On the Music Festival & Being Good Neighbours

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One of the reasons why I now live in Haida Gwaii is because I happened to attend the Edge of the World music festival on my first visit to the islands. I was here for a two-week outdoor education course by SFU, which I mostly attended to learn first hand if Haida Gwaii should be shortlisted on our where-to-move-when-I-graduate list. The course was offered in early August 2014, so I attended the festival as well. And here I am!

I liked the music, but that’s not why the festival helped draw me to the islands. What stood out was the community so evident in every detail of the event. Above all else, I wanted to move to a place where people regularly come together to create and celebrate cultures as community. The festival certainly stood out in this regard — including the homemade food, children’s workshops, range of bands and performers (from both on and off-island), and the Haida and other First Nations music and ceremony.

Community is at the heart of Haida Gwaii.

Community is also at the heart of everything that draws me to Haida Gwaii. It is what I love most about our schools – how the students, families and staff come together to do our best for our young people. Community is in our basketball, at the potlatches and pole raising ceremonies, community festivals and parades, softball games, art shows, craft fairs, coffee shops, handmade soap, bed and breakfasts, farmers’ markets and the countless clubs, circles, forums and gatherings between friends. And it is also is in our disputes and the inevitable disagreements between us, and how we work together for reconciliation and harmonious relationships based on mutual respect for all.

In a healthy community there is always diversity and difference. At this year’s music festival we see how our differences combine to make us whole. For me this meant volunteering at the “family campground” — which was organized for the first time at this year’s festival by the soccer families to support children’s and youth soccer. The campground was hosted on the Tlell soccer fields, which happen to be located just across the highway from where a popular late night beach party is also located. Seeing how these two spaces mixed (more accurately, how they did not mix) shows how good neighbours who respect each others’ differences can help make a community stronger for everyone.

What? No camping in 2016? Whew…not so!

In June I heard a rumour that the festival might not have camping this year, which I hoped wouldn’t be the case because camping widens the circle for who can and will attend the festival. Having camping accessible to off (and on)-island festival goers is important to draw people here. And it is an important part of the festival experience for many festival goers. So I was excited to hear that camping would be moved to the Tlell Soccer Fields, away from the festival parking lot but still easily accessible with a festival-provided shuttle. Even better was how the new camping setup promised to provide a quieter and family-focused space for festival participants who want to sleep at night.

Most festival music is certainly not meant to be quiet. Loud is part of the draw for many, if not most, music festival goers. And, for some, so too are the parties that inevitably will crop up whenever there is music to dance to. But not everyone wants to party and not everyone wants to make noise all night long. That’s why it’s important to provide different kinds of spaces for everyone’s interests – such as, in this instance, for both the quiet and the loud. (Keeping in mind, though, that regardless of noisy or not, every space we create must be safe for everyone. That’s paramount.) That’s what the soccer field provided in its inaugural year – a safe and quiet alternative for campers who wanted to sleep at night and then enjoy next day’s music.

An alternative: Quiet place to sleep between acts, safety for everyone.

I volunteered with the camp because I wanted to help ensure that the new camping plan would work for everyone. Skipping toilet duties, I volunteered to provide nighttime security. This meant I would wear a reflective vest and spend most of the night redirecting traffic away from the campground parking lot on Saturday night. With the night’s unofficial oceanside afterparty just across the highway from the soccer fields, keeping a constant flow of traffic in and out of the camping field took most of our effort. I think it was worth it, especially since the fields were quiet all night and nobody bothered the “quiet zone” of the family camp ground.

The quiet and safety of the fields was respected by campers and partiers alike. This is the definition of good neighbours. The campground was quiet and safe, undistributed by the nearby festivities. Families with young children turned the lights out at sundown and their space was respected by nearby partiers. And for the night owls amongst us, there was even a safe place to walk to after partying – if you had set up camp the day before. Volunteers stayed up late into the night to check camp-passes as people returned for a good night’s rest. Everyone respected the quiet of the field.

The music festival brings people of all ages and diverse interests together. For some, the festival is a family outing with children’s workshops and places to play. For others, the festival is a night of dancing and great music. Teens roam the festival grounds to connect with friends, hold hands on a starry night and have fun. Families play in the river, eat ice cream and dance to the music during the day. For me it was a chance to connect with new friends, to volunteer and help raise money for children’s and youth soccer and to listen to music over countless conversations taking place throughout the festival grounds.

