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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/

 

 

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 13, 2016 at 7:01 pm

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Final countdown

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What athletes think about the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on the eve of the Games

http://outwords.ca/2014/issue-february-2014/final-countdown/

From Feb. 7 to 23, queer athletes – some out, some not – will compete in the Winter Olympic Games hosted by an increasingly GLBTQ*-hating Russia. The 22nd Olympic Winter Games will not only be the most expensive Games ever hosted, held in Sochi’s subtropical climate, but will also put athletes, trainers, spectators and others on an international stage in a place where skinhead gangs have lured and videotaped assaults of gay teens, a village has gotten together to kill a suspected gay neighbour, and where Orthodox priests have led assaults on gay rights demonstrations, among other events.

 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed its anti-discrimination mission statement, Principle 6, includes sexual orientation, yet the IOC has refused to speak out against Russia’s laws. Betty Baxter, a former Olympian in Canadian women’s volleyball who was later fired as head coach in 1982 for being a lesbian, said she thinks the IOC bears the brunt of the blame for not thinking about the impact of holding the Games in Russia. Openly gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup, who will be competing, said he thinks the way the IOC protects its athletes needs to change. Russian President Vladimir Putin has assured the IOC the Games will be “comfortable” for GLBTQ* athletes, but many are unconvinced.

Skjellerup, a who trains in Calgary and competes for New Zealand, said he will be wearing his Pride pin during Olympic ceremonies. “Hopefully more people will offer up a statement of support or some kind of sign of support – and not only for the solidarity of the GLBTQ* community in Russia, but for the solidarity of GLBTQ* people across the world.” Skjellerup came out shortly after the 2010 Olympics and has been a driving force in GLBTQ* activism in New Zealand’s schools. He said there is nothing he’s afraid of in Russia and that, “If anything does happen, then so be it… It would definitely expedite conversation in making sure that when Olympic Games do happen, they happen in countries that are safe for all people.”

Blake Skjellerup displays his Pride pin from the London Games.

Because he was already out, Skjellerup said he couldn’t shy away from the issue. “I wouldn’t have been staying true to myself.” But the gay friends he has who are not out are more focused solely on competition. Skjellerup said he sees an opportunity forthe Games to bring about change. “The person who has put on these Olympic Games, Vladimir Putin, is the exact opposite of what the Olympic Games stand for. It’s a great opportunity for the Olympic Games to do its part in highlighting those morals that should be showing during that time.”

Baxter takes a different, more cynical view of the Games. “The way the modern Olympics are is it’s really about selling product and proving your country’s dominance,” said Baxter. “The ancient Olympics was to keep warriors fit in between wars…. And then the modern Olympics were founded basically on the same thing.” While Baxter is critical of the endeavour, her main concern is always to look at how athletes can be supported. “The last thing we want to do is move some well-meaning political campaign in and take away from their opportunities. We need to condemn Russia, but we need to be very careful in our strategies so that doing that doesn’t take away from the athletes who have worked hard. Athletes have to take four, eight, 12 years of their lives to get [to the Olympics]. What my concern would be is if there’s too much action around the [GLBTQ*] issue in Russia, it’s a distraction.”

She said the reason more high-performance athletes don’t come out is because it takes away from their main focus, their athletic feats. “When you’re competing in something where it’s a hundredth of a second, or a psychological pause where you can lose what you’ve been attempting to do with your performance, you can’t be distracted by somebody saying, ‘I support you because you’re gay.’” Even a scene with supporters at the Olympics would be harder on GLBTQ* athletes than we would imagine, said Baxter. She’s glad the call to boycott the Sochi Olympics failed. Athletes like openly-gay figure skaters Johnny Weir and Skjellerup also condemned the boycott, saying it would have punished athletes more than Russia.

The 1968 Games saw an organized call by African-American athletes to boycott, but when that fell apart, two athletes memorably took their protest to the medal stand. Baxter said one strategy that would have worked should have been implemented some time ago. “Each Olympics has generally a beverage company, generally a telecommunications company and generally a petroleum company…. If we’d had massive boycotts for those companies, the Olympics would have been moved out of Russia, there’s no doubt.”

Outside the safety of the Olympic Village, tireless gay Russian activist Nikolai Alekseyev has announced a Sochi Pride March to coincide with the opening of the Games. Meanwhile, athletes like Skjellerup will be doing their part to raise visibility within the confines of the Village. “It would be nice to not have to stand up and to fight for who I am, but that is unfortunately the situation that I’m in. I have to speak out, and I have to be that voice, because there aren’t a lot of GLBTQ* athletes in sport. That visibility isn’t there, and that visibility needs to be there. GLBTQ* youth who are growing up need to see that you can be whatever you wish to be in life, and that your sexuality isn’t something that prevents you from doing that. Your sexuality is something that you should be very proud of, and it’s not something you should let in any way define who you are, especially when it comes to living your life.”

Published in OutWords Magazine, Feb. 2014

– Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist living in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about social and environmental justice.

Written by larkinschmiedl

September 3, 2014 at 3:23 am

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