Posts Tagged ‘ spin ’

MP’s trans predator fearmongering escalates.

On Friday, Sun News commentator Brian Lilley interviewed Rob Anders, the Member of Parliament who has drawn condemnation for conflating transsexual and transgender people with sexual predators in a petition he has been circulating on his website, and to at least one church in his riding. In “Children’s bathroom bill reaches Parliament Hill,” both doubled down on conflating trans people with sexual predators, and suggested that granting human rights inclusion will somehow enable and legally absolve predatory acts.  Anders claims there is “all sorts of examples of this going on.”  Which is news to anybody else.

Lilley introduced the interview by once again calling for the defunding and privatization of CBC, the network which first broke the Anders story, and which Lilley has tried to portray as ludicrous for taking note of the petition.  During this time, though, Lilley has also been taking note of a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) policy that accommodates trans kids.  Like fellow Sun News Network commentators Michael Coren and Faith Goldy, he’s made that all about washrooms.  While discussing the TDSB policy with Anders, they arrive at this exchange:

LILLEY: We are going and changing all kinds of things that… I agree with you, could put people at risk of being exposed to perverts to fix something that is, what, one percent of one percent of one percent of a subset of a subset?

ANDERS: Yeah.  You know, why would we lower peoples’ natural defenses of a man going into a woman’s bathroom in order to “accommodate” [scare quotes added because at this, Anders appears to grin mockingly or suggestively]  this very very small, you know, part of the population.  In order to expose all sorts of women and girls to this…?

At that point, Rob Anders relates a phone call that told an anecdotal story of a crossdressed peeping tom who allegedly peered over stalls in the Canterra building in downtown Calgary four years ago.  Searching various media online, there appears to be no corroboration that it even occurred, let alone that it happened as related.  The network sensationalistically underscores this story with staged photos that are supposed to be representative of trans people in restrooms, including one featuring a urinal covered in police tape, and another showing someone with a long wig and a dress standing at a urinal.  Or at least I’m assuming they’re staged, because it would be concerning if someone is snapping candids in washrooms.

At an earlier point in this interview, Brian Lilley also points to one of the men accused of chaining and abusing a Nova Scotia teen — the attacker was said to have occasionally dressed in womens’ clothing.

Most Canadians either don’t know someone who is transsexual or transgender, or else aren’t aware that an acquaintance is trans (and given my experience as a community advocate, I suspect it’s more often the latter).  For this reason, Anders and Lilley float these examples as being representative of all trans people, and as justification for excluding those entire characteristic classes from basic human rights protections.

LILLEY: “Then he’s free and clear.”

Enter Bill C-279, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (Gender Identity and Gender Expression), which is a human rights bill addressing employment, housing, access to services and discrimination.

The bill says nothing about washrooms, which Lilley briefly acknowledges before calling washrooms a side effect of the bill, and then continuing to focus on them at the expense of all else.  C-279 also wouldn’t change the fact that trans people have already been using washrooms appropriate to their gender identity for decades.  But it’s at this point that Lilley and Anders claim that the bill would somehow essentially absolve the people in their examples of any culpability for their actions.

ANDERS: “Then he’s free and clear, that’s right.”

Readers are invited to find any example in which rape, molestation and other illegal and inappropriate behaviours were suddenly excused because the perpetrator was a member of a class listed in human rights legislation.  As equal human beings, we are all still responsible for behaving ethically and respectfully toward our fellow human beings, and to face the legal consequences if we don’t.

We also don’t exclude entire groups of people from public washrooms (let alone human rights) on the off-chance that one of them might be a sexual predator.

When I wrote about the history of the “Bathroom Bill” meme, one thing I didn’t mention is how opponents of trans rights initiatives tended to conflate trans people with predators, and then when called on it, would habitually backtrack to say it wasn’t trans people they were worried about, but that they thought trans-inclusive legislation could provide cover for actual predators to commit acts of sexual predation.  And then they’d go on talking about “transgenders” with hairy legs and skirts stalking children and doing unmentionable things in washroom stalls, as a reason to block human rights legislation.

