The Huffington Post - Posted: 09/02/2014 1:11 pm EDT Updated: 09/02/2014 1:59 pm EDT
By Udoka Okafor - Writer and Social Critic; Student, McMaster University
When LGBT persons are given critical representation and visibility in society, there is a subsequent and inevitable humanization that comes from the recognition that at its core, the issues that the LGBT community faces is an important faction of the continuum of struggles experienced by all human beings. The dissonance and negative distance that arises from the indiscriminate and incomplete stereotypical representation of the LGBT community is reduced, because persons are able to immediately dismiss these categorizations of individuals within the LGBT community as untrue, by virtue of the political and social visibility that they are, or ought to be, afforded within society.
This political and social visibility is the goal that the ProudPolitics organization as a whole, and its Spotlight Program, is striving to achieve. ProudPolitics is a non-partisan organization, based in Canada that is working to get more LGBT politicians into office. The Spotlight program within the organization, of which I am honoured to be a co-manager and creative director, along side my colleague and friend Warren Brown, is one of the initiatives that seeks to achieve the overarching aim of the organization. The Spotlight Program is an initiative that is currently involved with interviewing past and present LGBT politicians in Canada, both on a federal, a provincial, and a municipal level, and to date, we have interviewed five politicians of all political stripes. The aims of the interviews are to document an important part of the history of the LGBT community in Canada, to highlight the triumphs and tribulations of the journeys of these LGBT politicians in Canada, and to provide inspirations, and foster role models for LGBT youths, disadvantaged communities, minorities, and any LGBT persons out there aspiring for political office.
y doing these interviews, and subsequently articulating the deserving and inspiring stories of the politicians that we interview, the Spotlight Program creates political and social visibility, as best we can. The interviews encapsulate the intricate and vulnerable realities that surrounds discovering one's identity, the whispers of the hidden and daunting truths about coming to terms with one's identity, the tales of familial and communal estrangement, the stories of banishment to the hollowness of homelessness, the social struggles that one faces when they confront society openly with their identity, the fight that one embodies when they seek to redefine their social struggles as part of the human struggle, and the courage it takes to impose their struggles on the world, so we can all share in their ordeals and actively seek to address and change the afflictions that the LGBT community faces, on a local, national, and global scale.
As a country, Canada has come very far in terms of ensuring that LGBT persons are not denied their legal, constitutional, and human rights. However, Canada still has a very long way to go with respect to LGBT issues, and as such, it does not have the luxury of political and legislative apathy or social and communal complacency. One of the biggest ways in which the Canadian society can continue to ensure that LGBT issues are addressed and LGBT persons are given critical representation is through political empowerment. Thus, it is not enough for legislatures- who might, understandably, be less adept at navigating the issues confronting the LGBT community, as opposed to LGBT persons themselves- to author laws that directly and indirectly affect the community, rather LGBT persons have to be allowed to address the issues directly, themselves.
Thus, political empowerment for the LGBT community can be achieved through political representation of LGBT persons within the Canadian government. As such, by electing highly competent and willing LGBT persons into leadership in Canada, the LGBT community as a whole, is empowered to internally reconstruct the structures that disfavor their community. The ProudPolitics spotlight program seeks to highlight the political representation that exists or has existed in the Canadian government, how far that representation can go in reforming said governmental structures, and subsequently empowering LGBT people to courageously aspire for political office in Canada.
The question becomes, how far can the space that the ProudPolitics Spotlight Program seeks to establish go in creating the social and political visibility that it aspires towards. I think that part of the answer lies in the potential of the stories of these politicians to profoundly impart the lives and views of its audience. As noted before, their stories create a bridge to our common humanity and it unifies the struggles that underlie our core, and so, one can easily see that the Spotlight program has a lot of potential. However, the other part of the answer lies in the receptiveness of the audience, to which their stories ultimately reach. We must be willing to, as a society, not just read their stories but also seek to understand their stories and their struggles, and see it as a part of our stories and our struggles. Until we are able to openly accept the commonality of our realities and seam the threads of our stories into an ever-stretching continuum of the beauty and variety of human life, the power and profoundness of their struggles would cease to entrap us in an empathetic way.
Thus, ProudPolitics and its Spotlight Program would do its part in creating the social and political visibility that it aspires towards. But ultimately, the effectiveness of its aim lies in the recognition that the visibility of the LGBT community, both in Canada and on a global scale, is inextricably tied to our open and critical receptiveness of the community, our own political, social, and communal visibility, and our common humanity.
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