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Pieces for Peace sparks discussions around community building and self love

Local NewsPieces for Peace sparks discussions around community building and self love

Nearly 20 people attended the third installment of the Pieces for Peace series at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery on Friday, May 17, 2024.

The seasonal event is organized through a partnership between Wilfrid Laurier University’s Hub for Community Solutions and the City of Brantford, and Friday’s event was co-hosted by Brantford Pride and The Bridge Brant for International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).

“This series was formed as a concept imagined by Imam Abu Noman Tarek, and Pieces for Peace asks the local community to come together and sit in diverse perspectives to talk to each other and find ways of achieving peace in our community across difference,” said Taylor Berzins, Community Initiatives Coordinator for the City of Brantford. “My understanding of this concept is that through differences in our lived experiences, we are able to find similarities and shared understandings.”

On Friday, the conversations centered around the importance of recognizing and respecting diversity in the queer community, prioritizing self-love and healing in community building, and addressing the intersections of queerness and identity.

Revered Jen Hind, a spiritual care, grief and bereavement practitioner with the Stedman Community Hospice, took to the podium first to share her lived experience of growing up queer in a heteronormative society.  

“I am grateful for the opportunity to lend my voice as a queer person, queer clergy, queer community member, and queer citizen in an often-misunderstood community. The struggle is real, and the road has been long. For me, at the core of my pain is what is known as internalized homophobia,” she said.  “For me, like for many others, internalized homophobia skewed and distorted my ability to experience healthy development in terms of my sense of self, and my sense of self-worth. Internalized homophobia is an internal struggle with self-hatred. I was raised, conditioned and developed in a world in which I unconsciously integrated a sense of wrongness and shame about myself, purely as a result of existing within a prescriptive heteronormative ideology, coupled with a continually reinforced message that somehow, I was ‘defective.’”

Taylor Berzins, Community Initiatives Coordinator for the City of Brantford, welcomes the group during the third installment of Pieces for Peace at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery on Friday, May 17, 2024.

Throughout her talk, Hind discussed her struggles with internalized shame and self-denial due to societal microaggressions and ultimately led to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation.

She said that in a world where she perceived herself as “bad” or “defective,” she eventually found a community where she could embrace her true self.

“I’m sure some of you may be wondering, how does one become a minister when Christianity can be so harmful to queer communities? I’m in a bit of an anomaly because yes, it is more common for people to find exclusivity, hateful ideology and harmful scriptures in the church community,” she said. “For me, though, all I can say is, I found a good one. I found a community that reflected to me the message of unconditional love I had not ever yet experienced, and it broke through the self-hatred. …Some people use scripture to determine what love means, but I use love to determine what scripture means. And if one’s biblical interpretation does not bring about an experience of love, and inclusivity, then one needs to look again because Jesus’ entire message was only this, ‘God loves you, and so it’s okay to love yourself.’”

After a short break, Muskan Arif, Executive Community Organizer of Hamilton’s Queer Halal Time, was next to approach the podium speak on the interconnectedness and struggles of various communities

“I’m really happy to be here as we gather under the theme of Pieces for Peace. To me, this theme is a profound reminder that our struggles and oppression are interconnected, and so is our liberation from those struggles. …As a queer Muslim, I strongly stand behind the notion of justice, both due to my queerness and because this is what Islam teaches me,” she said. “Pride started off as a protest for collective justice and continues to be so today, and Islam, actually also started as a movement for social justice. That being said, the piece to peace we contribute with, is justice; that is justice towards collective liberation toward peace. There is no peace or collective liberation without justice.”

She spoke about the reason why both Jihan Hussein and Bilal Ahmed decided to form the grassroots organization, Queer Halal Time.

“Queer Halal Time emerged from a vital need within our community to explore what it means to be queer and Muslim in a world that often overlooks and marginalizes our existence. Many of us have faced judgment, discrimination and scrutiny from both Muslim spaces, as well as in queer spaces,” said Arif. “Often the intersections of our identities are seen as incompatible, which is why we, as queer Muslims, believe that our existence itself is an act of resistance. Every day we combat Islamophobia and queerphobia, which is why spaces like Queer Halal Time are so vital to our community. It is in these spaces that we collectively celebrate our queerness, challenge oppressive norms, and ultimately, we reimagine what it means to be Muslim while fully honoring that queer identity. We say our existence is resistance because by existing, we are inherently resisting both rigid mainstream orthodox interpretations of Islam, and rigid colonial systems.”

Tim McClemont, Executive Director of the Hamilton AIDS Network, speaks about the organization and how it was created during the third installment of Pieces for Peace at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery on Friday, May 17, 2024.

Arif spoke about how Islam’s origins were rooted in social justice, challenging existing power structures to achieve peace.

“The teachings of Islam call for compassion, mercy and justice towards all, laying the groundwork for a society based on collective solidarity and mutual respect. …To us, Queer Halal Time is us reclaiming back Islam from the rigid interpretation of the religion that it has become since it strayed away from its roots in social justice,” she said. “Queerness has always existed within Islam. As we reflect on the profound parallels between the beginnings of Islam and the ongoing struggle for justice within the queer community, we’re reminded that our journey towards liberation is deeply rooted in the principles of justice. …It is the shared commitment to justice that unites us in a quest for a more equitable and loving world together. As queer siblings let’s continue to uplift and support one another on our journey towards justice and liberation. We are stronger together and we heal together, we build community together and we fight for justice together.”

To wrap up the evening Tim McClemont, Executive Director of the Hamilton AIDS Network, spoke about the organization, how it was started and the various programs and resources it offers to the community.

“The network is rooted in community, always has been, and responds to the impact of HIV on the health and well-being of individuals and diverse communities. That’s a pretty important part of our values and the mission that has been in place since we founded in 1986,” he said. “We really want to stress a greater awareness of HIV for everybody. When we say we serve 1.5 million people, it’s because everybody who lives in this region is affected by HIV at some point, whether you know you’re at risk, or you know someone who has HIV. Anybody can still get it.”

After the presentations, those in attendance engaged in a facilitated discussion and shared what they had learned throughout the evening, as well as how they now perceived shared struggles and their need for community.

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