Archive for bigotry

Obama’s Support for Gay Marriage, My Political Cynicism, and the Global Context

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

The Interwebs and news outlets are aflame:  the U.S. president has publicly expressed his personal support for gay marriage rights.  In an election year.  It’s undeniably a historic move, and certainly a very positive thing for human rights in the U.S. and around the world.


“For me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married”.  It seems like such a simple little sentence, doesn’t it?  He speaks only for himself, personally, not for his administration as a whole — and it’s taken years for this sentence to be expressed, despite increasing public sentiment in favour of same-sex marriage and various moves by his administration that have indicated a pro-gay-rights stance.

The timing of this announcement is, undeniably, a carefully planned political move.  With his country gearing up for what is sure to be a hard-fought election, in the wake of 4 years of a seriously struggling economy, there are a lot of issues to be hotly debated in the coming months.  By finally, after years of avoiding the issue and claims that his views are “evolving” when pressed, coming down firmly on one side of this debate?  He’s choosing his battleground, and simultaneously locking down a large portion of the queer vote (a vote he was likely to get anyways, because honestly, even without voicing his opinion like this?  He was clearly the more queer-friendly candidate).

In fact, the real reasons behind this announcement likely have little to do with gay rights at all.  A common criticism of Obama, throughout his term as president, has been that he is too indecisive, too willing to compromise and seek a mythical centrist “common ground”, rather than sticking to his guns and defending issues with passion (something that, for all I cannot stand Republican politics?  They’ve got that whole “passion” thing locked down).  This announcement takes some of the wind out of Republican sails — no longer can they accuse him of dithering and avoiding the issue — while not really giving them anything new to complain about.  Obama’s administration has been taking queer-positive steps all along, from the striking down of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, to Hilary Clinton’s historic “gay rights are human rights” speech.  Those who oppose those rights?  Have plenty to complain about already, and have been doing so all along.  Obama’s announcement gives them very little in the way of new material — especially as it was phrased as a personal statement, and not one of policy.  In addition, this move draws greater attention to the important but ultimately sideline issue of gay rights, pulling criticism away from more difficult topics such as the economy and the Iraq war.

It remains to be seen whether the Democrats’ platform, when it is released, will contain any references to gay rights or gay marriage, although I’m honestly pretty hopeful that it will.

Cynicism about politics aside, the amount of attention that this announcement is drawing?  Is such a good thing.  In many parts of the world, we’re approaching a sort of “tipping point” when it comes to gay rights.  Because for all the hard fighting that’s been done, for all the fights won and rights achieved, we’re still at a place where it’s socially acceptable, in many circles, to be against gay rights — or even against the very concept of being gay.  People will speak openly, publicly, about their hatred and bigotry, and not be ostracized by society for doing so.  So while killing someone for their gender orientation or beating a person half to death for their sexual orientation is now considered a hate crime and rightly deplored, expressing hatred through words or less brutally violent actions is still (somehow) okay.

Obviously this is a situation that isn’t going to last.  A generation from now, we’ll look back on the hateful things that were said and done, and wonder how we ever tolerated such awfulness.  But we haven’t quite tipped that balance, yet.  The more virulently angry the bigots become, though?  The more people are going to lose their taste for such dialogue, and the more people are going to start saying “shut up, that’s not acceptable”.  By giving more prominence to gay marriage rights as an election issue, Obama is — intentionally or not — going to inflame the hate-spewers to a point that just might be far enough to tip things over and lead us into a future where saying “I’m against being gay” is no longer an acceptable statement to make.

I do fear the backlash from this, however.  In stirring the pot, Obama is making life more dangerous and difficult for queer people everywhere, for a little while at least.  It’s inevitable — it’s a step we must go through to get to where we need to go — but it’s still scary.  I know I’ll be walking a little more carefully while the ensuing shitstorm blows up, and encouraging my queer friends to do the same:  we haven’t seen the last of the hatred, and as the homophobes see their comfortable world disappearing, violence is likely to ensue.

On the upside, though, I can hope that this may be one of the final nails in the coffin of Canadian conservatives’ attempts to re-visit the gay marriage issue — Canadians have already fought this fight, and seeing it brought up again in this past year has been an emotional struggle for all of us.


Homophobia is not a “personal value”.

Posted in Rants with tags , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

As those of you in the GTA are no doubt aware, Toronto mayor Rob Ford announced last week that he had no plans to attend the city’s Pride celebrations.  And the shit hit the fan.

Now, I have my own issues with Pride celebrations (see last year’s post on the subject for more details).  I didn’t bother to take the day off work, and won’t be attending the parade, although I might meander my way down towards some of the partying later on in the day.  There are legitimate reasons for deciding that the Pride parade is not for you.

Trouble is, I’m pretty damn certain that those legitimate reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with Ford’s decision.

He keeps hiding behind his PR line, that he doesn’t want to give up a “family tradition” of going to the cottage for Canada Day weekend.  Funny, really, how so many of the arguments against gay rights come down to “tradition”, isn’t it?  Ford’s brother, a city councilman, has announced that he’ll be attending the parade.  So obviously it’s not the entire family who are so married to this “tradition” that they can’t cut the weekend a teensy bit short and come back on Sunday instead of Monday.

The media is trying desperately to show this as an issue that has two sides to it, but there’s just not much of anything for Rob Ford to stand upon.  The “opposing viewpoint” that keeps being repeated seems to be that “the man has the right to his traditions”, or “he shouldn’t feel pressured to attend if the parade conflicts with his personal values”.

