Set 5: Guided Questions

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Our reflections, thus far, have heightened our awareness about ourselves as research instruments. Perhaps we are looking at ourselves differently with respect to how we listen, question, probe and honour the stories we are told and the data we collect through our research. Yet is this sufficient? Could we, despite these insights, still be guilty of ‘colonising discourses of the other’ (Fine, 1998, p. 130)? As hooks writes, perhaps there is ‘… no need to hear your voice when I can talk about you better than you speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Rewriting you, I write myself anew’ (hooks, 1990, pp. 151–152).

As you bring your reflective writings to a close, reflect on additional insights you have about yourself as a research instrument wanting to allow the ‘voice’ of your research subject to take leadership. Does a community based participatory research approach place new challenges in front of you as a research instrument? Does it offer new opportunities? What are these for you and how do you think you can respond to them and embrace them?

The above quote by hooks (1990), while quite eloquent and meaningful, seems circular to me. So, if my story is better told by someone else and their story is told better by me, and now I am “written anew”, then when do I know anything about anyone else or myself? I like the iterative nature of this statement, but I also feel it says that no one’s voice is valid unless it is re-worded and interpreted through someone else’s voice. Is my voice really so oppressive, blind, and without merit that it can only be taken to mean anything when it is filtered through another?

We interpret other’s actions, words, behaviour, everyday. This does not mean we are right, it means this is what we see. I suppose this quote is talking about what we represent to others and ultimately part of who we are is rooted in the perceptions of others.

I think the whole concept of community based participatory research should act as a benchmark for all research. Why don’t more people get involved with their projects? Why do I have read article after article that ends with, “more research is needed.” When will it be enough research? Don’t we already know what housing is good for people and that feelings of empowerment bring with it great wealth and happiness in the form of health and feeling in control? I truly believe that real social action and justice and equity will never emerge until people get off their behinds and get their hands dirty.

Say Nothing? Set 4: Guided Questions

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When we speak for others, when we try to “help,” are we doing more harm than good?

Is doing nothing at all just as bad?

There was a civic election this weekend. Running for school board trustees were 5 members of Parent’s Voice, a group that sprung out of the protests against School Distrtict-41’s recently enacted anti-homophobia policy 5.45. The Parent’s Voice slate only ran candidates for school trustee positions and it was clear that the only reason they were running was to attempt to overturn policy 5.45.

The main reason they say the policy should be overturned is that the current anti-bullying and conduct policies implicitly address violence and discrimination against sexual minorities. Parent’s Voice and its supporters also criticize this policy as they say it is “sex activists” to “sexualize students” and “lure” them into “homosexualist culture” and it threatens parental authority. Authority presumably to teach their children that homosexuality is wrong.

I find it horribly offensive that a group would actively oppose a policy that only exists to protect children and school staff members. What does this say to children who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgendered (LGBT)? To their same-sex parents? To their teachers who might be afraid to be public about their sexual orientation? Saying that sexual minorities are protected by implication is not enough. This group is actively discriminated against and does not have the same rights and freedoms as other citizens.

Even though I do not identify as a sexual minority, I still have a voice. I want my children to go to a school that explicitly protects and respects other’s sexual orientation. I want people in my community who do identify with a sexual minority to feel that they can be open about who they are and not feel like they have to hide. To be invisible. Which is what Parent’s Voice wants. They say everyone is protected under current school policy, so why make it explicit to protect sexual minorities? Because these people are not invisible, they do have a voice, and efforts to tuck them into the corners of society restricts my rights and freedoms as well.

I spoke for sexual minorities this weekend in several ways. First, I voted yesterday. I voted for the incumbents school trustees who brought in this inclusive policy and against those who would take away the voice and protections for sexual minorities. Second, I told all my friends on Facebook, Twitter, the parent’s Google Group I moderate, and anyone else who would listen not to vote for Parent’s Voice. Lastly, I emailed Parent’s Voice a letter and posted it on the Burnaby Parents Gay/Straight Alliance Facebook group and my parent’s group.

Here is my letter:

Dear Parents Voice Members.

First, I really wish you would change your name. You do not speak for all parents.

Second, why aren’t you running on your true agenda?

Why is it hidden?

I find it extremely hypocritical that you do not mention policy 5.45 on your website when everyone knows that is why you are all running for positions on the Burnaby school board.

Who had the hidden agenda now? You keep saying the “gays” have a hidden agenda. So do you apparently.

If any of you get elected I will seriously consider pulling my child from the Burnaby school system. I am not the only one. I do not want my child to bullied or think they are not “normal” just because they may identify with a sexual orientation other than what you consider to be normal or acceptable. Your campaign against policy 5.45 shows that you think any sexual orientation other than heterosexual is aberrant. Why do you pretend otherwise?

You say that policy 5.45 is not necessary because Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders are already protected under the current policies. If this is the case, why oppose 5.45? Why explicitly exclude them? Why make any child or person who works for the school board feel unwelcome or under threat of violence?

I will not be voting for any of you on Saturday. I hope you all find something better to do with your time very soon,

Best,
Theresa Burley-Hughes

A few hours I received an email from a family in my community:

Dear Theresa:
As a same-sex parent with a son in grade one in a Burnaby school, I have only two words to say–thank you.

I think in cases like this it is imperative to “use” the stories of others. To stand with them and show those who would marginalize them that you do not share their views. I think when people are made to feel invisible that we have a duty to use our own status and privilege to strengthen their voices.

The election results showed the Parent’s Voice was shutout. It appears that many other’s speak for the LGBT community and their right to protection and inclusion as well.