The national queer lobby group Egale Canada – our influential and mainstream voice on Parliament Hill and in the courts – never seems to do the right thing unless it is excoriated, loudly and publicly. So here goes.
“In a recent article, Xtra criticizes the fact that I declined an interview with Xtra West journalist Tom Yeung,” writes Egale Canada executive director John Fisher in a letter to the editor that just arrived.
Actually, no, John. That article did not criticize you. This editorial, though, should make your ears burn.
The brief story merely stated facts – the headline was “No news on marriage for readers.” John refused to talk to a reporter with our sibling newspaper in Vancouver because the paper aired critical opinions of gay marriage, in a case in which Egale is involved. Xtra West ran a piece saying the gay marriage court challenge in British Columbia should fail because it’s bad for gay culture and for gay liberation. (See the sidebar on this page.)
John continues: “Unfortunately, in recounting what happened, Mr Yeung has engaged in somewhat selective use of facts. He fails to mention, for example, that he attended the historic same-sex marriage hearing recently for less than an hour on the last day of a nine-day hearing.”
We’re small newspapers. We can’t afford to hire someone to spend nine days at a court hearing — it would cost hundreds of dollars! And that, for days of pedantic and arcane legal argument punctuated by an hour here and there of important testimony about our lives.
“He then phoned me at the airport just as I was about to board a flight for Prince George. When I told him I was boarding a flight and did not have time to speak, he nonetheless proceeded to ask me questions to which he would have known the answers had he attended the hearing. I pointed out that it was hardly reasonable to expect me to drop everything and do his homework.
“It is true that I critiqued [the editor’s] opposition to same-sex marriage, which has unfortunately affected [the paper’s] coverage of the issue. When I pointed out recently [that the stories] were likely to be used to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry, the response was, ‘I hope so.'”
I was sorry to hear about the bad timing – but then John repeats the real reasons he won’t talk to our reporter.
Sit through a nine-day trial or screw off. Or, if that reason doesn’t work, he’s got others! Either be on-side, or be cut off; John’s way or the highway.
“Indeed, one of the anti-gay coalitions sought to file Xtra West articles before the court in support of their position.”
Ah, the old nugget that we’re helping the enemy. If you disagree with self-appointed movement leaders, your opposition will be used by our enemies. What a great way to make people hush up. What a great way to ensure that debate is destroyed: Be afraid; don’t speak. Just be quiet and let uncle Johnny do what’s right.
“The Xtra magazines are, of course, perfectly entitled to whatever editorial stance they wish, but cannot reasonably expect to be immune from community criticism if they advance positions that deny some of us equality.”
I am not immune from criticism. But there’s a difference between criticism of an opinion column and refusing to speak to a news reporter at all. It’s the difference between being a frowning grown-up with a complaint and behaving like a petulant child denied a lollipop.
“Egale recognizes that many in our community want nothing to do with marriage – this is a perfectly legitimate perspective and Egale would fully support their right to wholeheartedly reject the institution. Others in our community wish to marry – Egale would fully support thier right to do so. The point is, we feel that this is a choice that each couple is entitled to make for themselves. In our view, the strength of gay culture is its diversity, and that diversity is enhanced, not diminished, by expanding the options available to members of our community.”
A breath-taking contradiction. Objecting to marriage is okay – freedom of speech for all. Unless Egale doesn’t like your speech.
Eleanor Brown is Managing Editor for Xtra.