Canada
3 min

So much for John Baird’s reputation as a gutsy brawler

I guess this is what they mean by 'a conspiracy of silence'

MR TOUGH GUY. Baird has a reputation as a mouthy, boisterous politician. So why was he so coquettish yesterday? Credit: johnbaird.com

News that one of the most powerful political figures in the country had been outed by a relative political newbie met with stony silence yesterday. A uncomfortable hush fell over the story, and it only goes to show that queerness is still something that makes people deeply uncomfortable — especially conservatives.

I had hoped it would be different, but this morning, we still don’t have an openly gay Conservative MP in the House of Commons.

There was, briefly, a glimmer of hope. Pamela Taylor, a Progressive Conservative candidate in Thursday’s Ontario by-election, listed John Baird as an openly gay conservative MP. It was a gaffe, not because Baird is, in fact, heterosexual, but because he doesn’t talk about his sexuality.

It was in response to questions about the Tories’ anti-gay record. Taylor is running in the gaybourhood riding of Toronto-Centre. While she appears gay-friendly, her party’s leader, Tim Hudak, has made some pretty Neanderthal comments about us over the years. The CBC morning-radio host, Andy Barrie, asked her to name any out gay Conservative MPs or Ontario MPPs. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a fair question, since the answer is kind of shocking.

There isn’t a single Conservative in either caucus brave enough to talk publicly about being gay. Not one — out of a caucus of 145 MPs federally and two dozen provincially.

It doesn’t make a whit of difference that there are scads of gay Conservative party activists (Taylor also pointed to the president of the Toronto-Centre PC riding association). And it doesn’t matter that there are swarms of young gay Tory staffers who grease the machinations of power on Parliament Hill. There are no gay Conservative MPs willing to stand up and be counted.

And as for the man of the hour? The man known for being a gutsy brawler? He went and hid.

I sound glib, but this morning, I’m feeling kind of glum about the whole thing. That’s partly because, when he’s not answering media questions, he is pretty frank about his sexuality (officially: whatever his sexuality is). And as he’s become more comfortable with the gay people in his life (officially: including or not including himself) over the last decade, his public record has shifted.

Like the conservative ponces in the documentary Outrage, less hypocrisy in Baird’s life has meant less hostility toward our issues in the public sphere. According to that documentary, the more open you are about your own life, the less likely you are to be sucked into knee-jerk SoCon demagoguery. So there’s that.

I guess I had hoped that yesterday would be the final step in a long journey for Baird  (officially: whatever direction that journey is headed in) and the results would be good for public policy in the country.

But I’m also feeling glum because here’s a guy — powerful, well-connected, with lots of political capital — who’s not comfortable enough in his own skin to discuss the matter publicly. For lots of us, that’s going to sound familiar. As gay people, most of us have been there at one point or another — and it’s not fun. And it only gets easier once you stop caring about who knows and who doesn’t know.

At heart, we like to see ourselves reflected in the world, in movies, in books and yes, in politics. It does more than merely warm the cockles — seeing out, proud people in public life is important for us, I think, psychologically. We are happier, more at peace, less clenched and anxious, when we can see gays out there, in public, doing their thing. They don’t have to be role models, they just have to wear their sexuality without encumbrance.

It matters. By not talking openly, what message does that send to Canadians, gay and straight? That being gay isn’t something you can or should talk openly about? That it’s an embarrassing private detail, to be minimized, hidden, dodged in public settings?

Xtra, as a rule, doesn’t out public figures, although we’re obviously not above covering it once the cat is out of the bag. Still, it’s strange that yesterday, we were going it alone. The CBC, which broadcast Taylor’s comments yesterday, did not publish any subsequent report. No other outlet, to the best of my knowledge, picked up the story. The only noise the story made was the great sucking sound of a publicly available archived radio conversation in a vacuum. Shame on the media.

Sorry — I should say the “traditional” media. Social media was less skittish, and folks on Twitter cheekily added hashtags like #duh to their tweets. Blogs and aggregators linked to Xtra.ca, where readers engaged in a lively dialogue about Baird, Taylor and the ethics of outing politicians. It’s an important one, but I gather it’s too hot for the mainstream media to report.

On the whole, yesterday was a strange day, starting with a little, greyish glimmer and ending with the realization that it was business as usual for both Baird and the media.