Canada
3 min

Be open for democracy’s sake

If there’s one positive that we should remember about the outing of John Baird on CBC radio this month, it’s that it serves as a reminder that the queer community doesn’t speak with one voice.

All too often, when you look around at the queer community, the most prominent voices are those of the strong leftist movements. Not that this is a surprise — it’s the leftist movements that really got gay liberation off the ground in Canada. We were — and still are — becoming a part of the polity.

But as a community whose voices are becoming a greater part of the mainstream discourse, and whom the political machinery in this country can no longer ignore, we need to also realize that as a community, we don’t all subscribe to the same political beliefs. Just because our movement got off the ground with leftist organizing, it doesn’t mean that we all feel the same way about social spending, or national defence, or foreign policy or the role that government should play in our everyday lives.

Does that mean that we need to therefore vote as a single queer bloc? That there can only be one “acceptable” voice in politics for the queer community? No, of course not — we could hardly consider ourselves to be participants in a democracy if that were truly what we believed.

Is there also only one “acceptable” way for us to enshrine our rights? Just because our history begins with the leftist social organizing, does that also mean that it ends there? Or should we open ourselves up to other strategies that may have their roots in other political schools of thought?

I’m reminded of an interview I did with Senator Nancy Ruth, the original openly lesbian Conservative. During the debate on same-sex marriage, she was torn because the arguments that were used in the courts were antithetical to the ones that she had been arguing for years in order to advance women’s equality. Which was the better way to pursue equality? And while she did vote for the same-sex marriage legislation as it was, there was that awareness of a different way of pursuing legal rights.

Ruth has also brought that different school of thought to the way in which a government can expand rights.

“In terms of [queers] or any other group, I’m not sure it’s necessarily the role of government,” she said in an interview. “Governments historically are not those that expand human rights. They are actors that respond to pushes within Canadian society. [Queer] people have to push for what they want.”

That’s certainly a different school of thought than we’ve seen from the historical leftist movement, and it’s a legitimate voice that adds to the discourse and gives everyone room for thought.

That’s not to say that we can’t ignore a party’s record when it comes to our community. Let’s face it — some parties have a better history when it comes to dealing with queer issues than others, but none of them are perfect, and all of them balance those issues in the larger context of social, political and economic thought.

We also need to look at how we are represented in political parties, and the roles that our community members play in those parties. We’ve got representatives in all of the federal parties, and in important positions too.

“Svend Robinson did it a little differently than me, but if he hadn’t done it the way he did it, when he did it, then I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, so he made a difference,” Scott Brison once said. “But my approach is a little different because it can be different.”

We can’t ignore this either — as a society, we’ve moved on in most cases, and our rights are enshrined, so as a community, we can move on to apply our lens and perspective to the other political, economic and social issues.

John Baird contributes to that plurality of thought. He’s been a voice of moderation on queer issues in his party, and yes, he’s voted against their attempts to re-open the marriage question. We need to recognize this, and applaud what it means for queers of all stripes and all political opinions.

Democracy works best when we have a multitude of voices expressing a diversity of opinion. Our shared community is built on the notion of diversity, so we should be open to that diversity of political thought as well.

Dale Smith is Xtra’s federal politics blogger. Follow him every weekday at Hill Queeries.