But with the way Lilley’s interview is presented, there’s visibly no effort at all to make any kind of distinction.

And all of this, of course, completely overlooks the dangers to safety of going the opposite direction and forcing transsexual women to use a men’s room.  Or whether women would be happy having trans men in theirs.

Which brings us to Brian Lilley’s bottom line:

LILLEY: “Why do we have all these groups mentioned to get special treatment in the Human Rights Act, in the Criminal Code?  I thought we believed in treat all people equally and fairly in this country.  And why don’t we just get rid of all this nonsense and say all people are equal above and beyond [sic] before the law?”

Overlooking the fact that you just referred to equality as “special treatment,” Mr. Lilley, it is most likely because there is ample evidence that there are clearly bigoted attitudes and beliefs about entire groups of people, conflating them with abhorrent actions and behaviours — even to the point of circulating petitions, making comments on the floor of the House of Commons, and reporting them on television as fact — in ways that make discrimination against those groups likely or even inevitable.

Sun Media’s Brian Lilley interviews Rob Anders

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

Hypocrisy on Free Speech and “Protecting Freedom.”

On June 6th (the same night that the trans human rights Bill C-279 advanced to committee) Conservative MP for Westlock – St. Paul, Brian Storseth’s Private Member’s Bill C-304, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom), passed Third Reading in the House of Commons, and advanced to the Senate for ratification.  Bill C-304 abolishes Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which pertains to electronic communication of hate speech.

Sun Media commentator Ezra Levant barely got through taking credit for the bill’s passage before taking advantage of a recent censure of comments he made on his television show to change focus and declare his intent to destroy the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) within the coming year, in the name of freedom of speech.

Both are the culmination of roughly ten years of media campaigning against speech-related laws and standards, and while the principle of freedom of speech is admirable, the application being upheld and idealized by speechies is already showing its proponents’ hypocrisy.

Bill C304 is one of several Private Members’ Bills that pundits have been watching, concerned that the procedure may be used by Conservatives to pass legislation that the party wants to maintain some plausible deniability about (another bill which has provoked concern is Blake Richards’ C-309, which proposes to ban masks at protests).  And given the questionable Reform Party -era ties to hate groups, plausible deniability was probably a politically prudent approach for the Conservatives to take.  Liberal and NDP Members of Parliament have previously spoken out against Storseth’s bill, but often expressed that they felt it was too contentious to pass.

Section 13 was one of the approaches used to defuse the inciting of racial hatred in Canada, and had been thought of as a way to keep neo-Nazis in check, although it’s historical use has been mixed and controversial.  Ernst Zundel was the focus of several different actions against hate speech that he published in print and on his website, before he was finally deported to Germany, where they had no qualms about convicting him of 14 counts of inciting racial hatred.  In December 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada also finally upheld a conviction against Jim Keegstra for a 1984 arrest after teaching Social Studies students that the Holocaust never happened.

But hate speech legislation began to lose popular support when it was used to target Macleans magazine and writer Mark Steyn for articles promoting what evolved into “Demographic Winter” lore (i.e. fears that Islamic Fundamentalists were outpopulating Western nations and would “win” by sheer numbers).  It was also used against former Western Standard publisher turned Spin News Network commentator and entertainer Ezra Levant for publishing cartoons that portrayed the prophet Mohammad as a terrorist.  Proceedings were later thrown out or dropped, but not without some personal cost to each, highlighting some concerns that call for some legitimate reform.

Personally, I’m not all that partial to speech legislation.  I do agree that there needs to be something there to address the extremes of Zundel and Whatcott, but also that there has to be restraint on its use and the way it’s prosecuted. But at the same time, for as much as there are accusations of “fascist” motives from both left and right-wing pundits in our increasingly polarized political climate, the abolition of speech law does disarm a tool that could have provided a means to bring something of that nature about.

