Anthem singer struggles with gender-specific lyrics: Ethically Speaking
I have been asked to lead the singing of O Canada at a Remembrance Day ceremony in our small town. I agreed, but here’s my problem: For more than a year, I have been using the gender-inclusive words approved by the House of Commons, replacing “all thy sons” with “all of us.” I vastly prefer those words, and pretty much refuse to use the male-only version. But because of the stalling of a few senators, the inclusive words have not yet been approved. The local Legion is sponsoring the event and has asked me to use the “right” words, i.e., the “sons” version. What do I do?
Today is Remembrance Day, so I sent an answer directly to my correspondent a while ago. I told her this:
You have two choices; you can either sing the official words, or tell the Legion to find someone else.
I’m old enough to remember the flag debate, when the Canadian Red Ensign was replaced by the Maple Leaf flag we love today. Way back then, the same tired arguments were used to oppose the new flag that are used today to oppose changes in the national anthem. The change, we were told, would be “selling out our veterans” who fought under the flag/anthem in past wars. National symbols, we were told, are “timeless” and if you tinker with them, you lose the “stability” that they provide. “Once you start changing things, it never ends; next thing, they’ll want to remove God.” And so on.
These arguments are nonsense and the behaviour of the Senate is one more reason why the House of Cronies should be abolished. It’s not surprising that one senator who spoke against the more inclusive anthem was Lynn Beyak, she who so recently discovered that First Nations folks born in this country are actually Canadian citizens.
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So, yes, like you, I have been singing gender-inclusive words for “O Canada” for a very long time — long before they hit the House of Commons. It is absurd to have a national anthem that explicitly omits half of the population by suggesting that “true patriot love” is the sole purview of our boy-kids. Just as we needed to grow up when we chose our own flag, we need to grow up to the fact that Canadians come in many genders.
But in your situation, all of that — every bit of it — is irrelevant. This is Remembrance Day and the sponsors of a community event have asked you to sing the national anthem. If they had asked you to sing “Amazing Grace,” you would be absolutely free to omit “a wretch like me” — or anything else you found offensive. But the national anthem is different, especially when sung on occasions such as this. It has “official status.” It represents the country in the same way as does that lovely red flag. Whether you or I like it, the anthem, right now, includes the words “in all thy sons command,” and if you accept the invitation to sing it at an occasion such as this, you have an obligation to sing it in its official form.
The Legion wants THE National Anthem sung — not your version of it, or mine.
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