Aug. 01, 2012 - Issue #876: The Art Of Serving
Political parties pick and choose the message from meetings
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has been meeting with LGBTQ Albertans—well, at least a select few—to gather information about our communities and "build bridges." These meetings are unsettling, to say the least, as Smith and her party have made some hate-filled and dangerous statements about LGBTQ Albertans.
During this year's election, Smith defended Wildrose candidate Allen Hunsperger and his condemnation of homosexuals to a lake of fire. Smith also threatened to shut down the Human Rights Commission, and promised that referendums would be used to vote on contentious moral issues, and ultimately on the rights of minorities. After the Wildrose's loss in the election, Smith refused to participate in Edmonton's Pride Week parade and opening party (not that many would have been jubilant to see her there), and then declared that gender reassignment surgery is an elective procedure.
With this history of outright antagonism toward LGBTQ Albertans, why does Smith have a sudden interest in getting to know our communities? Moreover, why are some LGBTQ organizations agreeing to meet with her? So far three organizations have met with her: a Calgary-based transgender group, the Edmonton-based queer blog "I Dig Your Girlfriend," (IDYG) and the Edmonton Police Service's Sexual Minorities Liaison Committee (SMLC). IDYG initiated an interview with Smith after hearing that the leader was interested in "building bridges." Smith and the founders of IDYG discussed conscience rights, feminism, transgender equality and social programs.
During the IDYG interview, Smith said that she had met with members of the SMLC who stated that LGBTQ Edmontonians are more concerned with domestic assaults and drug/alcohol abuse, than they are with hate-motivated violence and bullying. Wait, what? The SMLC—a group mandated to work with Edmonton Police Service for the public safety and security needs of the LGBTQ community—is stating that LGBTQ Edmontonians are more concerned with drug/alcohol abuse and domestic assault than they are with hate crimes and bullying?
Ranking serious social issues in terms of severity and priority can be a complicated and often useless endeavour: domestic violence and bullying are both social breakdowns that need to be addressed urgently. But surely hate-motivated violence and bullying are of constant concern for the SMLC, especially in light of the case of Chevi Rabbit who, while walking home in the Garneau area on July 19, was attacked and robbed by several men who were yelling homophobic slurs. The case is currently being investigated as a hate crime.
I spoke with Kris Wells, chair of the SMLC, who stated that the committee did not "downplay the fact that hate crimes or violence are ever-present realities." He further explained that the committee was speaking specifically in relation the LGBTQ issues in relation to the police and crime, and that the committee spoke about many issues without prioritizing any. Wells stated that the SMLC decided to speak with Smith knowing that "the challenge of meeting with politicians is the political spin."
Clearly Smith has cherry-picked issues from the meeting that serve her political ends, but the SMLC set up the perfect conditions for her to do so. When organizations (such as the SMLC) speak on behalf of our complicated and diverse communities (in private meetings), they risk over-simplifying complex problems, silencing voices, and prioritizing certain issues over others. When you bring these limited views and perspectives to a politician who is desperate to clean up her party's deplorable image, you run the very real and dangerous risks of enabling a politician to use your community for their political gain. The SMLC may have built a bridge with Smith, but in so doing they have dealt a serious blow to their relationship to Edmonton's LGBTQ communities.
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