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Tories in review: LGBTQ rights

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Looking back at the Harper Conservative’s nine years of attacks on LGBTQ rights in Canada

OVER THE PAST SIX YEARS, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has—surprisingly—become an outspoken champion of gay rights worldwide. In 2009, Harper arranged a private meeting with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to urge him to drop a controversial law that would imprison homosexuals for life. In 2011, Immigration Minister John Baird not only launched a pilot program taking up the cause of gay refugees, but took it upon himself to call out an entire meeting of Commonwealth leaders, 41 of 54 of which have anti-gay laws on the books. And so on.

Yet, at the same time, rights on paper don’t always translate into lived rights. And, despite our reputation as a supposed LGBTQ leader, Canada itself is still missing important on-paper rights. Over the past nine years, our federal government’s actions when it comes to LBGTQ rights have been inconsistent—even confounding.

Here in Canada, for instance, queer youth are grossly misrepresented amongst the homeless population, accounting for 25–40 percent. Members of the federal Conservative Party have also actively blocked the advancement of trans rights at home with endless delays of Bill C-279, which seeks to give transgender people basic Charter protections. The back-and-forth doesn’t stop there: The feds cut funding to gay organizations, such as the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network in 2012 and Pride Toronto in 2010—yet a 600-person gay Conservative party called Fabulous Blue Tent was thrown in 2011 to bring gay Conservatives together during the Party’s convention. That same weekend, the Tories passed a resolution supporting religious organizations’ refusal to perform same-sex marriages. Previously, in 2005, Harper had campaigned on the promise to repeal same-sex marriage.

And, it doesn’t stop there. Here, we examine the Conservatives sad, confusing track record:

TRANS RIGHTS
Within the Conservative Party, there are LGBTQ-supportive caucus members, but they are in the minority, despite the now-biennial Fabulous Blue Tent party. When Bill C-279—to grant transgender Canadians equal protection under the law—passed through the House of Commons, only 18 of 155 Tory MPs voted in favour. Conservative MP Rob Anders called it a “bathroom bill,” insisting its goal was to give creepy men access to women’s washrooms. All other party MPs who voted were unanimously in support of C-279.

The bill is currently sitting in the Conservative-dominated Senate, and will almost surely be killed at election time—having to retrace its process through the House again. Now more than 10 years in the making, this would be the second time the bill was forced back to square one. Yet, if passed, it will give trans people legal recourse against things such as being fired and being denied housing, and will also make sky-high rates of violence punishable as hate crimes.

HARPER TRIES TO MOVE BACKWARDS
Opposing queer rights is nothing new for Harper. Early on in 1994, he fought plans to introduce same-sex spousal benefits in Canada. In 2005, after same-sex marriage was legalized, he promised to bring legislation defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.” When this plan was defeated shortly after his election, he decided to leave the issue alone, saying, “I don’t see reopening this question [of marriage] in the future.”

FUNDING CUTS
After more than 20 years of federal funding, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network faced cuts in 2012 because it “may have used the funds for advocacy.” After receiving a “significant portion of its funding from Ottawa” over its entire existence, the organization sought renewal of the same funding but the Public Health Agency of Canada rejected 16 of its 20 proposals.

In 2006, shortly after taking power, the Conservative Party also cut the entire budget of a program called Court Challenges, which had made public funds available for individuals launching human rights challenges in court. Used by those making challenges on the basis of sexual orientation and more, the fund had helped homosexual couples secure spousal benefits and achieve equality protection. Harper’s chief of staff from 2005-2008, Ian Brodie, used his PhD to argue the program unfairly empowered homosexuals and other minority groups. The Conservatives had killed the program in 1992 originally, only to have it revived by the Liberals. Now the Cons have resuscitated it, but with a narrowed focus on only linguistic minorities.

PROGRESS, PR, OR SOMETHING ELSE?
Canada’s immigration office under Harper worked with Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees to fast-track 100 gay Iranians into Canada, saving them from possible execution. Harper also personally lobbied Uganda’s president in 2009 over a law that would imprison gay people for life. Canada even gave $200,000 to Ugandan groups to fight the law. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has made repeated international public statements condemning countries that criminalize homosexuality, and during the 2014 Olympics Baird and Harper spoke out against the Russian “gay propaganda” law that makes it illegal for anyone to distribute gay rights materials.

Yet, speaking against the criminalization of LGBTQ people is not the same as active support. In regards to Russia in particular, Ontario Conservative MP Scott Reid, who chairs the Commons’ subcommittee on international human rights, said it’s an issue of freedom of speech. Saskatchewan Conservative backbencher Maurice Vellacott said he believes LGBTQ folks should have basic protections, but that he wouldn’t want his kids exposed to “homosexual propaganda.” These attitudes offer insight into the mixed messages of the Conservative Party when it comes to queer rights. Whatever its motives are for this dissonance, the fact remains there’s a lot of work to be done in this country before queer liberation becomes a reality.

 

First published in Sept/Oct 2015 issue of This Magazine

https://this.org/2015/09/25/tories-in-review-lgbtq-rights/

 

 

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Written by larkinschmiedl

March 13, 2016 at 7:01 pm

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Homophobia in Kamloops? Some say it’s as bad as ever

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By Larkin Schmiedl

Read the original story at:

http://www.tru.ca/news/2011/print_plus_stories_2011/homophobia_kam/homophobia/index.html

Last summer, a young man was attacked by a stranger with a pipe in Kamloops’ Riverside Park. He was one of five young gay men attacked in the park this summer, according to a community worker.

