Ottawa
3 min

A real leader

Some of you were at our recent Heroes Awards and, we hope, came away feeling reengaged and inspired by both the quality and variety of activity and leadership in Ottawa’s queer communities — from arts to sports, politics to philanthropy and so much more.

Our community said thanks to a lot of people that night, but we all overlooked one notable person. No doubt it’s because Libby Davies hails from Vancouver and, though she sure gets around during the week, is known within her riding as a politician who tries to make it home every weekend to meet with her constituents.

Libby is the first out lesbian MP in Canadian history. She’s joined with her party, the NDP, to support same-sex civic marriage rights and trans rights. But right now she’s focussed on something even more challenging: the right of prostitutes to stay alive. And the need for the state to leave behind prudish Victorian moral values that, when translated into law, threaten the lives of prostitutes and run roughshod over their right to control their own bodies and choose their own means of paying rent.

Libby comes by this issue the hard way. Her constituents include the very prostitutes who are being killed. Her East Vancouver riding — my old neighbourhood before I moved here — includes several strolls; more than 60 prostitutes have disappeared in the largest mass murder in Canadian history.

You don’t make many friends taking on an issue like this. Even some on the left fight her, arguing that prostitution victimizes women. Libby replies that she’s trying to respect the choices of these prostitutes and that the most important issue is harm reduction — keeping them alive. And that any changes to the law must still target pimps and violent johns.

Libby’s persistence in this saw a Canadian first this year — an official committee of Parliament toured the country, meeting with prostitutes and asking them what they needed from government. She was also quick to see that the same laws used to target prostitutes — the bawdyhouse sections of the Criminal Code — are also used against gay men who visit bathhouses. And let’s not forget that male prostitutes are part of our queer communities.

This fall, Libby needs our help as her subcommittee tries to produce a report on proposed changes to these laws and get it before the justice minister before an election. The Liberal member of the committee, Hedy Fry, is onside and the Bloc Quebecois may be also, though they need more encouragement to deal with the bathhouse issue. The Conservatives are solidly opposed and just want tougher laws against prostitution.

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While we’re talking about leadership, it’s hard not to think of the recent special general meeting of Pink Triangle Services. Demanded by a membership concerned about the direction being taken by the PTS board over the summer, the meeting was an opportunity for the organization’s leadership to apologize for mistakes and offer suggestions about how things could be improved.

Instead, the membership heard Ruth Dulmage’s explanation of recent events: “Whether you believe that sexism, biphobia and transphobia are the root causes or underpinning of recent challenges; or whether you are understandably fearful of change, growth and expansion; or whether some of the resignations personally affected or concerned you; or whether some of the historical problems, that have now been solved, concerned you, we ask that you move along with us and support PTS in any way that you can.”

How insulting is that to the membership and financial contributors of PTS? If you had a problem with the way things were going, as so many decent folks in this community have had, Dulmage seems to suggest you’re either a bigot, afraid of change, taking things personally or worried about things that have since been corrected.

Now, I’m new to town, but I’ve already heard of several other incidents in the last half-dozen years of people ousting or neutralizing good people in this community by claiming they were sexist, biphobic or transphobic.

This must stop. Now. We must all challenge this garbage when we hear it. It’s intellectually and morally bankrupt, and leads to nothing but the steady decay of community activism and the financial support that community groups desperately need. We must all stand up against such name-calling and call to task those who do so — they’re unqualified for leadership.