Ontario Liberal Party members decide today if Ontario will have its first out gay premier. Yet organizers of the party’s massive Toronto convention have not been able to accommodate some journalists who want to cover the event, including members of Toronto’s gay media.
Xtra’s video cameras were denied access to the Liberal leadership convention, Jan 25 and 26 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in the former Maple Leaf Gardens. The request for accreditation was made last week.
Former Dalton McGuinty spokesperson Bradley Hammond, who is managing media accreditation for the convention, says his list is at capacity with 450 journalists. He can’t say how many are videographers.
“There’s a lot of people making really compelling arguments for any number of reasons,” he says. “The same thing I tell you is the same thing I tell everyone else: there’s nothing I can do.”
Kathy Vey, an editor with the Toronto Star, told Xtra that only eight bloggers were provided media accreditation. Meanwhile, Vey said, the Star has more than 10 journalists at the convention.
Gerald Hannon, award-winning magazine writer and board member of Xtra’s publisher, Pink Triangle Press, jokingly asked if the convention is being held in a telephone booth.
“I would say this is very problematic, given the venue size,” he says.
With lesbian Kathleen Wynne as one of the frontrunners, Hannon called the decision to block Xtra’s cameras “peculiar.”
“You would think they would want Xtra to be there,” he says. “If they are trying to solicit a gay vote, having the most prominent gay media there with a camera makes a lot of sense. I don’t understand it.”
Likewise, Davina Hader, co-chair of Queer Ontario and a member of the Queer Liberals, says the decision makes for poor optics.
“That sucks,” Hader says. “That’s not a good thing. I can’t believe that’s happened. Kathleen Wynne is a very good contender right now, so it’s surprising this would happen.”
If Wynne is victorious, she will become the first openly gay Liberal Party leader in Ontario and the first openly gay premier – as well as the first female premier of Ontario.
“Do you detect a whiff of homophobia in there?” Hannon asks. “Perhaps Wynne’s lesbianism might not be a strong starter outside downtown Toronto. So maybe that’s their strategy, to keep that as quiet as possible.”
Ivor Shapiro, chair of the Ryerson University School of Journalism, agrees that Xtra’s videographer should not have been denied access, but he suspects there’s more to the story.
“I wouldn’t think a political party would be stupid enough to discriminate against a newspaper because of the sexual orientation of its readers,” he says. “It’s hard to imagine that could be the reason.”
However, Hannon points to recent editorials and columns that have cited fears within the Liberal Party, questioning whether some voters will support Wynne because she is “a lesbian from Toronto.”
When the Toronto Star asked Wynne about the political implications of this, she seemed to apologize for the small-town sensibilities of her constituents. “When I raise the issue of being a lesbian from Toronto among Liberals around the province, in a way it insults them. Ontarians don’t want to believe that they are small people. They want to believe that they’re open and that they’re inclusive — and I believe that they are. We underestimate people if we exacerbate those wedges.”
On Jan 22, Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn asked the question: “Is Ontario ready for Premier Kathleen Wynne? In 2013?”
The previous month, prior to Glen Murray dropping out of the race to throw his support behind Wynne, the Star’s Bob Hepburn asked whether Ontario is ready for a gay premier.
But the Ottawa Citizen’s Kate Heartfield responded, calling the Star’s analysis “offensive.” “Who would want to go through life as the columnist who asked, in 2008, whether America was ready for a black president?”
Hannon says the message coming from the Liberal Party is that being gay is fine only until it starts to cost votes. “They are saying, ‘It’s not us, it’s them. We’re okay with someone being gay, but some voters are still not.’”
Hader says she has similar suspicions. “Maybe they are turning away Xtra because of the possibility that Wynne does win.
“If that’s the case, it’s very much censorship,” Hader says. “Maybe they don’t even realize it, or they aren’t considering it in those terms. They were maybe thinking that the major media will cover what they need covered, the way they prefer it to be covered, and that’s all there is to it.”
Hader says that kind of thinking would be misguided. “So much of Kathleen Wynne’s support is with the queer community.”