices” stories than I do of people being told they are worthless and believing it. Suicide prevention, in this case, has less to do with giving someone a pill and laying them on a couch than it does reinforcing that the person’s existence is a valid one and giving them the chance to shine.
Canada and America were both founded on the belief that the “savage” was less than the white man, just as in the western world the church has always taught that because it has a book that says so the LGBTQ individual is a lesser being. Both have suffered death, abuse, violence in the name of something which can’t be proved and seen their very identities taken from them and discarded. Both communities have seen their very identity perverted on the television screen.
As a child growing up the only acceptable homosexual on television was a man so camp that he was a travesty. The same is true for the First Nations. They were portrayed as the savage who attacked good pilgrim settlers, and we taught our children to shoot them with sticks as they played cowboys and indians. We also taught them that the the cowboy should always win.
Both communities were reduced to what the white, christian wanted us to be, and we are only just becoming able to assert our true identities. It’s no wonder then that people are closing the door and choosing to end the glorious life they had because of the shame they were told they should feel. It’s no wonder that the use of drugs and alcohol are such a problem. Slowly we are seeing the positive effects of the work done but for the next few generations the lives of many will still be blighted by shame.
There are other reasons too that we choose suicide. Denial of equal education, equal treatment by the law and institutions, social stigmatization, and equal employment opportunities have all reinforced the second class status of the First Nations. Removal of parental approval, social stigma, and questioning of our being have taught the LGBTQ person the same. We have been taught to feel shame and to see ourselves as less than the majority. While as communities we are fighting those stereotypes they still exist not just in the media but in the social consciousness. I get more eyebrows raised within the community at large and in my own community when I say I am gay and use a chainsaw at work than I do when I use the words designer and gay. One is what I am expected to be, the other disproves the theory that all gays are arty farty, female wannabes, and limp wristed.
Today is world wide suicide awareness day. People will buy ribbons to show their support and will raise money for outreach programmes. There will be a momentary blip in the consciousness of the planet and people will express sympathy and then those who work so hard will be forgotten and the issue will be relegated to the sidelines of our consciousness. As I said before, suicide in the First Nations community and the LGBTQ community very often have little to do with the concept of mental health. How many people today will go and knock on the door of someone they know lives alone? How many people in being made aware of suicide will change their behaviour and start to reinforce the good that a person has to offer the world. For my own community I know just how bitchy we can be about each other. Will we stop and instead of choosing to reduce someone because of their clothes or appearance instead choose to raise them up and say “you have worth, be proud of who you are.” It’s isolation from our own social groups as much as the condemnation and mistreatment by society at large which is at fault for the deaths.
Pride isn’t something which only a community should have. Instead it’s something that that community should instill in all its members. Pride is what stops us reaching for the pills and helps us to see the value of tomorrow. It shows us that we don’t have to all be the same but instead can be very different and still of use. The gay man can become the greatest engineer in the world, just as the First Nations woman can become Prime Minister. What is needed is for our communities to instill that belief in us and remind us daily that we are equal and of value. We need to constantly “look in” on each other and remind our fellow humans that they have value. Suicide is something which is more easily fixed with regular, gentle words of encouragement than with telephone lines. Though they have value they are a band aid and not the medicine that is needed.
Humans are messy, emotional things and society teaches us that to talk about our problems is somehow not nice. We as communities need to break that belief. We need to start giving one another the reasons to be proud, the reasons to meet that next morning. Sometimes simply feeling that you are worth someone’s time to talk to is enough. Sometimes to call someone beautiful whom society would say isn’t means the difference between life and death. It costs nothing, is simple to do, but when the person who is told they are ugly hears they aren’t on a regular basis then they begin to believe it. When the person who’s told they are a waster because they don’t have a good job is reminded that the world needs more binmen than it does captains of industry then they too will begin to see the value in what they do and grow. Gentle words and interactions from within our communities will do more good than expecting society to change its views. We must learn to walk with pride for who were are not because society says that we are worthy.
Both communities should be proud of ourselves collectively. We should remember the positive that we have added to society as a whole. But beyond the groups we identify with we are also individuals within the web of life. Our very existence should be a source of pride. We should constantly seek to enable each other to walk with head erect for who they are as individuals and not just as members of a group. That way we are all able to fly as high as we were born to.
Hope doesn’t come from a bible. It comes from being told by the people you love that you are whole as you are. Pride doesn’t come from assimilating to society’s traditional view of what a man or woman is. It comes from hearing others praise your value as an individual. We need to start remembering that if we truly want the death rates to fall.