"Who does he think he is?"
That's the question that members of REAL Women of Canada have for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
The group attacked the Conservative minister yesterday after he "went in with his flat feet smacking, interfering with a sovereign nation," says Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice-president of the group, speaking to Xtra by phone.
The socially conservative group is very upset with Baird because he admonished purveyors of anti-gay legislation abroad, including homophobe-of-the-week Russian President Vladimir Putin and proponents of the so-called kill the gays bill in Uganda.
Landolt is offended that Baird dared to voice his opposition about that bill to Uganda’s parliamentary Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga.
Diane Watts is, too. She's a researcher with REAL Women. "Their Speaker of the House felt that Minister Baird was promoting homosexuality, so she objected to that, and she objected to Canada interfering with their values. I think we should respect the values and cultures of other countries, especially if they're built on strong families.”
The group also finds a $200,000 Canadian sponsorship of queer groups in Uganda particularly objectionable. The fund was set up to launch a campaign against state-based persecution, as per a report from this journalist in February. Landolt calls that "deeply offensive."
REAL Women, coincidentally, had previously been asked for input on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medals that involve community and volunteer work.
Landolt denies that the Ugandan bill would carry the death penalty — something that at least one version of the bill certainly promised — but did state that it "isn't something I necessarily agree with." Both say they're categorically against violence.
On Russia, and their own laws that seek to dispel gay "propaganda" and ban equal opportunity for adoption, Landolt calls Baird's view "intolerant."
Watts says that if anyone plans to "flout the cultural values of the society, I think countries should be able to defend their values."
And if gay Canadian athletes or tourists intend on holding hands in Sochi?
"Well, you know, our foreign affairs pamphlet on travelling recommends that we respect the values and customs of other countries when we visit those countries," she says.
When asked about violence that has come to light in Russia, including campaigns to lure and torture Russian gays, Watts says that REAL Women are "opposed to violence, so we're opposed to feminists entering churches and demonstrating nude. LGBTs aren't the only people who suffer violence." She did not clarify that point, when asked.
Landolt readily accepts that Canada, and the whole world, ought to get involved in situations of state-based racism, sexism or religious intolerance — apartheid, for example. Because those, she says, are issues protected by UN treaties.
"There's no UN declaration on sexual minorities. There are seven human-rights treaties. Not one mentions homosexuality," so the difference here, she says, "is that Mr Baird is speaking out on an issue that's not universally accepted.”
She's correct that LGBT rights may not be strictly part of international law, but there is, of course, the UN Declaration on Gender Orientation and Gender Identity, which Canada and 93 other states have signed. The UN Human Rights Council, similarly, passed a resolution supporting LGBT rights and has commissioned a study on decriminalization.
Just the same, she says, "what we object to is the fact individuals who have a religious belief or traditional values are being stomped on and are being told that homosexual rights have priority rights here. This is neither equality nor democracy."
In that vein, Landolt lauded Putin's opposition to equality for same-sex couples in adopting children from Russia. "Why would we object to legislation protecting children? If he doesn't want them to be adopted out by same-sex couples, that's law. That's his views. Because children, to him, need a mother and father and don't need to be put in a pedophile ring."
She's referring to a case in Australia where two men adopted a Russian boy and produced child pornography of him. Yes, Landolt accepts that the same thing could have occurred with a straight couple. But, she says, homosexuals are more likely to be pedophiles — a claim for which there is, of course, no hard scientific evidence.
The release that accused Baird of an "abuse of office" earned a same-day discussion between REAL Women and Baird's office, which sought to clarify the government's position.
Rick Roth, Baird's spokesperson, told Xtra that "Canada believes that the criminalization of homosexuality is wrong, as is the suppression of fundamental rights like freedom of expression."
Watts says she isn’t optimistic that the government will change its policies on homosexuality. She says that REAL Women essentially lined out its position and Baird listened.
When asked whether they went after Baird specifically because of the open secret of his homosexuality, Landolt denies it.
"I don't know if he's gay or not. Nobody cares if someone is being gay. What we do care is if it's being shoved down our throats. And denying religious rights and traditional values and giving priority to homosexuality," she says. "It's obviously his agenda."
Read the full transcript of Xtra's interview with Watts and Landolt.