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bearing witness, taking sides

I am trembling. I spent some time yesterday writing and rewriting an email, read it to friends, left it 24 hours, read it to my daughter, just sent it.

There’s been a huge injustice in my neighbourhood; a vulnerable elderly woman is being evicted from her longterm basement suite, which she’d been promised she could stay in until her landlady’s death. The whole house was recently bought by a new landlord, who is allowing the former owner to stay but has evicted my friend; she was given a few months to find another place and get out. She used to help her landlady with her dogs and her garden; they were friends, until the landlady, a difficult woman, turned against her. I’ve been involved in trying to help her find a new place she can afford, which in this city, as we all know, is almost impossible. She is a cancer survivor, has a cat, no family, very little money, has been frantic for months. It’s heartrending.

And then I discovered that the man who bought the landlady’s house and threw out her tenant advertises himself on his work website as a committed social activist, proud of taking care of the elderly and vulnerable among the city’s LGBT community. Fury boiled.

So despite some trepidation, I wrote and sent this, names excised here:

I am a longtime friend of X and once, though no longer, of Y. I have followed the appalling way X has been treated by you both with horror and sorrow. It says on your company website that you are “reaching out to Canada’s aging LGBT community to create a safe environment to assess the needs of this under-served population and bringing homophobia, gay-friendly housing and outreach to the forefront of social activism.”

This is 100% admirable. Bravo. Yet this same admirable activist has bought the home of an ill and aging woman with little income and few resources and evicted her. She is being thrown out onto the street. 

How do you rationalize your acute social concern with your disregard for this one human being? If she were a member of “Canada’s aging LGBT community,” would you have treated her better? It seems to me utter hypocrisy to care so deeply – so publicly – for one aging segment of society while behaving with heartlessness and in secret toward another. I do not understand. 

I know this letter will change nothing; I just need to bear witness, to let you know that many are aware of what you and Y have done to X. I’ve copied this to the company because your profile as a proud social activist appears on their website. I will be following up with a letter to the city about this situation and the loophole that allows landlords to evict longterm tenants, no matter the circumstances. 

Incidentally, X does not know I have written this and I’m sure would be even more terrified than she already is, if she knew. 

I am writing to you because I believe this: “Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Elie Wiesel, Nobel prize winner, writer, professor, activist, Holocaust survivor.

Beth Kaplan

P.S. Much shit has hit the fan; several emails have come burning back, and I’ve replied. This has taken the better part of a day. But I really don’t think I had a choice. Do you?



5 Responses to “bearing witness, taking sides”

  1. theresa says:

    You did the right thing, the moral thing. It's never easy, though. But that woman is lucky to have you as a neighbour.

  2. beth says:

    Thank you, Theresa. I hesitate to wade into these things, my heart pounding, and sure enough, as I wrote, the back and forth of emails has absorbed the day. But it wasn't just the injustice to X, it was the hypocrisy of boasting about caring for the vulnerable – just made me furious. Ah well. The storm has subsided, and she's still looking for a place to live.

  3. Unknown says:

    Good on you Beth. I dislike mean and nasty people, I HATE mean and nasty people who pretend to be nice and caring people! You go for it girl!

  4. Laurak62 says:

    I agree, you have to stand up and say something! Good on you Beth.There are some great supports thru Fred Victor if your friend is interested. I can also send you some more agency supports if you think it would help! I miss you and the group, hopefully I will see you soon when the dust clears from my 1st floor.

  5. beth says:

    Thanks Ginette and Laura for support and practical advice. I will pass on to my friend. Yes, exactly, it's bad enough when people treat others badly, but worse when they pretend to be kind-hearted philanthropists – and actually think of themselves as such. The man concerned absolutely 100% did not get what my note was about and thinks of himself as innocent. But maybe a bit of doubt and decency will lodge in a corner of his brain. Don't hold your breath.

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I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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