As a celebrant, it is my immense privilege to work closely with people at the most key moments of their lives: the death of a loved one; the wedding of two people in love, and the celebration of new members of the family.
Over the years I have been in this role, I have worked with hundreds of people at these turning points and I have learned this: no matter what their background, age, gender, sexuality, race, politics, abilities or life experience, all these people are unified in their feelings of grief, of love, and of joy.
We may look different on the outside, we may mark our feelings in different ways but in the human experience, we are all equal.
If only it showed up like that out there in the world! As I write (June 2020), the world has been rocked by the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in America and the subsequent rioting that has broken out. By the time you stumble upon this blog post, George Floyd may have been replaced by another black person’s name. And that name might have become a hashtag like George’s – another fleeting social media symbol for the long centuries of oppression that black people have suffered. Oppression that has been served out not only by truly nasty and ignorant white people, but also from well-meaning white people who are not aware of their privilege.
Matt Haig tweeted last week:
And it’s this easy-to-miss privilege that also feeds into discrimination of all sorts. And that really isn’t hard to see.
It’s why I still get calls about weddings where a bride excitedly talks about their plans and then asks, quite seriously, ‘um, my partner is also a woman – is that cool with you?’
It’s why disapproving parents of trans people hold their child’s funeral in their dead name, not their chosen name.
It’s why the Leader of the Free World can still brag about grabbing women ‘by the pussy’.
And it’s why my black celebrant colleagues are told ‘this couple is so up your street’, simply because they share the same skin colour, or the funeral directors phone to check with families that they’re ok with their celebrant being black, as well as having to deal with countless microaggressions every day in their work.
Over the past week, there has been the old rebuttal to the movement and hashtag Black Lives Matter, of ‘ALL lives matter’.
Of course all lives matter, but this is missing the point. Just as the people who ask why there isn’t a Straight Pride or an International Men’s Day or a White Music Awards are missing the point. And that point is that, in order to benefit from equal treatment, everyone must be on a level playing field in the first place. In order to have equality, we must first have equity.
As Rachel Rodgers put it so well, you can say All Limbs Matter, but if you treat them equally yet neglect to help mend your broken leg, the problem persists.
This cartoon demonstrates the difference between equality and equity well:
Let’s all work together for equity. For balance. For connection. For love. Not in a wishy-washy ‘keeping the peace’ way, but in a fierce, unapologetic way. In a way that sees us all being open to the experiences of others and not to look away. In a way that sees us recognising our own hidden prejudices and learning to dismantle them. In a way that sees us calling out prejudiced behaviour and language when we see it. In a way that sees us using our privileges to support (but not ‘save’) those who don’t have them. Let’s be kind to each other – and to ourselves – in the process.
It’s going to be uncomfortable but I truly think that, with love and learning, we truly will help to change the world.
…And if you are looking for suppliers for an upcoming ceremony, please choose ones who you feel ‘get’ you. Who look past outer differences but who don’t look through them. Your experiences matter and they are not to be trivialised. You deserve to be listened to. You deserve to have your story told, shared and celebrated without judgement, apology or filter, whatever your skin colour, sexual orientation, gender, politics or physical abilities. Do not allow bigotry to mar your milestone moment. And if you think I might fit in that dream team, or you want signposting to some Sussex-based, switched-on local suppliers then let’s talk.