A play premiering Friday aims to fight homophobia by showing both the painful and beautiful experiences LGBT people and allies have in and around Steinbach, Man.
Steinbach Neighbours for Community produced the play called Still Listening: Voices Among Us. Val Hiebert was compelled to write and direct it because she has seen how hurtful homophobia can be.
"When you hear that a kid in school walks down the hall and hears his friends say, 'We should just put the gays on an island and nuke them,' that's really painful. That's hard to hear," said Hiebert.
"Or when you're sitting in a coffee shop in the community and somebody is talking about the Orlando shootings and they say, 'Oh well. It's just gays. They pop up everywhere. God is judging them.' You can't help but almost stop breathing when you hear stories like that."
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Members of Steinbach Neighbours for Community interviewed 29 people, including LGBT people, parents of LGBT children and allies. They all live, or used to live, in Steinbach and the surrounding area.
Hiebert then created eight characters who could tell some of the stories she heard from those interviewed. In the end, the characters are a grandmother and a grandson, mother and daughter, father and daughter, high school teacher, and an older member of the LGBT community.
The experiences of the people she spoke to were varied but there was one common theme.
"They want to be home and they are willing to absorb so much negativity and harshness … in the hopes that things will get better and that the community will eventually begin to be more welcoming and safer," Hiebert said.
"The amount of grace it takes to be willing to absorb those sorts of things in the hopes of eventually being understood better is remarkable to me. It's so beautiful."
Hiebert hopes the audience will recognize that LGBT people are the same as anyone else.
"We are all both whole and broken at the same time. I think when we can recognize that, hopefully we can move forward with greater generosity of spirit and a greater sense of welcome," she said.
Hiebert hopes the play will reach other allies like her.
"There's lots of allies in the community and there's lots of people in the community who don't know what they are but they know they haven't liked the tone of things that have been said," she said.
"The more that that's present, the stronger that voice is, the safer we all can feel in the community."
Still Listening: Voices Among Us is happening Friday and Saturday at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 at Steinbach Arts Council.