By Fatima Najm
Yelling doesn’t do anything to make people more tolerant, Zahra Dhanani told a capacity crowd at last week’s Bent on Change II conference.
“When I was protesting on campus yelling at people, I realized I was changing nothing. In fact those people were becoming more and more entrenched in their fears and beliefs,” said Dhanani. “Now I know where to fight, what to fight and how to fight it.”
Bent on Change II was organized jointly by Ryerson, York University and the University of Toronto. The conference was designed to promote the acceptance of homosexuals on campus and in society.
Lectures and workshops were held at Ryerson on Friday and at Jarvis Collegiate on Saturday.
Dhanani, a lawyer who works at a clinic for battered women, opened the conference with her keynote address on Friday morning.
“Being bent on change means moving beyond hate,” she said.
The trick to fighting hate, said Dhanani, is to convert the anger into productive, positive action, rather than returning the hate.
“I was a hater,” she said. “It’s about unhealed pain.”
When she was a student, Dhanani said she would lash out t her classmates, who she felt couldn’t understand her because she was a lesbian and a Muslim.
“I would speak surrounded by hundreds of white women, till I had them in tears,” she said. “I wanted them to hurt because I hurt.” Dhanani said it took her a long time to reconcile her faith and her sexual orientation.
“I used to be a Qur’an-thumping lesbian, looking for an interpretation that was gay friendly,” she said. “I was saying ‘I am OK, and the Qur’an says I am OK’, but now I don’t care. I no longer waste my time explaining to Muslims that I have a right to live. You have to find your own way.”
Anger is still an important reaction to hate, Dhanani said.
“I get angry everyday,” she told the crowd. “I work with women who tell me they have been brutalized by 17 men, their father, grandfather, anyone who could lay their hands on them. Anger tells us when our boundaries are being trespassed.”
Other speakers at the conference included writer and director Sky Gilbert, author Rinaldo Walcott, and Toronto-based filmmaker b.h. Yael.
According to Jude Tate, conference organizer at the University of Toronto, “the conference was a huge success not only by number of participants but by the sophistication of the dialogue in the sessions.”
Bent on Change II saw 300 educators, students and community members attend, up from 235 participants at the first conference, that was held two years ago.
Although the conference was a success, Tate said there were no plans to hold it on a regular basis.
“There are no plans at the moment for a Bent on Change III,” she said.