At the same time, Brian Husband, president of the local Gay and Lesbian Association (GALA), says he and his partner can walk around Kamloops holding hands and nobody objects. He says in the 40 years he has lived in Kamloops, he’s found it a safe place to be gay.

The issue of how welcoming a place Kamloops is for anyone who isn’t straight came to national attention five years ago when then-city councillor John De Cicco made national headlines for saying homosexuality was “not normal and not natural” while rejecting a proposal for gay pride week.  De Cicco subsequently faced a human rights challenge and a $1,000 fine.  The city paid his legal fees.

The extent to which De Cicco’s comments reflected a widely-held view in the city is still very unclear. Some people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community say it does while others say they feel welcome in Kamloops. To a great extent, any homophobia that does exist in Kamloops is largely unreported and unmeasured.

“I’ve had at least, this summer alone, four young men that were beaten down at Riverside Park by two to three dudes with pipes,” says Kira Gosselin, who works with people living with HIV/AIDS and youth with “alternative lifestyles” as a Community Health Educator at ASK Wellness. She says none of them reported the assaults to police and says “Kamloops is a pretty closed city as far as [homophobia] goes.”

Husband, however, says he approaches various businesses in town in his work with GALA and has “received zero in the way of hostility, rejection, negative comments.”  He and his partner Don Reid both say they do not experience discrimination in Kamloops.

Mike Moss, who grew up in Kamloops and identifies as a straight ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, has a very different view.

“Growing up in this town… I know that it’s very openly homophobic,” says Moss, who did his social work degree practicum at the Safe Spaces queer youth support program here. “Just bringing up a [LGBT] issue [in mixed company in Kamloops], it’s still in the ‘shh, don’t talk about that’ sorta phase.”

Kari Bepple, who works as the program supervisor at Safe Spaces, says that three young people she supported lost their jobs last year because of identity issues. Two said it was because of anti-gay discrimination and one transgender youth did not feel safe telling the employer about transitioning and quit working until the transition process was finished.

Bepple said homophobia and transphobia are alive and well within some pockets of Kamloops.  In her capacity as a youth mentor she has heard about youth being verbally and physically assaulted in town.  She said people see homophobia as “the last acceptable form of prejudice… In some ways it’s still okay to call someone a fag.”

Gosselin from ASK Wellness says, “I remember back in the day when they would have the gay dances.  It didn’t take long for those locations to be released. All of a sudden there were dudes in trucks assaulting people and slashing tires.”

Both Gosselin and Moss said they have learned through their work with youth that there is a lot of bullying of LGBT youth at schools in town.

Dale Kinaschuk, a long time GALA board member, said obtaining liquor for GALA dances and liquor licenses from the RCMP everyone has been “absolutely” respectful.  He has lived in Kamloops and done gay activism here for decades.  Although he has never displayed affection openly with a partner in Kamloops, he has never felt unsafe as a gay person here.

The discrepancy in experiences of different LGBT people may be related to factors such as lifestyle, openness, class, race, age or the social circles one moves in.

From 2006 to 2009, police-reported hate crimes against sexual orientation increased 135 per cent in Canada, from 80 incidents to 188.  Statistics Canada notes that many incidents are not reported to police for various reasons which could include mistrust of the police or fear of being outed.

Although not the most common type of hate crime, crimes involving sexual orientation are markedly the most violent.  In 2009 Statistics Canada reported sexual orientation hate crimes were almost twice as likely to be violent as racially-motivated incidents, the second-most violent type of hate crime.

Although statistics about hate crimes are kept in larger cities, according to the RCMP and Statistics Canada, numbers are not kept about hate crimes in Kamloops.

City Councillor Nancy Bepple (second cousin of Kari) says she would like to see a shift in culture around the attitudes toward LGBT people in Kamloops.  She said she’d like to see it become “a place that welcomes diversity.” After she raised the issue of gay rights several times at council meetings, Husband, who is a former city council member, was invited to speak to the city’s diversity advisory committee on behalf of the LGBT community.

The city is looking toward possibly including an LGBT representative on the diversity advisory committee.  The committee is part of the larger Kamloops social plan and its role is, as one of four committees, to advise council on social issues in the city.  Other cities include sexual orientation as a part of their mandates, said Bepple, and she felt the committee, formerly known as the race relations committee, should have a broader mandate toward diversity other than just ethnicity.

Ben Chobater, community development co-ordinator for the city, was unable to say whether an LGBT representative was in fact going to be included.  He said it would be up to whether both GALA and the committee felt it was a good fit.

To officially include a representative, the committee’s terms of reference would need to be modified.  GALA has an open invitation, though, to speak to the committee at any time.

LGBT issues are “not on the radar of most of the councillors,” says Nancy Bepple.  Some may be indifferent, some don’t see the issue as important and some may be against it or not want to deal with it.

“What I’ve done with the issue is just keep chiselling away at it,” she says.

The Sept. 26 diversity advisory committee meeting that Husband and Reid attended was a step, Bepple said.  At the meeting, Husband told council GALA is focused on rebuilding its membership and providing safe spaces for LGBT people.

“I don’t have any political agenda, I don’t have any axes to grind [and] there is nothing our group is boiling about,” he said.

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