Well, call me intolerant if you will, but I think that homophobia — especially in a duly elected public servant meant to represent and serve the community — is decidedly NOT a “personal value”, or a right.  It’s ignorance.  It’s hateful.  It’s intolerable.  Ford needs to accept that he is in charge of a city with a large and extremely vocal gay community, and he needs to see attending this parade as a duty.  If he were invited to attend an event for black history month, or in celebration of women’s rights, and declined the invitation in this manner?  He’d be drummed out of office.  Never mind that he’s a white, heterosexual male — as mayor, he represents ALL of his city’s people, including the ones who he may not personally like.

One of my friends has suggested that it would be fitting to bring Pride to Rob Ford, if possible.  Anyone who has a cottage near his should definitely consider holding their own pride weekend party — my friend’s suggestion was to actually have a parade down the street that the Ford family cottage sits on.

Of course, I’m 90% certain that Ford’s PR people will drag him, kicking and screaming if necessary, to make at least ONE public appearance during the weekend.  This has turned into too much of a fiasco for him to really be able to justify staying away.  But the damage is already done.  He’s proven once and for all that he’s a selfish, homophobic bastard, who can’t even summon up the cojones to do the politically correct thing (and damn it, if politicians can’t manage to be politically correct, what the hell is the point of having a polite society in the first place?)

I sincerely hope that this haunts the man for the rest of his (please let it be short) political career.

Pride, and why I’m not sure I have it.

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

Last weekend was Gay Pride Weekend, and of course the annual Toronto Gay Pride Celebration.  I skipped the parade, but did end up going down to Church St. for a few hours in the evening to meet up with some friends.  I’m glad that I decided against spending the whole day there, as even a few hours of it was somewhat depressing.

Don’t get me wrong; the weekend is always full of fun events.  When I’ve attended Pride celebrations in the past, I’ve always had a pretty good time.  But it just seems more and more that Pride has lost touch with its roots, becoming a mass-media fueled circus of stereotypes.  And in the places where glimpses of those authentic roots can be seen, they’ve stagnated, not keeping up with the times of a changing world and society.

My biggest problem with Pride, as it exists today, is that I’m no longer sure whether it’s helping with the cause of acceptance and integration.  Pride arose out of the oppression of the 1950s and 60s, when there were no laws protecting against sexual discrimination, and being openly gay (and especially cross-dressing) could get you arrested as a “sexual deviant”.  One of the driving forces behind the formation of Pride Weekend, in particular, was the Stonewall Riots, when violence erupted following a particularly brutal police raid on a well-known gay establishment.  And so in the beginning, Pride was about being confrontational and in-your-face.  It had to be.  Gay people were facing violence, and were tired of just lying down and taking it — they wanted and needed to fight back, in a very real and physical sense.

It’s that sort of confrontational behaviour, though, that I worry is no longer helping.  Laws have changed, and while homophobia is still a definite problem in the world, it’s no longer overtly enforced by the system (in this country, at least — I know there are still places where being openly gay can get you arrested or killed, but I’m talking about Canada at the moment).  In the 60s and 70s (even into the 80s), marching nearly naked and screaming “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” involved taking a huge personal risk.  You could get arrested.  You could lose friends, family — even your job, since anti-discrimination legislation was still being developed, and it was still considered socially acceptable for a parent to disown their gay child.  Now the Pride parade is full of those sorts of displays — it’s considered quite acceptable behaviour during the celebrations — and it just comes off as people who’ll take any excuse to get naked and yell things.  It’s not a statement, it’s not risky; it’s not even risqué.  It’s just public indecency for its own sake.  And public indecency for its own sake probably isn’t helping.

One of the greatest challenges facing non-hetereosexual individuals today is the conception that being gay is inextricably linked to promiscuity, STIs (especially HIV/AIDS), and extreme sexual behaviours.  Gay people are “abnormal”; they lack values which are common to heterosexual society.  This is the gay that is most often seen in the media: party animals who can’t settle down with just one partner, who are obsessed with the superficial (how many fictional gay characters are hairdressers, makeup artists, or designers?), and who are ineffectual, especially when it comes to tasks usually assigned to their biological gender (gay men who can’t play sports; gay women who lack emotion and interpersonal skills).  Above all, gay people are different from straight people in very noticeable ways.  Pride plays into this stereotype, especially when the participants are waving their junk around, wildly partying, and labeling themselves (often literally, with stickers or buttons or the like that loudly and proudly proclaim “GAY”, “TRANS”, etc; more often in symbolic ways, such as by wearing rainbows or behaving/speaking in stereotypical manners).

I can’t help but feel that in the face of such stereotypical images, non-heterosexuality hasn’t been accepted by the general public … it’s just been shoved into a convenient and comfortable category.  Gay people are harmless.  Just let them have their parties and their hair gel and they’ll be happy.  And so people tolerate gayness … but they don’t accept it.  It’s kept separate from them, hermetically sealed off away from their “family values”.

But then we come up against questions like gay marriage, and the right for non-heterosexual couples to adopt children, and whether gay people should be able to become elementary school teachers.  These things don’t fit into that comfortable stereotype.  These things scare people, because now they have to re-define their definition of what a gay person is — and people hate uprooting their preconceived notions.  They’d rather continue to assume that we’re all fun, ineffectual, and sexually depraved:  not ideal people for beloved socio-religious institutions like marriage, and definitely not the sort of people who should be raising or teaching children.

In the face of these new challenges, these new steps along the road to normalcy, Pride should be changing as well.  Couples should march together, holding hands, dressed professionally.  Those gay individuals who have children (adopted or biological) should bring them along.  Displays of public indecency should be viewed as indecent, not as an expression of one’s sexuality.  Amid the celebrating of who we are, there should also be mention of what we want — petitions circulating in the crowds, and speeches being given on street corners about necessary social change.  People shouldn’t label themselves with pins or stickers that say “GAY”; they should blend into the crowd, so that gay and straight people cannot be told apart and mingle freely.

Sometimes, I think, the most radical thing you can do is to defy people’s expectations.