Toronto
3 min

Egale’s power fetish

Oh, Egale.

One week before this paper hit stands, I published an editorial in Xtra’s sister paper in Ottawa. The message? Egale is back, baby, and it’s got new swagger.

Before the article even hit the streets, my optimism was tempered by the announcement that TD president Ed Clark would receive Egale’s second leadership award. More on that in a minute.

I still believe that we’ve seen encouraging signs from Egale this summer. It is beginning to embrace a more open, social-media driven community engagement. Egale has even joined Twitter, regularly contributing to discussions on Canadian gay life.

More importantly, twice in two months Egale has applied political thumbscrews — and public embarrassment — to agitate for change. It has stood up to power, rather than sucking up to it.

Case in point. After a Sept 9 court decision upholding the prohibition on gay blood donors, Egale — with two other groups — immediately resigned from a queer consultation committee organized by Canadian Blood Services.

It was quick and decisive and it laid bare the blood agency’s inertia. Despite forming the committee several years ago, the NGO is not ready to change its policy. Therefore, there is no point in remaining involved, Egale’s action shows.

Maybe that doesn’t sound radical, but Egale is known, at least in the circles I travel in, as an organization of lobbyists and political insiders. It has a cozy relationship with powerful folks and doesn’t often rock the boat. It pursues consultation over conflict, private meetings over public spats.

On its own, the move might mean nothing. But in August, Egale executive director Helen Kennedy joined a group of activists in applying pressure to the Ottawa Police following a HIV-nondisclosure arrest.

At the request of the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative, Kennedy refused to speak at a Pride Week human rights vigil until the police were removed from the list of speakers.

Egale publicly embarrassed the police — something the old, trigger-shy Egale wouldn’t have done.

Taken together, I saw these events as good news and a significant departure from the display of naivety Egale showed during the immigration guide brouhaha.

Remember that? In March, Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney was on the hot seat for leaving gay facts out of Canada’s immigration guide.

A Canadian Press (CP) report revealed that a draft of the guide had included important facts — including that both gay sex and gay marriage are legal — but Kenney’s office had removed them.

Before the CP report, Kenney’s team told Egale members the omission was an “oversight.” So, Kenney had lied to their faces.

Egale had Kenney’s balls to the political wall, but it refused to squeeze the staple gun. Instead, a doe-eyed Kennedy expressed hope that the next version of the guide would include gays.

It was classic Egale: mealy-mouthed, pulling its punches.

But after Egale stood up to the country’s national blood agency, it looked like things had changed.

Well, sort of. Within hours of sending my Ottawa editorial to the press, I found out who would receive Egale’s second leadership award: TD Bank president Ed Clark, corporate donor to both Egale and Pride Toronto.

Clark was a poor choice, especially since last year’s award was given to former Mike Harris henchman Jaime Watt.

That’s not to say TD doesn’t deserve recognition. It does, and it gets that recognition on every banner and advertisement Pride Toronto prints.

We’ve seen a pretty cool year for grass-roots activism. Why not give the award to Sasha Van Bon Bon and Jess Dobkin for their thrilling Take Back the Dyke March organizing? Why not give it to the rad dykes who have been organizing sustained public opposition to police overreach during the G20? Why not give it to Mercedes Allen, who has fast become Central Canada’s hub of trans activism? Or Kyle Freeman, who has spent a decade in court fighting the gay blood ban?

In other words, why give the award to powerful people when you could give it to those who challenge power?

I’m not giving up on my Egale-has-turned-a-corner thesis just yet. But I’m less optimistic now than I was before this announcement.


Marcus McCann is the managing editor of
Xtra.