We all benefit when our community is strong.

We all benefit when our community is strong. That’s why it’s so important that we build on our diversity and differences. I want to live in a place that continues to organize the kinds of community events that bring people of all ages and interests together for a weekend of good fun. I also want a quiet place to sleep at night. Others want to dance all night long and to sleep it off in time for another late night. Good neighbours create and respect spaces where we can do different things in our one shared place together. And most of all, I want safety for all to be our first priority. It’s thanks to the festival organizers, volunteers and performers that the Edge of the World festival helps make all of this possible for the people of, and visitors to, Haida Gwaii. Thank you!

Summer 2016 Update

Been busy since school got out at the end of June. Here’s a brief recap of my summer so far:

  • Joined family in Ashland, Oregon for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and had a great time watching fireworks for the Fourth, plays, spending time with family
  • Visited my dad outside of Seattle and had a blast at a Mariner’s game together
  • Had a chance to catch up with friends in Vancouver, before heading home for a day — and then heading right back to Smithers and Terrace areas for camping with Ron

I have another month before school starts up and plan to read, write and prepare a bit for the fall. My dad and stepmother will be visiting in August as well.

History Matters: LGBT Struggles or Western Crusades?

Nyc 10/19/98 Candlelight Vigil For Slain Gay Wyoming Student Matthew Shepard. (Photo By Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

I still remember the day that I heard the news of Matthew Shepard’smurder in 1998. Shepard, a gay man in a Wyoming college town, was tortured and left to die by his assailants. He became an icon in the struggle against gay bashing and hate crimes. Shepard had met his assailants at a bar, and it was widely suspected that he’d been lured out and then beaten to death because of his sexual orientation.

Shepard was in his twenties, from a small town and gay. So was I. This terrified me. I had already been attacked, when walking down the street in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood — a gay district in Seattle. My best friend had been severally beaten in his teens, also in Washington state. I knew people who’d been lured into dangerous situations, stories that mirrored the reports of Shepard’s murder.

And I knew our history. Violent police raids. Death from the neglect of the AIDS crisis by politicians like Ronald Reagan. A history that included Nazi death camps for gay men, just two generations before. And there was the entrapment, prison, shame and bullying that had carried on long after the defeat of the Nazis (and to this day, in many parts of the world).

Targeted violence and its persistent threat was part of daily life for the LGBT community at the time of my coming out. In the Seattle of the 1990s there were volunteer squads of Queer Nationals that patrolled the neighbourhood. For me personally, at the time of Shepard’s murder, I was going back into the closet to protect my job. This made perfect sense to me given the possible prejudice I could face as the owner of children’s book and toy store — even in a suburb of progressive Seattle where the store was located. Given the context, the LGBT outrage that followed Shepard’s murder made sense.

But as with most stories told through the news media, a more complex story would later emerge. A revised history, told by journalist Stephen Jimenez and chronicled in The Book of Mattcame out more than a decade following Shepard’s murder. From the accounts of Jimenez and others, we’ve learnedthat Shepard may have known one of his killers, might of had a sex with him before the night of the murder and that the combined forces of meth and addiction may of been catalyst to the murder itself. By this telling, the story is more about a drug deal gone wrong than about a vicious hate crime. But homophobia, in one form or another, would remain at the heart of the story.

While this telling is disputed by many, it at least raises the possibly that there was always more to the story than a simple tale of a young man being lured out of a bar by straight gay-hating strangers, simply because of his sexual orientation. While some in the LGBT community insist that we reject this out of hand, because the retelling is revisionist denial, I think it’s always better to know the truth and to allow for ambiguities and uncertainties. These are, after all, the very qualities of the human condition that define who we (lesbian, gay, bi and trans people) really are and what our movement stands for.

Simple stories can consume the truth

The rush to a simplistic narrative in the instance of the murder of Mathew Shepard parallels the media’s (and Donald Trump’s) rush to a “global terrorist” or a “lone wolf” narrative for this weekend’s massacre in Orlando. The setting (a bar) and the target (LGBT people) are the same no matter what story we weave out of this tragedy, but the meaning of the murders will change if the killer’s motives stem from his own personal demons (denied sexuality?) or if they are manifestations his fidelity to global extremism.