Free Speech and the Responsibility That Comes With It

I wrote about the subject earlier, when discussing Bill Whatcott’s Supreme Court trial, a proceeding which concerns a Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ruling:

Hateful speech is never free.  While an individual comment, or poster, or ad, or flier may be free speech, the weight of cumulative aggressions and microaggressions serve to demonize communities, alienate them, and discourage them from participating in society.  As it becomes more common, accumulated hatefulness makes it seem acceptable or (to some) even necessary to act on that, and by knowing this, entire communities are terrorized in a way by each new onslaught.

And yet there is a danger in criminalizing speech.  The same groups that hate is already designed to silence and intimidate into hiding could very easily become the same groups that society seeks to silence first, when given the tool of speech legislation.

Ideally, hateful speech should be answered, and called out.  Hateful speech must be answered.  It must be responded to.  Freedom of speech is not simply a question of saying or publishing anything and everything that one might wish to say.  It comes with a responsibility to answer to these things, and call them out as attitudes that need to change.  The problem is that it typically isn’t answered to by the majority, and if sufficient inequality or disparate antipathy exists, the minority may either feel too disenfranchised to respond, or the channels that they need to respond in aren’t interested in giving them the opportunity.

Spin News Network personalities get particularly poor marks for positioning themselves as apparent free speech champions by promoting Islamophobes like Geert Wilders and trying to provoke hate speech complaints of their own, while at the same time making a point to run Charles McVety’s transphobic / homophobic ads without criticism or contrary opinion, calling to ban Islamic speakers, and justifying the barring of entry to people like Bill Ayers.  If freedom of speech comes with a responsibility to counter those things that are hateful, then Sun Media has repeatedly shed that responsibility whenever it has been politically inconvenient to their editorial viewpoint, like skin of an embarrassing colour.

In addition to facilitating dialogue instead of squelching it, freedom of speech also comes with a responsibility to maintain some civility and decorum.  Canada’s speechies often fail on that count as well.  In the most recent example, Levant was condemned by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for an uncivil tirade last December, and his response was to flip CBSC the bird.  Civility too, it seems, is no longer in fashion.

Broadcast Standards Under Fire

Levant took the opportunity to take up a campaign to destroy the CBSC:

“According to the Canadian Broadcast Stan- uh, Censors Council, that’s not actually what got me in trouble.  What got me in trouble was my point of view.  I wasn’t -quote- ‘balanced.’ Now, I have an opinion, that’s my job actually, to have an opinion.  I don’t pretend to be a ‘neutral’ reporter here, my job is to put out my opinion forcefully….”

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council was set up at the initiative of Canadian television networks, for the purpose of establishing limits that would help immunize the industry against the kinds of complaints that could potentially result in a drive toward real censorship.  It has allowed the actual government body in play — the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) — to refer complaints back to a body that champions the idea of media policing itself, rather than taking any binding action of its own.  Spin News Network has been upset with the CRTC ever since the latter twice refused to make special exceptions for the station so that it could have preferred carrier status, which would put it near the top of the dial and make it mandatory for cable networks to provide it prominently.  It’s not hard to guess who foxnewsnorth‘s Sun TV’s endgame target will be, but for now, the buffer of the CBSC is in the way.

To that end, Ezra Levant has promised a 5-point campaign to destroy the Council within the coming year, by:

1. Systematically violating the CBSC’s standards on a daily basis, and inviting other censured people on his program for the purpose of reoffending;
2. Picking out what Levant describes as inconsistencies and phrasing the CBSC’s function as being outside the law — of course, the CBSC wasn’t set up as a legal body (and consequently, its rulings are non-binding), but as a voluntary code of practices that televised media in Canada decided to set for itself and abide by;
3. Mobilizing right-wingers to comment and blog incessantly on the subject;
4. Getting a bill started in Parliament — this could be interesting, since the CBSC is not a government body nor a legal body, but a voluntary media board (though to be fair, for a station to get a better placement on the dial, there is a CRTC requirement to abide by the code); and
5. Mobilizing viewers to flood MPs, the PM and the Heritage Minister with emails and letters

So, far from accepting the responsibilities that go with freedom of speech, Sun News Network and at least one commentator are dedicated to actively working against anything that encourages these responsibilities, however symbolic and voluntary it might be.

