When I was young, growing up in this town, I assumed everyone lived a life like mine.
Nothing in my limited experience told me otherwise. My friends lived in houses similar to mine, they wore the same clothes, bought from the same stores, and 90 per cent had both a mother and a father — at least that is what I thought. Of course, I was only a child and my world was very small, but yet, I wonder how many times my assumptions continue to get in the way of true understanding and compassion.
I still live in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and although much has changed, we remain a very homogeneous community — on the surface at least. As a whole, we are a town of privilege, we do not struggle with the many issues that our neighbouring cities contend with. Last week, our staff attended a workshop about how to deal with people experiencing homelessness. As I sat and listened, my thoughts were of gratitude: “I’m glad that this topic is not very relevant to our experience at the NOTL Public Library.”
But should I be so arrogant as to think that no one in our community feels marginalized, judged? We are frontline workers. We are mandated to accept anyone who comes through our doors. We are to break down barriers and welcome all regardless of sex, race, religion, and socio-economic status. How do we do this?
The first step is to recognize that, despite appearances, we are all different — something society seems to accept at face value. However, what if someone feels different and that difference makes them feel alone, marginalized, or unsafe? What if this person is a child without the vocabulary to express how they feel or the life experience to understand that who they are is okay?
JP Kane and Kaleb Robertson are both early childhood educators who travel around Southern Ontario providing amazing story times focused on inclusion, acceptance, and fun. They are also known as Fay and Fluffy and they are drag queens. Yes, there is much singing and laughter and more glitter than you can imagine, but their message is powerful no matter your race, your income, the structure of your family, or how you identify, you are loved, you are special. Even a giant hot pink wig and false eyelashes are celebrated in this place.
I spent almost 10 years as an occasional teacher with the DSBN and at that time had the opportunity to teach many Kindergarten classes. In one such class, there was a little boy who routinely chose to play in the dress-up centre and always dressed in the princess costumes, never the prince. I watched how his peers played with him without judgement. I heard the remarks of other adults in the school, which were not always kind. And I wondered if his parents knew, and if so, how they reacted. Maybe this little boy was gay, maybe he just liked the silky feel of the pink satin skirt. It doesn’t matter. I just hope he grew up feeling the unconditional love we all deserve.
At a time when the news and internet are filled with so much ugliness and intolerance, I am proud to be part of an organization such as the public library, that aims to lead with empathy and compassion. Fay and Fluffy share these values. I am inviting you and your family to a celebration of diversity, to sing, dance and learn on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 2 p.m. See you at Fay and Fluffy’s Drag Queen Story Time.
Please register online at notlpubliclibrary.org.