The pride flag flies following a raising ceremony on Parliament Hill Wednesday June 1, 2016 in Ottawa.
It was just two weeks ago that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the Pride flag on Parliament Hill for the first time. Gathering with colleagues from all sides of the House of Commons, I thought we were at the joyful end of a long human rights journey. To raise a symbol of the long struggle for LGBTQ rights and inclusion in front of the Peace Tower was literally a dream come true.
My dream was shattered by the tragedy in Orlando this past weekend, when 49 gay people were murdered and even more injured in a horrific gun attack in a gay nightclub. The human rights, criminal and marriage laws of Canada may have changed since I frequented my first gay nightclub almost four decades ago, but the scourges of homophobia continue still, now coupled with a new brand of American home-grown and well-armed terrorism. Orlando drove this message home in a deeply personal way.
Despite the huge advances in human rights and public acceptance, LGBTQ people still need safe places to gather and today we all feel greatly shaken by what happened in Orlando.
I went to my first gay bar when I was in my early 20s. I went in search of belonging, in search of friendship, in search of community. I went to be around people like me, hoping I would find a safe place and strength in numbers. Finding the courage to walk into that nightclub was no small feat, but once inside I knew that I was not alone. And I felt a rare sense of freedom and a great sense of safety. Despite the huge advances in human rights and public acceptance, LGBTQ people still need safe places to gather and today we all feel greatly shaken by what happened in Orlando.
In the middle of this tragedy, I was moved by how many people, both LGBTQ community members and our allies, came together with just a few hours' notice on Sunday night in Toronto for a vigil in remembrance of the Orlando victims. I joined Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory, along with many of my colleagues from the House of Commons, as we stood with Orlando and against homophobia and hate. Similar vigils were held in several other Canadian cities.
Noticeable were the Muslims among us lighting candles, holding hands and standing in solidarity with their LGBTQ friends and neighbours.
The only way to defeat hate is with love. We have to continue to trust each other, and to see the world through each other's eyes as we build a more peaceful, more just society. Then we will all be safe.
And friends and neighbours we are. This is the holy month of Ramadan, and while many Muslims fast, they will also be called upon to engage in acts of charity, generosity and spiritual enrichment. This has become part of my life in Don Valley West since I have the unique privilege to be an openly gay Member of Parliament representing one the largest Muslim populations in Canada. I knocked on every door in Thorncliffe Park in the last election, and the support I received from the communities there demolishes any misguided belief that Islam or Muslims in general are to blame for the horrendous attack in Orlando.
As a United Church minister, I have worked with Muslims, Jews, and Christians of all denominations to build bridges and recognize that what we share is far more important than where we might differ: love for God, and love for one another. Muslims are no different from any other people of faith in this regard.
The government of Canada is committed to combating terrorism and keeping Canadians safe. It is equally committed to ensuring that communities are brought together, rather than being split apart. The only way to defeat hate is with love. We have to continue to trust each other, and to see the world through each other's eyes as we build a more peaceful, more just society. Then we will all be safe.
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