The Overton Window and Harper’s Stake

To be fair, Spin News Network and Sun Media are private corporations, and not under any obligation to provide air time or column space to dissenting voices, although arguing this point says something interesting about fair and unbiased media in Canada.  For the Harper Conservatives, reaping the accolades from right-wing supporters over the passage of C-304 and acting as a government that is supposed to work on behalf of all Canadians, the same can’t be said.

The Harper Government has played both sides of the “free speech” equation by happily positioning themselves as free speech champions, while waging an economic stifling of speech through the defunding of environmental science, status of women groups, Aboriginal advocacy and human rights organizations and yet maintaining charitable status and even financial subsidies for partisan political supporters and think tanks that consistently produce convenient reports.  At times, the government’s imbalanced treatment has led to intimidation tactics and accusations of terrorism in order to marginalize political opponents.  The end result is a faux free speech environment in which state sanctioned speech is signal-boosted to the tune of millions of dollars, and dissent is economically marginalized to the point of having little to no avenue through which to counter spin.

Here’s why these responsibilities matter.  Before his death in 2003, Joseph Overton, vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (a think tank devoted to free market ideology), proposed a political concept that has since become known as “The Overton Window.”  At any given moment, the window of popular sentiment and political viability is in flux, and the key to achieving policy is to expand or shift the window to encompass it.  This is done by changing the conversation through several means — including repetition, erasure and ridicule of opposition, manipulation and spin — until an idea shifts from being previously unthinkable and then radical to becoming acceptable, seemingly sensible and then popular… until it is inevitably established as policy.

If this resonates with the dramatic polarization that has been taking place in the past few years on political topics like environmentalism, abortion and birth control, government budgeting and austerity, LGBT rights, police powers, public health care, bullying, and social programs like EI and welfare, then you’ve obviously noticed the explosion of concerted campaigns to shift that window.  And move, it clearly has.  I’m betting that most of us in our lifetime never would have thought we’d be fighting for the availability of the Pill, watching neo-conservatives fight for the right to deny medical care, or expecting CNN to run a semi-sympathetic profile of a “kinder, gentler” Ku Klux Klan.

This happens not from free speech, but from abdicating the responsibilities that come with it — or, in the case of defunding and silencing unfavorable speech, making concerted efforts to control the conversation.

The free speech advocates in media and government are less interested in promoting diversity of speech, and more interested in shifting the window of where and how that speech occurs.

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

When even silence “indoctrinates:” the “No Pro Homo” education model. (Part 2)

This is part of a 3-part series on LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying education, centering around the Day of Silence, which encourages students to take a vow of silence for the day, to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.  It occurs on April 20th.

Part 1: When even silence offends: on the 2012 push from the North American far-right to subvert and antagonize Day of Silence participants.
and: When even silence “persecutes:” on the ongoing conflicts in Canada, and a new game of declaring “homophobia” a hate word.

Part 2: When even silence can be exploited: on how the far right’s “No Pro Homo” policy has been tried before.
and: When even silence “indoctrinates:” on why the failure of “No Pro Homo” doesn’t register as a failure in the mind of the far right.

Part 3: When even silence fails: on the need for affirmation.

Anoka-Hennepin: the No Pro Homo model.

In 1995, Minnesota’s largest educational region — the Anoka-Hennepin School District — adopted a “no pro homo” policy (sometimes called “no promo homo”) which asserted that homosexuality would “not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle and that the district staff and their resources not advocate the homosexual lifestyle.”  This was to appease far-right social conservatives  (who should not be confused for all Christians, even though they often attempt to portray homophobic views as representative of the whole — when I write about the mindset concerned here, it’s a particular kind of mindset which justifies, and even that is a generalization).

