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Rainbow poppy, Don Cherry comments highlight divisions within society
When I pinned my poppy on the lapel of my jacket on Nov. 1, as I do every year, I had no idea that such a simple act meant to recognize and support all of those who fought for our freedom would become a topic of public discourse.
I have noticed that many people wear a poppy and many others don't, and I have never assumed that those who aren't wearing a poppy are being disrespectful to veterans or are ungrateful for the sacrifices made just because they aren't openly displaying their support. After all, most Canadians identify as Christian, but few openly display this by wearing a cross every day to identify their beliefs; freedom means that's it's OK to identify our beliefs or not and we needn't be offended if others share our beliefs or choose to offer an opposing view.
While most of the public discussion about poppies revolves around comments made by Don Cherry, if you are on social media, you may have been exposed to a story about rainbow poppies and a student in the town of Stonewall, Manitoba. As it first appeared on social media, two students were suspended from school for "hate speech" after refusing to cooperate when their choir teacher demanded they wear rainbow poppies during upcoming Remembrance Day ceremonies. The story was widely shared, provoking outrage against the LGBTQ2 community for trying to force their sexuality upon others and imposing on an event that was supposed to be about veterans.
The red poppy truly represents all people who fought and continue to fight for freedom.
The problem was that the post wasn't accurate; it did not reflect the facts of the situation. At no time was anyone directed to wear a rainbow poppy and, while the students were suspended, it was due to putting up posters expressing their opposition to rainbow poppies, which the school deemed as potentially harmful to LGBTQ2 students. There is no campaign by any LGBTQ2 organization to promote the rainbow poppy - there never has been - and when the student choir performed at the ceremony, they all wore the standard red poppy sold by the legion. There was not a rainbow poppy to be seen anywhere.
I had never even heard of it until I saw the post on Facebook, have never seen anyone wear it - and would bet that very few of you have either - and would not know where to obtain one even if I were interested.
Although the original post was later deleted, the damage was done and the post continues to be shared on social media by people upset over the story but who haven't checked the facts before sharing, feeding the outrage and nasty comments directed at the LGBTQ2 community. While I believe that freedom of expression is important, I don't believe that this is the type of expression that veterans fought for or intended.
I also believe that while it is important to protect all students, the school could have handled this situation in a much more constructive manner. It could have been a valuable teaching moment to explore the importance of the sacrifice made by those who fought and how this also included members of the LGBTQ2 community who, at the time, had to keep their orientation secret. Because of the freedom that was won by the sacrifice of veterans, LGBTQ2 people now can live openly and serve openly in our armed forces. The red poppy truly represents all people who fought and continue to fight for freedom.
We live in a wonderful country noted for its freedom and diversity. Sadly, much of the debate around Don Cherry's comments and the rainbow poppy has highlighted divisions that still exist within our society. I suspect that most veterans are horrified that such controversy has arisen over the poppy, which is meant as a symbol of sacrifice and respect. Let's try harder to honour this respect, towards veterans and to one another, throughout the year, not just on Nov. 11; it's the least we can do to honour the sacrifice that was made.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at email@example.com.