The history of LGBT people tells us, just as with Shepard and now with Orlando, is that none of this really matters. That’s because our core demand is that people be recognized for who we truly are: complex, contradictory, unique and absolutely worthy of dignity — regardless of how others judge us. At the heart of our struggle is the denial of LGBT people as humans who are entitled to unique expressions of ourselves, including our sexual selves.

We are all complex. Everything within everyone can be (and is) contradictory. Even with internal conflicts, we are who we are. Our combined total is what ultimately defines each person as fully human. The primacy of real diversity, or of mutually shared recognition of all the expressions of the human condition, is our movement’s most radical and enduring stance. No story should take from what is essentially human: Our extraordinary uniqueness in everything we are.

The rush to make something as complex and real as a mass killing of 49 people can too easily lead to a storyline that’s more fiction than reality. First, the only “stories” that actually matter are the living memories of those who died on Sunday. Forty-nine human beings are dead, murdered. Their families, friends, lovers, neighbours are lost in the grief that flows out of such a mass tragedy. This is what matters most.

What also matters is how the meaning of this loss affects our community as a whole — the human community and the LGBT community within it. At the centre of this collective loss are the ways that everyone who is LGBT has been attacked by this one instance. When 49 people are murdered in a place we call home we all lose something.

Gay bars are our spaces for refuge. When the sanctity of this refuge is lost we mourn this loss, too. LGBT people built our modern collective identities in the communities that were built in and around these spaces, which are more than places to dance and party. They are also places to connect and build, to renew and to forge a movement of love and radical diversity.

The new “Crusades” or another chapter of LGBT history and struggle?

In yesterday’s rush to judgement, in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shooting, two competing narratives played out. One narrative is that of the Crusades — an epic tale of a centuries long war between two civilizations: Christendom of the West and Islam of the Orient. This has almost nothing to do with LGBT identity or history, especially not in the newly revived form of these Crusades, brought to us by the second Bush administration.

To bolster the Bush wars the West is pitted against Islam. Conjuring up another Middle Ages war, at a time when religion is supposed to be matter of personal conscience and nationalism is meant to be about shared civics, is indeed a mighty and audacious feat of war propaganda. It is also an attempt to end multi-culturalism, pluralism, liberal democracy and the centrality of human rights.

Today’s “crusades” are more about control of oil and militarism than they are about conflicting civilizational world views. But the underlying motive for such storycraft has little to do either the story itself or its nasty outcomes. The new Crusades narrative threatens to consume all meaning and sense, simplifying relations between Christians and Muslims into an epic battle of the ages. So whatever the actual motives behind the tale’s construction are, its impacts are just the same.

In this new narrative, every tragedy, with even the most tangential connection to the Middle East, becomes a central plank to the central thesis that this war is essential to our survival. False as this may be, it is now a force in history with a life of its own. What follows are deadly consequences for the millions who caught in the crosshairs of war.

In contrast, the historical narrative of LGBT people today reflects the actual history of our lives. It is informed by the themes of our shared experiences and it seeks to connect violence against LGBT people to our common struggles for equality and respect. As with Shepard’s murder, the themes of identity, respect and denial weave through this chapter of LGBT history. These themes can also help us understand the realities underpinning the Orlando massacre.

But unlike the new Crusades, LGBT history does not tell us what happened in certain and unbending terms. But our history, despite its uncertainty, can still guide in how we respond. In this, we are most certain. Rather than wage war, we are called to expand love. Rather than to demonize, we are called to humanize.

But what if the killer himself was gay, too?

Regardless if Omar Mateen is a “lone wolf” terrorist, a homophobic fanatic or a man in conflict with himself, what he did was murder 49 human beings at a gay bar. His motive or sexual orientation aside, the loss of those he murdered is the only story that really matters. It does not matter whether someone is gay, lesbian, bi, trans, cis or other for their life to be sacred and their death to be tragic.

But was he gay? At this point, the answer seems to be: Who knows. Bar patrons say they knew him. There are rumours of him meeting up with other men online. And there were early reports of his father saying that he was upset at the sight of two men kissing. He could be gay. He could be upset at the sight of two men kissing. He could target other gay men and want to kill them, even as he is having gay relations. And he could be a religious extremist, torn by the contradiction of his faith and the reality of his attraction. All of this can be true, all at once.