In 1998, the district hired a part-time music teacher who was discovered to have transitioned from male to female.  Conservative parents launched a massive “Parents in Touch” campaign to have her fired and the Minnesota Family Council even launched an initiative to have a human rights law that protected gay and trans people repealed, but the extreme nature of the rhetoric surrounding the campaign also turned off a significant number of other parents and area residents.  The teacher resigned, but tensions resulted in the envelope being pushed back and forth until a 2002 attempt to replace an LGBT affirming poster with one advocating reparative “ex-gay” therapy led to the district formulating its now infamous “neutrality” policy. Continue reading

When even silence fails: On affirmation (part 3)

This is part of a 3-part series on LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying education, centering around the Day of Silence, which encourages students to take a vow of silence for the day, to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.  It occurs on April 20th.

Part 1: When even silence offends: on the 2012 push from the North American far-right to subvert and antagonize Day of Silence participants.
and: When even silence “persecutes:” on the ongoing conflicts in Canada, and a new game of declaring “homophobia” a hate word.

Part 2: When even silence can be exploited: on how the far right’s “No Pro Homo” policy has been tried before.
and: When even silence “indoctrinates:” on why the failure of “No Pro Homo” doesn’t register as a failure in the mind of the far right.

Part 3: When even silence fails: on the need for affirmation.

It boils down to affirmation.  Beneath all the rhetoric, the issue is not about speech or parental rights, but about fears that affirmation might enable or “encourage” someone to be gay or trans.

When I attended school, there was every reason for me to believe that the core of who I was would make me a target.  At that time, we didn’t really understand what transsexuality was — I hadn’t even heard the word until I was around twelve, and when I did I ran to my bedroom and wept for hours at the realization that if there was a word for it, then I wasn’t the only one.  The next day, I went to the library and sought out the “authority” on transsexualism… who at that time was Janice Raymond, so that messed me up for another several years.

Affirmation?  Hell, I was alone in a school and a church that taught me that I and everyone like me was pure evil.  As much as I tried to “man up” and hide, I was inevitably target — usually labeled a “fag” or a “gimp” or a “homo” rather than anything about being trans (hey, it was the mid-1980s), but a target nonetheless.

I won’t go into the effect it had on me, but do want to emphasize something.  Getting pushed around, harassed, intimidated, terrorized, sometimes beaten up… none of these things were the worst part of the bullying.  Bill Maher hit the nail on the head about what the worst part was:

“And there’s another way that I was bullied that I would like to mention, because I haven’t heard people talk about it, but I feel it’s just as bad as being beat up.  Although that happened to me a couple of times too.  And that is bullying by ostracism: when they separate you from the pack, and no one talks to you.  And they give you the cold shoulder.  And you’re suddenly not somebody who is welcome in the group.  I remember that hurting me very much.  To my core….”

It was the devastation of being so completely alone, isolated and incompatible with the rest of the planet that was the worst of it.  Alone-ness.  It’s the isolating effect of being targeted… and that, more than the bullying itself, is devastating.  That’s what I couldn’t bear.  If I had felt I wasn’t completely alone, the rest probably wouldn’t have mattered as much.

As we’ve already seen, the U.S. and Canadian far-right see being gay or trans as a choice, that kids aren’t any of those things to begin with and that affirmation and support simply encourage sinful decision-making.  Yet my own experience showed me that being trans was present in my life right from the beginning, was never something I could switch on or off like a light, and knowing that it was some taboo subject that dare not speak its name was an incredibly isolating and suffocating experience.  I wrote previously about the need to affirm LGBT students:

… kids absolutely do have a right to be affirmed as people, no matter how they might identify themselves. I say that as someone who recognizes that children and teens are complex but rational, far from the helpless victims we tend to see them as, and very often far more mature than we give them credit for.  I personally do not subscribe to the “heads as empty vessels theory” that postulates that they just accept anything that we put in there.  Underlying the fear of orientation and gender identity -inclusive sex education is a belief that kids are vulnerable to ”recruiting,” which is an argument that only works if you believe that kids have no will of their own and that one’s sexuality is entirely a choice – my experience tells me otherwise on both counts.

