3 min

Media silent on Polak’s past

Liberal candidate's stand on gay school books left largely unexplored

Credit: Xtra West files

Looking out from my “we can get legally married” bubble last week, I noticed that there’s still a war going on, down there on the other side of the border. And that war is still about us: men and women who aren’t particularly interested in messing around with the opposite sex.

As I write this, one day before the US election, the gay war to the south is pretty much at the hand-to-hand combat stage. In 11 states there are anti-gay marriage referenda. The referenda come on top of the Republican platform, which is the most anti-gay in US history. It’s all about Bush’s strategy to, in political lingo, “motivate his base.” In real terms, that means bringing out every fundamentalist, wacko cracker with just sufficient brain matter to mark a ballot for George and Dick.

One of the results is a daily ‘gay this, gay that’ story featured prominently in the US media. I’m partial to the items that ‘out’ prominent gay-bashing politicians. This season at least three prominent anti-gay Republicans have been badly damaged by website revelations that they are, of course, gay. One, a Randy White-type from Virginia, dropped out of a congressional race where he was a shoo-in for another term, proving that God can’t possibly be 100 percent on their side.

But the big gay political story is Mary Cheney. You know, the prominent out lesbian who’s helping out on the most homophobic campaign in US history because her dad’s on the ticket. That would be her dad, Dick Cheney, who has one of the most homophobic records of all time as a US congressman-the guy who led the battle against AIDS funding, etc, etc.

For obvious reasons, Mary Cheney was a big story even before both John Kerry and John Edwards mentioned her in their respective debates. After all, there’s nothing like a big dose of hypocrisy to give a political story some legs. The Mary Cheney story has vats of it.

And that brings us back home.

We may think we’re above all that US anti-gay stuff, but we recently had our own skirmish in the war right here in BC. Sadly, most of us missed it. Certainly our mainstream media did. Only on the Internet or here in Xtra West could you have found out that Mary Polak, the losing Liberal candidate in the recent Surrey Panorama Ridge by-election, was raising the hypocrisy stakes in BC politics.

Polak is well known to Xtra West readers. As chair of Surrey School Board for much of the seven-year fight over the classroom use of books featuring gay families, she helped pour over $1 million of scarce school-board money down the drain in the process.

Polak carefully frames her arguments in such matters as being “pro-family” rather than “anti-gay.” But it’s clear she’s no friend of our family.

Her battle against the books was not, she says, about prohibiting gay-friendly classroom materials; it was about “protecting the rights of homophobic parents.” Okay, I added the word “homophobic” in that last line. But the consequence of this careful political spin around the use of labels is that it can make homophobic views acceptable.

“There is an insinuation,” Polak told CTV in 2002, “that if you hold the moral position that is opposed to homosexuality, that believes that it is sinful, that therefore you are bad, you are wrong.” An insinuation? Quelle horror!

BC and Quebec are the most small ‘l’ liberal provinces in a very small ‘l’ liberal country on the issue of gay rights. So you could be forgiven for thinking that the BC Liberals’ choice of perhaps the most prominent “family rights” municipal politician in BC as their candidate in a high profile by-election would be an interesting story angle for the mainstream press. Nope. The only coverage was provided by Xtra West and online publications like and The Tyee, where publisher David Beers reprised his Vancouver magazine feature on Polak and her school board mentor, Heather Stilwell.

(You remember Heather Stilwell. She once ran for Premier, as head of the Family Coalition Party, on a platform that included re-criminalizing homosexuality.)

It’s not like BC’s mainstream media were unaware of the story of Polak’s record on gay issues. They just decided to keep it to themselves. Imagine my surprise when on the night of the by-election, after the voting was done, BCTV legislative reporter Keith Baldrey told his viewers that Liberal caucus members were fighting amongst themselves about the Polak choice. According to Baldrey, out Liberal MLA Ted Nebbeling stormed out of a government caucus meeting sometime this fall, while calling the other out Liberal MLA-Lorne Mayencourt-a hypocrite for supporting Polak’s campaign.

How Mary Cheney of Lorne. And what a good story, one that should have been covered before the by-election. It’s certainly one worth telling in our community and in any community where kids and their parents deal daily with the very real consequences of homophobia in school.

But maybe we’ll get another chance to hear about it. Election night, Premier Gordon Campbell told the assembled losing Liberals that he’d be very happy to see Mary Polak back as a Liberal candidate in the May 2005 provincial vote.

* Ian Reid is a very political animal who spends way too much time reading newspapers, browsing websites and wringing his hands over what he finds.