And all of this can be true for the mass murder to be a part of LGBT history and our struggle. The killer’s sexuality has nothing to do with whether or not it matters that he targeted his attack on LGBT (and straight) people in a gay bar. Unlike the new Crusades, our history is not based on two enemies — straights and queers are not battling it out to the death in the story of LGBT liberation. We don’t fear or hate the straights and cisgendereds of the world, we simply demand to be recognized for who we are. In return, we will accept you as you are, too.

Unlike the new Crusades, the narrative of LGBT struggle and history is grounded in human reality. The LGBT movement fundamentally demands complexity and accepts, at its very heart, contradictions. We say that love trumps hate. We say that marriage equality is about freedom to love.

In the LGBT lexicon there are continuums and constructions, and endless combinations. This is why our movement and our history provides a better narrative for understanding the Orlando massacre, however its aftermath unfolds. Unlike the constructed narrative of the new Crusades, our history wants to be told as a living mosaic and a testament to diverse human beauty.

When we learn that Matthew Shepard may have been in love with his killer or that the Orlando shooter may of been gay nothing changes about the tragedy of LGBT lives targeted and lost. We are still outraged and saddened by what’s unfolding before our eyes. And we can still recognize the complex tapestry of homophobia and violence against those at the margins that underpins these kinds of terrible events.

Even when the killers themselves are gay like us, we can still connect the murders of others like us to our LGBT history and its many struggles. And we can still demand that everyone — all of us — be respected for who we are, as the fully human and deeply complex people that we truly are.

(Photo: Candlelight vigil for Matthew Shepard in New York City on October 19, 1998. By Evan Agostini/Getty Images, via The Dish)

Why Silence Still Equals Death

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“Hope will never be silent.”
— Harvey Milk

A new chapter in the history of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people started today. Forty-nine people were murdered in a gay bar in Orlando. At least 50 other people were injured. With so many deaths by gunfire in a single incident, this is the worst mass civilian shooting in the modern history of the United States. The victims were targeted by a killer who, according to his father, was recently upset  at the sight of seeing two men kissing. read more at my other blog

Spring 2016

The last update was just after Lent and right before coming back from spring break. Reading what I wrote then (mostly about the doubts and contradictions within teaching) it’s hard to put myself back there, considering all that has happened in my work as a public school teacher over these past two months. I am glad that I was thinking so much about how to do this work, given that I needed to be grounded in order to contribute to what would soon follow.

Soon after returning from break, our community lost one of its own in the tragic death of a student. I did not personally know the student – Jaylund – who died this spring, although I knew of him and knew who he was. Many of the students that I work with directly knew him well (as did almost all of my colleagues and many of my neighbours and other community members). His death is painful for the entire community and his loss affects us all.

As a teacher, who is new to the field, new to the school, and new to the community, the death of a young man hit me hard. Of course, it hit others harder. But I, like everyone, felt his loss and was shocked by his tragic death. Being witness to a community of young people – our students – in mourning and grief took everything I had. I am still drawing from my reserves and I am coming to appreciate that nothing can prepare a community for such a loss.

It has been two months. Like many students have told me, even though we are back into the much needed routine of daily life, everything is different. For the friends and family of Jaylund, his loss changes everything forever. And for those of less directly affected, we are changed in how we have come to know each other and ourselves. As a teacher, I see how much school is first and foremost a community whose first task must be to support everyone within it. While the purpose of school is education, or growth through empowerment, this purpose can only be fulfilled when there is a supportive community. We all need to be cared about and part of a community in order to thrive as learners.

I learned how much students have and how much students contribute to the life of a school. The school depends on everyone within it and students have a special role in this mix. First, schools exist for students. Without students there would be no school in the first place. Second, students empower everything within the school since it through the learning of schools that our mandate is realized. When students are unable to focus on the prescribed curriculum of the school, we – the teachers – must respond and listen. Students will guide the process, our only choice is whether or not to respond this guidance. Finally, schools are not just students – as the relationship between students and staff is essential, too. My experience in the past two months has been grounded in the “coming together” of the entire staff for our students.

This blog post cannot begin to touch on how much I have learned since March – when I was on break. I have grown and changed – both personally and professionally – to such a extent that it is hard to relate to the feeling of “doubt” that I expressed in my earlier entry. In place of doubt is not a certainty of how to teach (I don’t know the way), but instead is a sense that so long as I and others act in loving and caring ways toward each other and the students with whom we work, then it will be okay.

