Thursday, August 05, 2010


He struggled a bit. All of us got together to review what happened at Gay Pride. I suppose the meeting could have been called a 'debriefing' but it really was a 'celebration'. Vita Community Living Services marched in the parade for the first time this year and many of our members came to participate. We went to Pride with a message about diversity and respectful language. We handed out a card which asked the reader to think about language and think about how hurtful words could be.

We were unprepared for the reception we'd get. Thousands of cards were handed out, people read them, people asked for more, people cheered us and our intent. We all told stories about the day, about significant things that happened. About people who were touched and people who were changed. For the first few moments all of those who spoke were care providers of some sort. Most had come on their day off just to celebrate, all had a story to tell.

I did not know the member sitting beside me very well but I could feel him struggle. He was working up his courage to speak, marshaling his language into form and order. I am always impressed when those with a vocabulary limited both by disability and by educational apathy use monumental will to pull sparse language over large concepts, like pulling a threadbare blanket over very cold toes.

Finally he spoke. He talked about handing the cards out and hearing people tell him that he was doing something good. He had been taken aback by the positive reception, he has not had a lot of positive reaction in his life. He said, 'It felt good down in the bottom of my soul. It felt really good.' He talked about what it meant to him to be making a change, making the world different and better for others.

The room was very quiet as he spoke. We knew that he was working hard to ensure that we all understood that it was important to him that he work towards his own liberation. That he understood how the 'R' word felt more than any of us did. That he handed those cards out with a conviction that we could only guess at. He finished speaking, saying again, that the day had meant a lot to him, that having his message printed on the card so that he could easily pass out a demand for social change.

Then in a quiet room, he said, 'Now, who wants a piece of cake.'


Anonymous said...

I work for Vita and I am not out of the closet. I've been hiding so long that its hard to believe that I'd be safe. I didn't go to the parade this year cause I knew Vita was going to be there and I didn't want to get caught. My life has been very hard. I've learn not to trust people. I want to trust but what happens if Manuela leaves, we will all be caught and fired. How do we know that we will be safe forever, not just now.

Manuela said...

I understand your fear but want to personally reassure you that its not just me that has created a place that is welcoming to all. Our board is committed to it as well. We have had people on our board of directors who are gay. The board loved the new cards and our participation in the parade. They and I are also committed to making sure the next leader at Vita carries on with our mission, vision, values and beliefs. We even have a plan on trying to recruit and train now the future ED to make sure this happens. I can't predict the future but I know that if I was hit by a bus tomorrow the board, the existing management and in fact many of the staff at Vita would never tolerate someone in my shoes that was not accepting of all. If they didn't cause hell, I would come back and personally haunt all of them!! Our promise of safety includes everyone - not only our members.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, Thank you for your honesty. You've given me much to think about. I wonder if our members understand our commitment to 'rights' which has always been but is now solidified isn't going to go away. Have we communicated with our members that our new direction regarind voice and safety, rights and responsibilities, won't be brushed aside with a change in staff or a change in administration. How do we communicate 'permanence' in a world that can seem so transitory. Aside from what you made me think, you also made me feel. There was a time where I lived in fear of being 'caught' and 'punished' and I know the hell of having mistrust as my best friend. I hope, over time you begin to feel secure both in Vita and within yourself. My office door is open anytime you are at head office and would like to drop by and say 'hi'.

Luke Lynn said...

Anonymous, The closet isn't where anyone wants to be. For you to be living in the closet, something must have happened to you to put you there and is still keeping you there. My heart hurts for you because I've been there. At the beginning, the closet feels safe, but when you turn around there is no body with you and you are not free. Then those first steps out are scary and vulnerable. Words will do more things to you than hit you like a fist. I've been there and so has many others. But I truly believe that you will be surprised! Instead of dodging words you will be embraced by hugs. I put VITA through many test to make sure I was safe coming out not only as being a part of the gay family but specifically trans. First, I asked is it ok for me to dress like a guy, wear ties, then mohawks, what if parents don't approve? Then the big day came to ask VITA to call me "HE".. There is a difference between saying we treat everyone equally and then actually practicing what you preach. Let me tell you the love out weighed the hate. But what was more empowering then all the support form the staff, management, Manuela and Dave was when members stood next to me because it was safe, got enough courage to be out themselves and celebrate being out and proud. You obviously have strength enough to post this blog, and the question is welcomed, you have a purpose and destiny. Whatever that purpose, don't let hate stop you from being you.