One thing I do know is that we experience life – and particularly emotion – much more intensely when we’re young. And in a society that is still so entirely pervasive with homophobic and transphobic attitudes, disenfranchisements and signals, the absence of affirmation of students’ right to seek identity and claim the one that fits them becomes a suffocating vacuum of fear of stepping outside the rules that police gender and orientation, thus inviting wrath.  It’s a literal hell to live through.

The mere absence of bullying — assuming that any policy could actually guarantee it in real life — is not going to accomplish an environment where kids are able to live and breathe and find the freedom to become people functioning at their fullest potential.

That’s why support is vital.  That’s why it’s crucial for LGBT and allied kids to be able to form Gay-Straight Alliances and form communities of their own without shame and without the educational institution sanctioning antagonism against their attempts to do so.  Especially for those kids who don’t have that kind of lifeline at home.  In enforcing that No Pro Homo environment, parents are isolating kids, forcing them to withdraw into themselves, instilling into them the belief that they are all alone in their struggles.

Parents will and do teach their kids.  They will and do pass on their attitudes about homosexuality and transsexuality (contrary to claims that things like the Day of Silence will silence them).  So be it.  Speech isn’t the issue, here.  The issue is whether parents have the right to ensure that their children are sheltered from any and all contradictory beliefs that might allow them to form their own opinions and develop critical thinking for themselves.  The issue is whether those parents have the right to prevent school administration from providing safe haven or support from this kind of bullying for LGBT kids, in the name of their religious freedom and their rights as parents.

When even silent protest is seen as “indoctrination, just promoting homosexuality and transgenderism,” certainly anything that acknowledges that LGBT people exist and dares to affirm their right to be — rather than assailing them as aberrant abominations, “sexual deviants” and demon-possessed — is apparently unacceptable.  And this is how the far right (again, not to be confused with all those of any particular faith) does its level best to enforce or at least shelter the practice of bullying LGBT youth, rather than end it.

Meanwhile

Meanwhile, the battles go on.  In Altona, Manitoba, after parent protest, the teachers who had displayed the Ally cards in their classrooms were ordered to remove the Ally language and leave only the word Ally in a rainbow flag.  This was still unacceptable, and with the assistance of Culture Guard / Roadkill Radio’s Kari Simpson, parents penned a letter threatening to sue, threatening to post photos and personal information of the teachers who were displaying the signs (and possibly the school board?) to some sort of “report a teacher” website.  Says Manitoba parent Wes Martens of the Ally signs:

“…Then they replaced it with a statement that… it’s pretty good, it’s not perfect, but it says ‘As a teacher I am your ally and I support all the children in this classroom’ or something like that it said.  We don’t like the word ‘ally’ in there and we’re gonna try and get that removed, but at least this is a major victory to get this, the flag and the Ally card are down.”

Because even the slightest silent implication of support for LGBT kids continues to offend.

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

When even silence offends. (Part 1)

This is part of a 3-part series on LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying education, centering around the Day of Silence, which encourages students to take a vow of silence for the day, to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.  It occurs on April 20th.

Part 1: When even silence offends: on the 2012 push from the North American far-right to subvert and antagonize Day of Silence participants.
and: When even silence “persecutes:” on the ongoing conflicts in Canada, and a new game of declaring “homophobia” a hate word.

Part 2: When even silence can be exploited: on how the far right’s “No Pro Homo” policy has been tried before.
and: When even silence “indoctrinates:” on why the failure of “No Pro Homo” doesn’t register as a failure in the mind of the far right.

Part 3: When even silence fails: on the need for affirmation.

Every year, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) sponsors the Day of Silence and encourages students to take a vow of silence for the day, “to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment.”  It occurs on Friday April 20th, this year.