Seattle Layover

We managed quite a lot on our layover on the flight from Sacramento to home. I flew into Seattle and had time to see mom, Janice, and Luke (who happened to be in town for business – bonus). Ron and I attended a concert, too. Then it was up early for the final two legs of the trip.

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Final Lent Reflection

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. On Ash Wednesday I wrote about plans to write throughout Lent, especially on liberation learning, and I said I’d cut back on social media. While I managed to stay away from social media I did not write much this season. Why?

Short answer: Too much and not ready. Meaning that I had too much to think about and that I’m not ready to share – at least not here. But the exercise worked in terms of getting to thinking. Lots of thinking, about me. Not about liberation learning, but about teaching and learning as it relates to what I do. I am exploring limits, contradictions, and uncertainties (doubts).

So what will I share? Human relationships are not just but are just. Human beings are not compassionate but are compassionate. Public education is transformative and respectful but it is also neither of these qualities. Life is meaningful but life is meaningless. Limits, contradictions, uncertainties (doubts).

I want to focus on doubts. When I was a labour organizer I felt certain about what I did. Now I don’t. Back then, I helped empower workers through narrative and relationship. I identified opportunities for a change of condition – including wages.

In this job I found a deficit (in certain power relations between workers and their  boss) that could be balanced, and I worked with people to change the balance  of power in the relationship at work. This resulted in higher wages and better working conditions. I believed that the process was centred on liberation, in thought and action.

Through critical thinking and intentional action, people could work together and make the world a better place. I believed that this was “just” – it was justified because it was the right, morally so, thing to do. I also believed that the work of organizing was sacred, as is all work, and that we did more than raise wages. We demonstrated dignity.

In my old job, I spent (almost) all of my time thinking about how to change the balance of power between workers and their bosses, or the institution that they worked for. This was both stressful and immensely satisfying.

I didn’t realize how satisfying it was until I quit doing it. Almost every conversation had a purpose and was with someone who was interested in what we, I, were taking about. Things were urgent and had to be done. My work style was built on objectives that were hard to meet and impossible for others to ignore. I enjoyed the challenge, the attention, the sense of doing right, and the power of it all.

But as with anything there were tradeoffs, and these went beyond “stress”. The work took me out of the moment and brought me into to conflict, most meaningfully into conflict with those whose pay and conditions would improve because of the work I did.

I mostly ignored this part of what I did, not in terms of not paying attention but in terms of not accepting. I told people what I did, but I did not ask permission. And even if I had asked permission, few could imagine what I had in mind. Every step and every outcome, to the day, was planned long in advance. When I stopped not paying attention I quit, rather than resolve.

But did I? Did I quit? Yes and no. I am a public school teacher now, working as part of another system that changes lives through education and empowerment. Unlike my work as an organizer, now I work in a system that is big, noticed, publicly accountable, and transparent in its intent. But like my work before, the public school system changes people in ways that you can only understand when looking back. Teaching is bound by ethics, ethics that I prefer to those of labour organizing (which was as much politics as education), but these ethics operate within a bundle contradictions.

What is teaching? Empowering students and communities through education, at its best. Oppressing students through compulsory indoctrination into a system that goes against the student as a human member of their community, at its worst. How’s this for a contradiction: Consent as continuum, ranging from recognized by the state as an individual right; the recognized and exercised right of the parent to raise their child; implicitly exercised by the student herself in the form of compliance; to explicitly exercised consent of the student who wants and understands the value of education, but does not understand until the process has run its course.

I feel less certain about everything. I imagine that this is a good sign. I hope that I am finally resolving, or responding, to the question of respect as response. I fought labour campaigns through narrative. I’d like to teach through dialogue. But I have so much to figure out first. We do. And that is, absent everything I am withholding from this blog, what I thought about this Lent.

To be continued…in good time.

Visit to San Francisco

Not too many photos from today’s “Day in the City” but here’s one as the train left along the Bay, heading back to Davis:

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Lent Update

Lent happens during spring. Both are times of renewal. I haven’t had the time to write (or, more honesty, not the focus to write), but Lent has been on mind. I stopped drinking coffee, an unplanned departure for the season. This has cleared up my thinking, given me time to feel a bit more, and allowed me to consider why I am here, what I am doing, who I am, and how to be. And today I started to write. Not here. But out of my head and into the world – locked on a screen but freed nonetheless.

Movie Night

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