While many potential activists avoid the political process like the plague, for one young, gay Carleton student, politics is a road to change.
Nathan Hauch, age 23, wants to reach out to skeptics and encourage them to get involved to remake the world to their liking.
“One of the saddest things is the tremendous cynicism seen today towards politicians and the political process in general,” says Hauch, who is in his last year of the Humanities And Political Science program at Carleton University and is already very active in politics.
Hauch is the liaison to queer youth for the NDP Youth, and also the co-chair of the Ontario NDP LGBT Committee. Translation: he’s up to his eyeballs making sure one of Canada’s major parties thoroughly understands queer issues.
He says some people may not realize the impact their involvement in politics could have on everyday life.
“It doesn’t have to be a certain way,” he says. “Political engagement can happen and make a difference at many levels.”
His own involvement, not only in politics but in the queer and disabled community as well, is a perfect example.
“Being out as a gay man with a severe-to-profound hearing loss and cerebral palsy – and one who identifies as Christian – is all a part of who I am,” says Hauch. “But being active in the community has helped me not only to articulate who I am but what I want to do.”
Active at the federal, provincial, municipal and community levels, Hauch has linked with police, queer communities, media, charities and youth organizations to mentor, give workshops, coordinate support groups and raise money and awareness.
He has influenced opinion through his contribution to a province-wide version of the Gay-Straight Alliance Manual and he used to write an online advice column about such issues as dating and acceptance.
While a member for Somerset Ward in the Ottawa Youth Cabinet he wrote position papers on youth housing and rave safety.
But Hauch says he is especially proud of a motion he put forward, which city council endorsed, calling on the federal government to pass Svend Robinson’s bill to amend the criminal code and include protection for gays and lesbians from hate crimes. The bill was passed into law.
Hauch says that while many Canadians are thrilled about such victories, especially same-sex marriage, others are appalled. “There are Canadians who really don’t like us as a community,” says Hauch. “And some of these people are waiting for the right time, politically, to strike.”
And such hatred can translate into active discrimination, especially against youth. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are still rampant in society, says Hauch. “All you have to do is walk into some high schools to know that homophobia still rears its ugly head.”
Today, more and more people are coming out and they are doing so at a younger age, says Hauch. “Yet still in society it is acceptable to make jokes that put [queer] people in uncomfortable positions.”
This is why, Hauch says, it’s very important, especially for members of the gay community, to get actively involved.
“Despite the fact that we’ve had victory on the same-sex marriage issue, we still have to remain vigilant.”
One of the next changes that needs to be implemented, he says, is the issue of gender identity under the Canadian Human Rights Act since transgendered people are not protected under federal legislation.
Hauch is also trying to build support for a National Day Against Homophobia.
He says people don’t need to be seasoned activists to help. Just speaking to neighbours and peers can help create conditions of support. And even simple statements, like signing a petition, make it harder for politicians to ignore such issues.
“When we make it very clear what we want as a community – and when we work with other groups in coalitions – politicians are more inclined to take our issues seriously. We need to elect politicians that represent our interests as a community. Without a doubt, Parliament matters.”
Hauch recognizes that such campaigns can be a long struggle. But although it’s easy to get discouraged, Hauch isn’t cynical. For him, setbacks are reasons for action.
“We need to celebrate our victories and learn from our mistakes. We need to advocate for change and keep the pressure on,” says Hauch. “Our rights won’t defend themselves.”
He says he gets his own motivation and impulse to stay politically engaged from the support he gets at school, from his family and through his faith.
In his particular situation, Carleton University professors, peers and staff offer the best campus in terms of accessibility and academic challenge, says Hauch.
“I have found the program to be intellectually challenging, in that I am exposed to a wide range of views and paradigms, and have come that much closer to understanding the views of others.”
The respect appears to be mutual. In October, Hauch was awarded the Dr John Davis Burton Award, given annually to a local post-secondary student for their contribution to awareness and equality in the educational community.
It’s those achievements Hauch hopes inspires people, not his disability. He wants to be seen “as a citizen who enjoys working with others to make our communities safer, happier and more diverse places to live,” and he encourages others to do the same.
In fact he says that volunteering and getting involved is, for him, an almost selfish activity. “There’s just so much one receives for giving one’s time,” he says.
“I work with fantastic progressive people who try to make a difference,” he adds, “and when we do that, it’s really quite empowering.”