Credit: The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward; Tatiana Mezhenina/iStock/Getty Images Plus; Francesca Roh/Xtra
Politics
6 min

Dear Canadian politicians: My queer rights are not vote bait

Politicians of all stripes are dredging up the same-sex marriage debates — all in a cheap effort to win votes

After corporations spent the summer chasing my lavender dollar, federal politicians are now chasing my lavender vote. Good luck, guys.

I use the word “guys” for a reason: the spectacle of watching straight male politicians sniping at each other over which of them is the most queer-positive would be revolting if it weren’t so darkly comic. And if that sounds cynical, I can only ask: what’s more cynical than their sudden interest in our queer welfare?

The Drag Race to the PMO unofficially began last week with a tweet. On Aug 22, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale posted a clip from a 2005 speech delivered to the House of Commons by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, when he was  a backbencher in Stephen Harper’s very Conservative government. In the clip, Scheer drones on about “homosexual unions” and human reproduction. I’d be shocked if he hadn’t said such things in 2005.

The point of Goodale’s post, which was amplified by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, is that Scheer does not like queer people and is thus unfit to be prime minister. In the ahistorical hellscape that is Twitter, Goodale collected likes and retweets and maybe shored up a few more votes — all the while reopening up the hurtful gay marriage debate and possibly making it an election issue, again. Get off my dress, Ralph. If we ever meet, I’ll be sure to bring up something painful from your past, too.

Nobody digging in this shallow pit has clean hands, nor do their political parties. In case you need a reminder, here’s how it all played out: In 2005, one Liberal cabinet minister was absent for the vote on marriage equality, while 36 backbenchers were either absent or voted against equality. Only three Conservatives voted for equality, and two NDPers voted against the bill or were absent. Goodale also voted against a motion to recognize same-sex marriage in 1995, and voted in support of a bill in 1999 which kept the legal definition of marriage limited to “the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.”

Because Scheer has expressed homophobic ideas in the past, Goodale suggests, he must atone by attending Pride celebrations. That’s another canard: It was late August. Most major Pride celebrations were over for the year. Why did Goodale wait? Did he want all the photo ops for the Liberals? Furthermore, did he ask any LGBTQ2 people if they wanted a known and apparently unrepentant homophobe at their celebrations?

For his part, Scheer has campaigned for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, a well-known anti-queer bigot, has consistently refused to attend Pride celebrations of any kind and spoke at a hard-right, anti-immigrant “yellow vest” rally in Ottawa along with former alt-right Rebel contributor Faith Goldy. And in 2016, while campaigning for leadership of the Conservative Party, Scheer pointed to his personal beliefs and faith background when pressured about his stance on marriage equality during an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics.

NDP leader Singh, meanwhile, is using the Scheer video as an excuse to tout himself as the most queer-positive of the lot. He has promised that, due to Scheers views, past and current, the NDP will not prop up the Conservatives should they form a minority government, calling the video evidence of “disgusting prejudice.” But the history of NDP voting and LGBTQ2 rights is not without its own stains. Candidates have had to apologize for “former views” — including ideas that nobody is born queer and that homosexuality is an “affliction.” And during the marriage debates of the early aughts, at least two NDP members absented themselves or made it known that they were voting against their own personal and constituents’ views.

Surrounded by evolving straight men who are more concerned with tidying up their pasts than making good, it is difficult for queer and trans folks to trust career politicians.

Strange enough, it’s the Conservatives who use queers in the most honest way — by simply not engaging with us at all. Avoiding our communities serves two purposes: it sends a reassuring message to the Conservatives’ hard-right base, and it makes the campaign trail a little softer for their candidates who might otherwise have to answer direct questions about their stances on LGBTQ2 rights. Granted, watching them squirm when faced with such questions would be fun for about five minutes, or until you hear the actual answer. Scheer is nothing if not a Harperite — he knows the less his backbenchers talk, the more reasonable his party appears.

When it comes to LGBTQ2 people, mainstream political parties have figured out that they can win our votes with a few achingly sincere words and the occasional flag raising. Better still, the votes of moderates of all persuasions can be won by appearing to be queer-positive. We are not real communities to our federal leaders — we’re a metonym for all things progressive and forward-thinking.

Marriage equality is settled; it’s the law. The only way to re-open the law would be through a costly and divisive Supreme Court challenge — which Scheer will not do, because it’s a headache for an aspiring prime minister. Then why are we talking about it? Because Goodale, et al. are speaking to liberal-minded straight people, not to us. The debate over marriage equality was painful and, to me, the pain it caused has never been adequately addressed. I will never forget looking at front-page editorials by priests denouncing same sex marriage, nor will I forget the comments wondering if, next, I’d want to marry my cat. I won’t forget the dreadful conflations of “gay marriage” and pedophilia, the idea that the “door would be open” for legalizing child brides or that we would wreck heterosexuality (as if).

Politicians who dredge up this sewage in order to position themselves as progressive while taking no notice of the harm they are doing to the very people they use as props is absolutely the opposite of progressive thinking. It’s exploitation.

Here’s a crazy idea: talk to us first. We’re not worried about same-sex marriage being taken away. Queer kids are killing themselves at an alarming rate, gay men still cannot give blood without ridiculous restrictions, conversion therapy is not banned across the country and, in Ontario and Alberta, overtly anti-queer governments are erasing us from public school curricula and cutting services for trans people. Hate crimes against queer people are up, and queer youth homelessness is at an all-time high.

Canadian politicians have gotten into the bad habit of using queer people as window dressing. Sometimes the window is dark, even opaque. When Scheer does not attend queer events, he’s doing so to be noticed for his absence — he’s practising negative marketing.

Sometimes the window is so clotted with rainbow that you can’t see the merchandise. Justin Trudeau loves to go to Pride parades, but has let the federal courts bounce the topic of conversion therapy back and forth instead of taking any sort of leadership role on the file.

Let me make this clear: my queer identity, my queer being, my queer body and my queer rights are not vote bait.

Human rights are not a partisan issue to be played with, and certainly not fodder for cheap political “gotcha” moments, like Goodale’s tweet. Conversely, politicians who make themselves scarce when the topic of queer rights comes up cannot use silence as a nod-and-wink to their knuckle-dragging base. That’s just baiting performed in mime.

It’s likely no Conservative voter is confused about, or uncertain where, Scheer stands on LGBTQ2 rights. He’s giving us the silent treatment, while Trudeau is doing a bad karaoke version of “I Will Survive.” Singh appears to take it for granted just how queer-friendly the NDP is, so he’s just humming along to whatever is on the playlist.

Meaningful engagement with queer and trans communities takes time and patience. It needs to be understood that we are as diverse politically as other communities, and that some of us don’t trust the political system. Meaningful engagement is sitting down with LGBTQ2 people and asking them what they are concerned about in the present. Twitter pissing contests are not meaningful engagement — they’re insulting reductions of our very real issues and goals.

I always vote — even when I don’t want to. I don’t need politicians to scare me into voting for them. And if the only way politicians think they can talk to me and the people in my communities is by alarming us (a divisive tactic they have borrowed from the very politicians they claim to differ from), what are they really saying? That my rights are not secure?

To vote is to believe: in the future, in ideas and their free exchange, in people who say they want to do good. Fear congeals belief, turns it into paranoia and desperation, and when you use a minority group to stoke fear, you endanger them. Some politicians do this intentionally, some by accident. The results are the same.

Stop treating queer people as abstractions and lift up more queer candidates, of all political stripes. We can speak for ourselves.