The Day of Silence was started in 1996, at a time when silence was really the only permissible way to protest homophobic and transphobic bullying (and is still the only permissible means of protest in countries like Russia and Singapore, where some youth now mark the Day of Silence).  In the past couple of years, a series of suicides drew attention to this kind of bullying.  To be clear, bullying is certainly not limited to homophobia and transphobia — the kinds of conflicts kids face can be centered around body weight, lack of acceptable physical strength, pimples, voice, disability, race, mannerisms… just about anything that can be perceived can get singled out to make someone a target, and should not be lost in any discussion on bullying.  But biases based on real or perceived sexual orientation and / or gender identity stand out because they’re very often socially sanctioned or at least tacitly tolerated in the don’t-ask-don’t-tell environment of most schools.  Consequently, there is energy being made to ensure that they’re included in the overall anti-bullying approach. Continue reading

A Solution Without a Problem, or More Reframing the Political Discourse?

The federal Conservatives will be holding a party convention between now and Sunday to discuss direction for the majority government.  While things talked about at conventions aren’t necessarily going to become policy, it does give a good indication of what the aims and priorities are likely to be.  One of those, of course, is to discuss prostitution, following the ruling in Ontario that had overturned 3 laws used to criminalize sex workers.  The Harper Conservatives still fail to understand the difference between willing sex work and human trafficking, and seem to want to do everything except take a harm-reduction approach.

Another curious position to be discussed is the proposed strengthening of Canada’s laws prohibiting high treason (that is, actively engaging in an act of war against the country or its armed forces).  As James Morton notes, the laws as they stand are pretty clear and pretty strong already: Continue reading

What to Expect from a Harper Government (In The Bedrooms of the Nation III)

Previously:

I: A Brief Canadian History of Political Forces

II: The Opponents of Social Progress: Roadmap to the Far Right

As Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party seek a majority mandate, there is no shortage of speculation on either side of the map as to what a non-progressive Conservative majority would look like in Canada.  By some accounts, we’d see a new capitalist utopia of crime fighting and McJob creation.  By others, we’d see a social agenda unleashed which, now completely unbridled, would rewrite Canada into a Christian Nationalist dictatorship.

But we’ve seen already how Harper is completely cognizant of Canada’s inclination for social progress, and having to tightrope in order to maintain the far-right extreme and the centrist support he needs to maintain power.  Stephen Harper is gaming, and he is not going to seek only a 4-year majority.  He is in it for the long haul, and that means tightroping for as long as he can. Continue reading

Opponents of Social Progress (In The Bedrooms of the Nation II)

Update:

Due to a moderation queue flooded with mind-numbing racist, Islamophobic and homophobic freeps as well as a reasonable question about singling people out, this post is withdrawn for the moment, until I can decide how I should address that question and also re-examine my moderation policy.

I’m normally not that big on censorship, but apparently, I’m going to have to make exceptions.

This post will be back, although perhaps tweaked.

Flushing the “Bathroom Bill” Fear Once and For All

As I write this, the LGBT community is struggling with a situation in Maryland where the provision for “public accommodations” has been removed from a bill that proposes to extend human rights to trans people, due to the ongoing “bathroom bill” panic-generation tactic.  In Canada, Bill C-389 passed despite this same fearmongering, but faces an increasingly precarious situation in the Senate.  In Montana, the state is proposing legislation that aims to erase the protections for all LGBT people that had passed the previous year in the City of Missoula, where the “not my bathroom” rhetoric failed… and where most pretexts of it have now been dropped in the battle against equality.  Elsewhere in North America, potty panic has been used to stir up an emotional “ick” response to any legislation that protects trans people, and even some non-inclusive LGB protections.  And once the emotions have been engaged, logic has to work five times harder to dispel the myths.

But in Maryland — which in 2007 was the birthplace of this wave of “bathroom bill” spinmongering — the tactic needs to be addressed head-on before it forever changes the face of how we accord and apply human rights.  Because the recent removal of “public accommodations” affects far more than washrooms, all because of an irrational fear of the possibility of behaviour that isn’t actually facilitated by trans protections and doesn’t actually happen in real life.

