Archive | April, 2015

Bullying the powerful

13 Apr

I have been accused of being a bully. Since I wrote the Storify post about pinkwashing last week, the mud slinging has come from two camps. One group has argued that I was somehow bullying the youth associated with the Day of Pink by levelling such harsh criticism at the sponsoring organization’s choice of ambassador. And the other group is painting me as an oppressor of Laureen Harper (perhaps not surprisingly, this second group is exclusively dominated by right-wing former Sun News shock pundits).

I want to address both of these arguments. I believe the first one is coming from a genuine place of concern, and the second one is nothing but blow-hard bigotry. But both feature the same rhetorical and conceptual error: the characterization of political criticism as interpersonal bullying. And in the case of the shock pundits, confusion between offence and oppression.

The public realm

I was careful in my criticism of the Day of Pink and the Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity to focus on public statements and communications. I attacked the letter that the group sent out featuring Harper and I criticized the organization’s response to the controversy.

One commenter on my blog pointed out that one of the pieces I referenced was written by a 20 year-old. It’s unfortunate that the CCGSD chose to run a piece by a young worker in response to public outcry, as opposed to a statement by the group’s Executive Director or Board of Directors.

I believe this wrongly placed a junior staff person in the line of fire, when a senior leader should have been absorbing the outrage. But if you put your name to a public piece of communication, it’s reasonable to expect criticism. Especially when you speak for a queer/trans association and affiliate yourself with the Conservative Party.

But I also remember what it was like to be 20 years old and a target of political criticism. I have written previously about my traumatic experiences as editor of the student newspaper at Concordia. I know how excruciating it can feel when something you care about is being ripped to shreds in the media. And all of this happened to me before the advent of social media.

But the attacks I faced as a student journalist were of an explicitly personal nature (though my journalism at the time was certainly fallible). I believe my words on the Day of Pink issue speak for themselves and convey no ill intent. My goal was to support the amazing work that queer/trans youth are doing in their schools and communities by ensuring that the adults with power in the community don’t sell them out politically.

The persecution of Mrs. Harper

Now, the other brand of criticism I received is of an entirely different calibre. The same right-wing pundits who are quick to demand free speech at all costs have accused me of bullying Laureen Harper for suggesting that she has no business speaking for the LGBT community. I am thankful that this excellent teacher/blogger took the time to explain the difference between bullying and public discussion. This graphic, borrowed from We Are Teachers, explains the distinction.

bullying

It’s very similar to the difference between actual oppression and simple annoyance or offence. Publicly criticizing a prominent figure for her lack of action on queer/trans rights is well within the realm of public debate. I find it hard to imagine that spouses of Prime Ministers are an oppressed class.

Former Sun News reporter turned Freelance Rage Generator

Former Sun News reporter turned Freelance Rage Generator

But then again, defunct television personality Brian Lilley seems to think it’s sacrosanct to criticize her good works. Why do the queers need to get SO POLITICAL about bullying? THEY ARE BEING SO MEAN TO LAUREEN AND RUINING EVERYTHING?

But scream caps aside, Lilley’s response was entirely predictable, as was Robyn Urback’s in the National Post. They say queers should be happy with the scraps that the Conservatives have given us. Put up and shut up. Accept a whitewashed version of “anti-bullying” that’s been stripped of any of its specific meaning.

I won’t do that and I hope you won’t either.

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More on the pinkwashing of the Day of Pink

9 Apr
me and d

I do wear pink occasionally. But only in the form of hot pants.

Well, then. I guess a few people liked the post I put up in haste the other night, while simultaneously entertaining my almost three year-old and responding to a flurry of Tweets. Or they disagreed with me, but felt compelled to read it. Either way, I’m grateful.

My reason for criticizing the choice of Laureen Harper as the ambassador for the Day of Pink was very clear to me. I believed strongly that we needed to make sure that queer/trans youth knew we had their backs — not just in a symbolic sense, but politically too.

I remember when I testified in Ottawa in support of provincial legislation mandating gay-straight alliances in publicly funded schools. I listened to speakers from the Catholic board and the evangelical right use syrupy language to try and strategically remove the queerness from any anti-bullying efforts. They spoke of the need for “diversity clubs” and other meaningless monikers that obscure the specific and excruciating struggles that queer, trans and gender non-conforming youth face in schools.

We need to keep the focus on the specific experiences of kids like Leelah Alcorn, Blake Brockington and Jamie Hubley (may they rest in power and peace). And that means fighting school boards to ensure that queer/trans kids are supported and given spaces in which to meet. It means advocating for trans human rights legislation like Bill C-279 and naming and shaming the politicians like Don Plett who are holding back progress. And it also means holding LGBT organizations accountable when they choose respectability politics over the rights of the people they purport to serve.

I want to take a minute to address some of the criticism I have seen over the last couple of days. Much of it was thoughtful and I would like to acknowledge the people who engaged with me on Twitter and in other online spaces.

1. Why are you judging Laureen Harper by the actions of her husband? 

I am judging Laureen Harper by her complicity in the Conservative publicity machine. See? She even has her own page on the party’s website. She has stood by her husband during every election and has allowed herself to be used as a humanizing factor to help tone down his look of evil. (Well, that, a sweater vest and kittens). And her rather vapid statement in support of the Day of Pink did not make a single mention of queer or trans youth.

She has never made a public comment that contradicted the policies of the Conservative party. And Laureen certainly has not said a word about trans rights or Bill C-279. Should she choose to prove me wrong one day, I would be thrilled. But until that day arrives, she has positioned herself politically as Mrs. Harper and that is what I will call her.

2. Why are you wasting your energy criticizing a group that does good work?

Because this organization — formerly known as Jer’s Vision — has re-branded itself as a national LGBT organization. By choosing the new name of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, this group is carving out a voice on the national stage. And that comes with responsibility. The fact that the CCGSD’s first action out of the gate is to associate themselves with the Harpers is really bad news. It shows a preference for name recognition and banal “awareness-raising” over real justice for queer and trans youth. And their misstep only serves to benefit the politicians and right-wing evangelicals who would be thrilled to see queer and trans people banned from public bathrooms.

It seriously concerns me that the CCGSD’s reaction to public criticism yesterday was either to invite people to have private conversations with them (and therefore take the conversation offline) or implying that critics were contributing to toxic activist cultures by not being kind enough. I and many others responded publicly to a very public piece of communication. The discussion and process of accountability should remain in the public sphere.

3. But have you heard the rumour about Laureen Harper?

I live in Ottawa and I have heard the rumours that Laureen may be a secret member of “the family.” But unless she distinguishes herself from the Conservative machine, she’s never going to be invited to any lesbian potlucks. To paraphrase an old Ani Difranco song, “I don’t give a fuck who she’s screwing in private, I wanna know who she’s screwing in public.”

I am not wearing pink today. This is why.

8 Apr

I made a post over at Storify last night, after a bunch of my Tweets about the Day of Pink went viral last night. WordPress won’t let me embed it into this blog, so click on the big photo below to read it.

storify harper