2 min

Dear Lorne

Please stop embarrasing us

Credit: Xtra West files

Please, Lorne, stop it. You’re embarrassing us. Your “safe streets” campaign is a mean-spirited, over the top attempt to divert attention from the effects of your government’s social cutbacks. It’s also transparent in its aim to help the municipal NPA party.

But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that as a gay man, you should know better.

Please, Lorne, stop it. You’re embarrassing us.

For decades, vagrancy laws were used in this country to oppress gays. Cops used vagrancy laws to throw the book at gay cruisers, gays hanging around in parks, gays pausing at store windows. In the early years of our movement, we worked to stop that. The courts gradually frowned on vagrancy laws.

And now, Lorne, you want to reinvent them through amendments to the provincial Trespass Act. This time, the target is not the “anti-social homosexuals” but instead the poor, the unsightly, the homeless urban campers, the panhandlers. People with nowhere to go in a province suffering massive social service cutbacks brought on by tax cuts that disproportionately benefitted the already wealthy. People with little genuine opportunity to clean up their act and get a job in a province with a serious deficit of addiction-recovery beds and mental-health beds, and with the highest unemployment level since the Depression of the 1930s.

Please, Lorne, stop it. You’re embarrassing us.

As a gay man, you should understand that vagrancy laws will be used against the least powerful, the social outcast, the pariah of the day. That used to be us, now it’s the poor. Why don’t you get that? Has our community failed to teach you our own history? Surely, this is not a blatantly political move-in the worst sense of the word-on your part, Lorne?

Please, Lorne, stop it. You’re embarrassing us.

You once founded a not-for-profit agency to help people with terminal illness. You ran for the Liberal party in a riding where people support centre-left candidates over rightwing candidates (remember, COPE did particularly well in the West End in last year’s municipal election and progressive Liberal Hedy Fry has held this riding federally since 1993). Isn’t it time you put the liberal back in your Liberal? Your approach so far is difficult to separate from vicious Reform Party-oops, Canadian Alliance-rhetoric.

In the 2001 provincial election, someone unfairly labelled you a “twice-bankrupt, potty-mouthed party boy.” The portrait he drew of a profoundly insensitive and self-centred person was an unfair portrayal of the founder of Friends for Life. But, Lorne, for God’s sake, as a twice-bankrupt person surely you can understand how easily bad luck can befall someone and tear their life apart? Surely you can see that sympathetic government aid, not the full force of unforgiving law, is the appropriate way to help them regain control of their own future?

Growing up gay in a world that still largely frowns on our sexuality leads some of us to become bitter and small. Others try to grasp power and wealth to insulate themselves against other people’s pain or anti-gay negative judgements. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Our own experience can make us sensitive to the burdens others face, often through no fault of their own. It can make you empathic to other people’s stories, their realities and oppressions, the opportunity to tap their wasted potential-it can make you kinder, more optimistic, more joyous than you might have been as a straight person. Which is it going to be in your case, Lorne?

Stop blaming the poor, the mentally ill, the addicted, the homeless. Make the world safer for West End senior citizens, yes, absolutely; deal with real crime, yes, of course. But instead of chasing after binners and the ill, how about spreading some of your empathy to them? How about addressing underlying causes and social problems-some of which have been made worse by your government’s policies?

Please, Lorne, stop embarrassing us.

Your humble scribe,


Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.