“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” says Gilles Marchildon, executive director of Egale Canada. He doesn’t mean just his group. He means all of us.
He’s talking about the victory of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who will form the next government and get a chance to turn their gaze on we gay people. And they will, we can be sure. Not just over same-sex marriage, either. That’s legislation, and sure to get serious opposition from the other parties, along with the Senate and the Supreme Court Of Canada.
Government is about so much more than passing legislation, after all. On a grand scale, it’s about sending out inspiring messages that exhort our society to be the best it can be, to accommodate our most vulnerable and to dare to dream of and work toward a better world. On a micro scale, it’s about a never-ending stream of proclamations, funding decisions and policy pronouncements.
You can imagine the damage that a determined group of opponents could do to us on both the grand scale and on the micro level. Take AIDS funding, for example. After a decade of criminal neglect that resulted in the loss of untold numbers of lives, the federal government has just recently come to take responsibility for funding AIDS prevention messages aimed solidly at the gay men’s community. We’re right on the cusp with this and no doubt it will be an early casualty — if we allow it.
Or take bathhouses. During this election campaign, a Supreme Court decision striking down convictions against two straight Montreal swingers’ clubs also legalized gay bathhouses. Finally! After major raids and demonstrations in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and after recent raids in Calgary and Hamilton. This alarms the Conservatives. We must not let them change the law to recriminalize our sexual choices.
And while they’re making noises that they might hold off for now on revisiting same-sex marriage equality, you can bet they’ll get around to it when they figure they can actually overturn it.
There must be no going back on equality rights. There must be no going back on sexual freedom rights. We won’t go back!
There will be much opportunity to build alliances with others victimized by the Conservative agenda. The homeless. Those who cannot afford tuition. Mothers who need childcare. Environmental activists. We have a powerful argument that government has no business taking away rights already recognized. But the world doesn’t begin and end with our right to marriage equality; others suffer as much or more than we do under bad government. We must join with them in mutual support.
Our issues are not limited to federal matters, either. Since I moved to this city on three rivers last year, I’ve heard from many that our focus on national politics has hurt our community’s coming-of-age in Ottawa. So many of us put in our workweek here and then flee to Montreal or Toronto, Boston or New York to play on weekends. Sure that’s fun, and I’m certainly not the person to suggest anchoring ourselves here every weekend.
But Ottawa has so much potential with four universities, a large queer population and a great standard of living, along with parks, rivers and a downtown that’s lovelier than most cities can boast.
Already, some in the community are working to enhance things. A new committee has formed to work toward a queer community centre. Our recent Capital Xtra coverage has encouraged city hall to give us a chance to insist on changes to Bank St that recognize that there’s a gaybourhood here (come to the meeting on Feb 15 at 5pm at Jack Purcell).
There’s lots of room for others to get involved in local stuff — insisting on better city funding for Pride festivities and culture generally, increasing density in the core to create a sustainable community, addressing issues of homeless queer youth and adults. And more.
These issues will dominate coverage in Capital Xtra even more than those of our community’s fight against Harper’s agenda. Together, we can all build the Ottawa we want, the community that anchors us to a strong sense of place and to each other.
Oh, and one more thing: we’re growing at Capital Xtra. This year we increase our frequency to 15 issues from the 12 issues we’ve had since 1993. We’re all in this city together. We’re all growing a community together.