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Pride Is Not For Everyone


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Written by:  Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc.

Change is often a good thing. When it comes to equal rights for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered groups, increased awareness and advocacy has contributed to their greater inclusion in the workplace and in our communities at large.

The Pride Parade in London is not the raucous as it is in other cities notably Toronto. Just like everything in London, Ontario it is far more subdued and conservative focusing more on family, friends and allies and less as a spectacular show or tourist attraction.

Pride is about honesty, sexual expression and having a “safe space”. The parade and its other events support this freedom. But Pride is not for everyone, and participating in these events is  a choice. Agencies and businesses alike often exploit this event to advance their strategic or advocacy agendas with little thought into what it represents and who the right people should be to participate.

My business had a booth a few years ago at Pride in London, and I had a number of disturbing observations.

Arriving early in the morning, I began to set up my booth, with employees from various large and multinational corporations, falling closely behind. Setting up their tables and fleeing for the rest of the day, they only came back at the end when everything was over and ready to pack. Merely, leaving brochures and business cards, there was no intention to engage with the crowd. Yet, I surmised that the representatives were from companies who placed hundreds and thousands of dollars in sponsorship but did not have the decency to stick around. That smacks of a phony commitment to LGBT in my books!

And let’s not forget the young man in the booth next to me who was selling phallic-like hats and similar paraphernalia. Every half an hour or so he would reach over to his girlfriend and start kissing her and more. Do you suppose he might have been a little uncomfortable with attending a gay event? With all of the other opportunities one comes across in a day to safely express one’s heterosexuality, was it so necessary to do so in an event that seeks to stamp out heterosexism? I think not. As they say: “Get a room!”

Finally, a New Canadian spoke to me about the service he was getting at a local agency. He was really pleased with how they were trying to get him out of his house and make him more sociable. He recounted how he was “invited to a ceremony” in which “he was part of a parade” and given “a colourful flag”. The event was Pride in London. The man was not gay. He was a married man from the Middle East and a devout Muslim. He had no idea what he was attending. This televised event could bring a lot of grief for him. What would his family say if they see him? What might his reaction be when he finds out what he attended? Inviting clients to attend Pride Events without fully disclosing its meaning is simply: disrespectful, dishonest, irresponsible, culturally and religiously insensitive. Numbers are not everything!

Pride events often take place on weekends and evenings. Just because you don’t want to be a part of the Pride event doesn’t mean you don’t support LGBT rights. You may prefer to have stricter boundaries between your work and personal time. Additionally, if employers provide no  compensation for attending these events to support agency goals through pay or time off, they should not expect employees to take time away from their existing schedules to do one more thing for their job. Lack of participation should not be interpreted as you don’t care about LGBT rights. It could simply mean that you don’t like attending parades or that you really are pressed for time.

After all, when you compare how abysmal the attendance at Women’s Day events is: Do we interpret this as an expression of our Community’s disinterest in women’s rights? I don’t think so. Some people have different ways of showing support and advocacy. That needs to be respected.

Next time you think about having your company be a part of Pride Events, ask yourself if you are sending the best representative. Give employees a way out without judgement. If they go and feel uncomfortable, they may end up staining your corporate image like the guy in the booth who was compelled to display his heterosexuality. Be honest with what the event represents and if you plan to invite New Canadians to participate, you must take extra steps to ensure cultural sensitivity. We need to be mindful that in a good part of the world, openly gay men are still murdered, tortured and imprisoned. Going to a Pride Event may be a big leap that they are not ready to make as of yet.

 

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Representative Jury in London, Ontario? Forget It.


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Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work

Just a few weeks ago I was sitting in a courtroom with my summons to jury duty in hand; looking around the room, admiring the wood and watching as other potential jurors entered.  There was some noticeable tension mixed in with a good dose of excitement.  Did I want to be picked or didn’t I?  I guess it all depended on how long the commitment would be I thought, because I have a business to run.

Before I knew it, I was in a room with about 150 people from London and some surrounding towns.  As usual, I had my diversity hat on and observed that there was one black woman and about 5 people who may have been Chinese.  The rest were white.  To protect confidentiality I noticed that we were referred to by our numbers and our occupation.  It saw an over representation of white retired people — especially nurses.

 Jury selection seems like an odd process, which starts from receiving a summons to jury duty based on a random selection, to sitting through a day of waiting.

I was really confused.  I thought the whole idea around a jury was to give the accused a fair trial and that meant getting a good cross-section of local citizens, right?  I spent about 5 hours in the court room until my number was called only to tell them that I couldn’t sit in a 4 week trial because I am self-employed.  Some people were never called and others came forward at least  4 times.

 The process of selecting the actual jury for the trial was interesting.  The lawyers could choose their jury.  After sitting through 5 jury selections, I remarked how there was probably only one juror who was over 60.  The first selection was comprised of about 95%  middle –aged women.  The other primarily women under 30.  The whole process left me bewildered.  How  could we call this representative?

When a potential juror cannot sit on a trial they need to address the judge and give them the reason why they are unable to do so.  Although our numbers were used to protect our confidentiality, the reasons potential jurors gave were made public.  I have to say that I was left feeling disappointed and deflated by the experience.  Those of us who were sitting and waiting shouldn’t have had to hear the story about the man suffering from anxiety, the other from depression, a number of people with serious medical conditions and a person who just lost her mother who was in tears telling the judge.  What was the purpose?  What about the 10 people who were suffering from chronic back pain who had to sit through the 5 hours only to tell the judge about their medical problems in a crowd of 150?

With all of the technology out there and the government’s stated commitment to privacy, equity and diversity – it’s high time we  take a look at jury selection, there has got to be a better way.

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