14 September 2013

Values Village

I’m feeling somewhat guilty today, as I “Facebook participated” in the demonstration against the proposed Charter of Québec Values. As we all probably know, this means I signed up on Facebook, but here I am at home (and still in my bathrobe!) in front of my computer. I stand by my solidarity on this issue and give myself the task of writing in lieu of hoofing it over to the demonstration in person.
I want to share an experience that I had in the health care system that made me confront my own prejudices and which underlines my own thoughts about values. I have talked about this before (in case this sounds familiar to you), but I think this is the first time I have written about it.

The scene is an outpatient dermatology clinic, where I have been going for quite some time for various problems, including condyloma (anal warts). I assiduously follow up to ensure that I am treated and in the hope that the problems will not develop into things more serious. In the course of my frequentation of this outpatient clinic, I have seen many, many residents, students in training to become dermatologists, and they have come from a great many backgrounds.

I have had rather rough insertions of the anoscope by straight men uncomfortable with the prospect of looking at the gay man’s ass that have made me bleed. I have had the delightful experience of waiting for hours to be seen, only to find the resident who was supposed to see me paralyzed in his reading of my medical file, apparently not so sure he wanted to look for warts in the anus of a gay man with HIV. These experiences have shaped my expectations and my wariness when it comes to who among the residents will walk toward the waiting area calling out my name to go be seen.

In that context, I had to confront my own prejudices when the female resident wearing a hijab called my name. I thought to myself that this observant Muslim woman was not going to like me or the task ahead of her as she examined and treated me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I got in this visit was a professional who treated me with compassion and without judgment. I made a point of telling her supervisor that this visit had been the least traumatic and difficult for me, that she had done her job with the utmost of professionalism.

In the end (pardon the pun), what counts in terms of values for me is actions. I don’t expect anyone to accept being refused service based on the beliefs of the person rendering the service. That goes for someone who might not accept offering treatment to a person of the opposite sex (not my case), or performing the marriage of two people of the same sex. That would be not doing the job for which you are employed. That’s the value that needs to be defined — if it even needs to be defined — not the dress code of the people delivering those services.

The ridiculousness of the “dress code” approach is how difficult it would be to invoke, except in certain very visible cases. I have a friend who wears a series of bracelets that express certain Buddhist beliefs: no depiction of that on the Charter of Values website, and I doubt that anyone would really recognize the significance without disclosure. As I tried to point out in a previous post, how easy is it to distinguish between a scarf worn for religious purposes and one worn for fashion purposes? At the extremes, yes, it’s possible, but in between the lines are much less clear. We’re left to our preconceptions to discriminate against one and to let the other pass.

That is not only socially unacceptable, but legally unacceptable.

Religious neutrality of institutions? Absolutely. That means not making exceptions for the religions that happen to have been on the territory a bit longer. If it’s “our” cultural heritage, then let’s do a good job of preserving it in our museums, not in the places that we make laws or deliver justice. No signs on the walls, no prayers to start deliberations. But in that context, the outfit worn by the individual is very much less important than the actions they take. If we have values to be shared, they are about our actions and the inclusion of all, not about excluding people based on our own prejudices and expectations of how they might act, based on how they look.

I might have only “Facebook participated” in the demonstration today, but the good news is that I always make it to the polls to vote, and I always vote for inclusion and acceptance.

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