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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3 Responses to “Bullying the powerful”

  1. ariddles April 14, 2015 at 2:27 am #

    There seems absolutely no question Laureen Harper is a cheerleader for the tories and her husband. If you put yourself into the political arena then you are subject to criticism for hypocrisy when she decides to support a bully like her husband and then make anti-bullying statements on Day of Pink. This article backs up everything you say – there is no question she is a political weapon for the tories: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/laureen-harper-getting-plenty-of-screen-time-in-government-videos-1.2645761

    I am a big believer in the phrase, “You lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas” (apologies to our four legged friends for comparing them to Stephen Harper). If Laureen were serious about anti-bullying – especially of LGBQT+ youth – she would be out campaigning against her husband’s law which was designed to make the lives of sex workers much more dangerous and their working lives more dangerous. If she not, she is complicit.

    As for the Sun journalists, that is more of what you expect, right? They have zero time for LGBQT+ rights until it comes to a photo op for their PM’s wife. (And let us not forget what they would do if they knew similar stories about Justin Trudeau’s wife as they know about Laureen.) Thanks to your post, I got some Twitter traffic but I only got laid into by one person (a gay sex worker in TO). I am not sure where his support of the tories comes from but each to their own.

  2. Greg Smith April 14, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    The worst part of this is this probably what you spend your 8 hours a day at PSAC worrying about.

    Issues that 99.0% of PSAC Employees couldn’t give a rat’s ass about. You take my $1000 a year in union dues and basically light fire to it.

    Can’t wait until you’re out of a job

    • Queer Femme Mama April 14, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

      What a lovely response. I wrote this post and all others in the evenings, off the work clock. But I am lucky to work for a union that cares about queer/trans rights. Workers’ rights are human rights.

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