The below are accounts of an exchange between blogger and HIV/AIDS educator and activist Brian Finch and Egale executive director Helen Kennedy after the conclusion of Xtra’s Sep 28 political forum at Toronto’s Buddies and Bad Times Theatre.
I headed out to the Xtra-sponsored political panel discussion at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Truth be told I wanted to hear from Chris Reid, the gay former Conservative candidate who had to drop out of the race because of his blog. But it was what happened after the discussion ended that really shocked me. I joined a small group of people chatting about some of the themes that had been raised earlier in the evening. I mentioned AIDS Community Action Program (ACAP) funding cuts and this older dyke — who I found out later is Helen Kennedy, executive director of the gay, lesbian, abcdefghijklmnopqrstwvwyz rights organization Egale Canada — looks at me and says, “Well it’s just not a gay thing anymore, it affects everyone and I’m tired of gay rights being linked to HIV.”
I gave her an incredulous look. I began to say that there is a silent, worldwide, HIV epidemic killing MSM (men who have sex with men). Suddenly she cut me off, telling me I shouldn’t use the term “MSM.”
“Don’t tell me what language to use,” I replied. “If I choose to say this, I will. You don’t have to like it but don’t correct me.”
Then she patronizingly went on to explain that the term doesn’t properly represent latinos, blacks or the rest of the alphabet.
I was becoming very upset. She kept repeating, “I’m sick of having HIV connected to gay rights and I’m sick of it always being linked to fundraising.”
This built up over a few minutes. One young woman could see this was not good and kept saying, “Let’s talk about something else.”
I was very upset and in shock. I had to walk away. I was shaking as I was saying, “You try living with it.”
I once respected Egale but no more. Kennedy could be one reason why people don’t seem to want to become as politically active as they used to. Oddly enough I left having more respect for Reid than I did for anyone else.
We all deserve the right to be able to discuss ideas respectfully without shoving down someone’s throat what they believe to be acceptable or not. Reid was at least calm, did not shut people down and debated the ideas. Even if I disagree with him I would much rather have that discourse than with a bitter lesbian who is basically saying this horrible HIV gets in the way of her agenda.
Oh yeah and Kennedy may want to check out my website Acidrefluxweb.com since she is so completely ignorant on HIV issues. A global forum of gay men have reached consensus on the language, including the use of “MSM.” MSM makes no ethno-cultural reference as is claimed by the perpetually offended Kennedy.
It’s homophobic to de-gay the language used to describe HIV. I can understand it when people reject that argument but it’s appalling that the Egale spokesperson would.
How dare she push her condescending and patronizing views down my throat, especially when she purports to represent the interests of gay men.
Those who hold positions of power and are responsible for the promotion of rights of our community are held to higher standards of accountability.
I’m not “lesbophobic” as our gay political intelligentsia are suggesting. I am bully-phobic no matter what the gender or sexual orientation.
Kennedy’s behaviour and statement were disheartening at best. We deserve better from those who claim to represent us on a national level.
— Brian Finch
Holding my ground
As Brian Finch said in his blog, which Xtra chose not to print, maybe I am a “white lesbian over 50 who spends her Saturday afternoons at Home Depot arguing with her partner about how to coparent her children from a previous relationship,” and maybe I can be a bit “patronizing” when upset, but claiming that I’m “perpetually offended” or that I “regularly jam my opinions down other people’s throats” is simply not true. Online, others have called your remarks about me ageist, lesbophobic and misogynistic.
I stand by the comments that I made during this private conversation. I can’t live my life expecting that conversations I have debating complex issues affecting the community are going to be taken out of context and selected sections published in Xtra.
The difficulty globally for queer equality seeking organizations to obtain funding is well documented. The proximity between HIV prevention directed toward LGBT people and LGBT equal rights can lead to an unfortunate confusion of the two important but separate issues.
I want to underline the importance in recognizing this situation and also stress the relevance of dialogue and initiatives targeting lesbian and bisexual women, trans and intersex persons and to treat LGBT equal rights and HIV prevention as separate, sometimes linked issues and not in the place of each other or only in conjunction with each other.
It is extremely difficult for Egale to obtain funding to promote LGBT equal rights in Canada even though we know human rights abuses against our community leave people vulnerable to HIV.
Mr Finch, clearly I have wounded you on some deep level, which certainly was not my intention. The reality is we’re a community of communities with many faces and voices. We need to figure out how to express our differences without undermining each other.
Bitter lesbian indeed!
— Helen Kennedy