If you don’t think bullying, homophobia and transphobia are election issues, Jer’s Vision would beg to differ.
On Sept 23, Jer’s Vision is welcoming mayoral, city council and trustee candidates to its downtown Ottawa office for a discussion about how to address oppression in our schools and community.
“We noticed there was not a lot of coverage in the municipal election around bullying, homophobia and transphobia,” says Jeremy Dias, founder and director of Jer’s Vision. “The city, the differing school boards — everyone invests a lot of money into these causes, and we think it’s really, really important that we should find out how candidates feel and what they’re thinking.”
As of Sept 19, about 40 candidates have confirmed they were coming to the event, dubbed Candidates with a Cause, including Mayor Jim Watson, Councillor Mathieu Fleury, Councillor Katherine Hobbs, Councillor Keith Egli and queer candidates Catherine McKenney and Jeff Morrison, who are both running in Somerset Ward.
“We really want to give candidates an opportunity to say something and to speak up,” Dias says. “We feel that bullying has become a very serious issue in our community . . . homophobia remains a serious problem in our city, and I’m not sure that every candidate has the same level of solution as others, so we want to create that platform to have those debates and dialogues.”
After candidates gather at Jer’s Vision to offer their ideas about addressing oppression in Ottawa, many will spend the lunch hour at a busy location in their riding to talk to constituents and hand out anti-bullying information.
The number of out LGBT and allied candidates is great to see, says Dias, who adds that the diversity of the candidates and events like Candidates with a Cause will go a long way to engaging youth in the political process. Dias says he’s optimistic the Oct 27 municipal election will bring a good turnout of youth and queer voters to the ballot box.
Dias mentions Mayor Watson, Councillor Fleury and Councillor Hobbs as allies to the LGBT community but says he’s interested in how our next city council will work to combat oppression.
“There’s no shortage of allies, but I think looking forward we definitely want to find new and creative ways for allies to be involved,” he says. “There’s room for more community dialogue and community engagement.”
Dialogue is key to setting our community priorities, says Dias, who encourages community members to think about what they want. What does Ottawa lack that other cities have? How can we address inequities in a way that will bring people together?
“If the LGBTQ community is 10 percent of the population, are we receiving our fair share of community funding?” Dias asks. “Are we receiving our fair share of representation at tables when it comes to making decisions? Some argue that we haven’t, so we definitely have to address those issues.”
One idea that often comes up is a dedicated LGBT community centre like The 519 in Toronto, he says. In Watson’s interview with Xtra in December 2013, the mayor disagreed with opening an LGBT community centre, saying our current community centres and city meeting rooms are inclusive and accessible to all.
Dias agrees city facilities are accessible but points to the Arts Court renovation. “The arts community is quite literally getting their dream community centre,” he says. “Why can’t the LGBTQ community have something similar? I would say there’s no reason why we can’t.”
A dedicated and “fabulous” LGBT community centre would help the community continue to grow and work together, Dias says. Adding business partnerships would be an important aspect of such a project, since funding would be the biggest challenge.