Sunday morning I received an email from a friend who advocates with me on behalf of gay rights. She wrote, “I’m too emotional…to think clearly.”
Scott Jones, a close friend of her niece, had been stabbed in the streets of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and left paralyzed early Saturday morning in an alleged anti-gay hate crime.
A 27-year-old choir director and church organist, Jones is well known in his community. He is also openly gay and passionate about helping others. Just last week he had been talking with friends about the importance of supporting LGBT teenagers in junior high and high schools and had been discussing ways to help them through the process of coming out.
Everyone who knows Jones is reeling from the attack. Said his sister’s fiancé, he is “one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
Jones had been celebrating with a group of friends after an art opening. They were leaving one bar and heading for another. Two men followed Jones who had fallen slightly behind the group with another companion. While one of the men distracted Jones’ friend, the other slit Jones’ throat, whispered something in his ear, and stabbed him twice in the back, severing his spinal cord.
He is now paralyzed from the waist down. A 19-year-old man, Shane Edward Matheson, has been arrested in connection with the crime.
Even as I write this I find myself pausing, unable to type further, and sitting with a hand over my mouth in mute horror at this hideous, heartbreaking act of cruelty.
Then I bring my hands back down to the keyboard because being paralyzed by horror is a luxury and being mute – or silent – in the wake of such a crime would be another crime in itself.
This violent attack didn’t happen in a notoriously anti-gay country such as Russia, Jamaica or Uganda. This happened in Canada, one of the gay-friendliest countries in the world where anti-discrimination laws have been in effect since 1998. And the province of Nova Scotia is no exception to its country’s rules.
So what does this attack tell us?
It tells us what the other senseless hate crimes have told us this year: that we are not yet in a position to let down our guard even on the streets we call home. And that is tragic.
Hearts can harden in any culture. Fear and ignorance can grow in any corner. Which is why the attack on Jones is a terrifying reminder that we cannot afford to waste any time living in fear or ignorance ourselves.
Each and every one of us is a leader in that we all have the potential to lead by example. More than ever we must speak out for acceptance – socially, politically and legally – no matter where in the world we live.
Although Jones lived in a place where he wasn’t treated as a second-class citizen, he still knew how difficult it was, especially for a young person, to be openly gay. So he wanted to help. He wanted to go into schools and work with the youth in his community. What is incredible is that, already, he has expressed a desire to continue to help.
From his hospital bed on Sunday, according to a report in the New Glasgow News, he began talking about forming a new choir “with a focus on diversity.”
Said his friend Amy Punke, Jones is trying to focus on what he can still do – play the piano, lead a choir – and remains who he has always been: “a peaceable human being…determined to make the world a better place.”
That young man who stabbed Jones carries with him a darkness that speaks to its own kind of pain but he chose to embrace the darkness and his voice will remain as small as the whisper he cowardly uttered. Not Jones’. Not ours.
We can all work to create that new choir. Let our voices be heard! For Scott Jones and Matthew Shepard and everyone who has suffered for no other reason than that their truth threatened someone else’s charade.
Silence empowers the fear. Expression expands the heart.
Be as brave as Scott Jones. Keep your heart open. Speak out for human rights. Share your story. Connect with others. Teach by example the beauty of diversity because, as all music proves, harmony is only possible with a diversity of voices.
The more voices in a worldwide choir for acceptance and peace, the louder our song, the greater our range, the more people that will hear – and the better the world will be.
Sarah S. Kilborne is an author, editor, historian and translator writer. Her most recent book, “American Phoenix: The Remarkable Story of William Skinner, a Man Who Turned Disaster into Destiny,” was published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster in October.