Human Rights In Principle

The whole premise of human rights is that all people should have equal access to employment, housing, medical and social services, and opportunities.  The understanding is that people should be judged on their individual merits or faults, and not on characteristics that other people may have prejudicial associations about.  We specify classes because bigoted people keep trying to make excuses to assert exceptions to the rule.  You shouldn’t have to tell society that it’s wrong to place life barriers for people just because others find their body weight objectionable, for example, but as it becomes increasingly demonstrated that discrimination persists, it becomes apparent that you do.  Without specifying these classes, a false equivalence is asserted in which one’s human rights can be trumped by another’s irrational fear of having to coexist with them.

Because classes are open-ended (i.e. “race” includes white people as much as non-white people), the whole idea that people in codified classes have “special rights” is a myth.  The intent is that a person should not be excluded from participating in society because of assumptions or constructions associated with a trait, but rather their own merits or failures should form the basis of how we decide to interact with them.  The playing field needs to be levelled to that there is equal opportunity in principle (although it doesn’t always happen in practice).

You don’t narrowly define these classes: once you start doing that, you start codifying into law when it becomes legally acceptable to discriminate against a group of people.  That is why when you include a class like “disability,” you don’t make an exception for people with mental illness. There is an example of this in the ironically-named Equality Act, in the UK, where legislation outlines when it is considered perfectly lawful to disenfranchise trans people.

Maryland

The good news is that this has not happened in the current situation in Maryland.  Although public accommodations have been dropped from the bill, there haven’t been any codified exemptions to create legally-sanctioned discrimination.  Consequently, areas not outlined in legislation become a matter for the courts, and the incrementalist perspective expresses hope that if there is no opportunity to introduce a better bill later, then the judicial system will at some point read in these protections on the basis of what is already codified in law.  LGBT Marylanders who have taken the “anything is better than nothing” approach have this to place their hope in, and it’s not substanceless.

However, we know that anytime unabashedly homophobic and transphobic people perceive that they can push LGBT people into the margins, they will almost always attempt to do so.  There is no guarantee that public accommodations will be read in or added later, and in the meantime, there will be people falling through the cracks of an incomplete bill.

There is also a concern that if Marylanders see it as acceptable to drop public accommodations from trans human rights legislation, then future legislators will see it as reasonable to do the same.  In a way, this move surrenders the washrooms to our opponents.

And more.  As Monica Roberts points out, “public accommodations” cuts a far wider swath than simply gendered stalls, showers and urinals:

A place of “public accommodation” is defined as “an establishment either affecting interstate commerce or supported by state action, and falling into one of the following categories: (1) a lodging for transient guests located within a building with more than five rooms for rent; (2) a facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including such facilities located within retail establishments and gasoline stations; (3) any place of exhibition or entertainment; (4) any establishment located within an establishment falling into one of the first three categories, and which holds itself out as serving patrons of that establishment; or (5) any establishment that contains a covered establishment, and which holds itself out as serving patrons of that covered establishment. Bishop v. Henry Modell & Co., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104830, 39-40 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 9, 2009)

In other words, if this bill is passed and I travel to Maryland, I potentially lose my rights when dealing with hotels, restaurants, theatres, shopping malls… all because irrational people assume that being trans somehow automatically makes me a sexual predator.

The Porcelain Red Herring

That’s the infuriating part of all of this. I’m transsexual, and have been using the womens’ restroom ever since I transitioned, years ago.  It has never been illegal for me to do so.  Making it an issue at this point in time is archaic on a level that is mind boggling.  The Transgender Law and Policy Institute notes around 130 jurisdictions in the US where explicit legal inclusion for transgender and transsexual people exists (some back to 1975), and yet the only incident of the kind being imagined by opponents was staged by opponents (more on this in a moment).  The conflation of trans people with sexual predators is a fallacy.

It’s also ludicrous to speculate that a cisgender / cissexual sexual predator would risk drawing attention to himself by crossdressing, in order to access a washroom that he’d have better luck just sneaking into when no one is looking.  This is simply a meme designed to generate a quick panic response, and exploit the “ick” factor for people whose idea of what trans is hasn’t evolved past Shirley Q. Liquor.

In the US south, decades earlier, there was reluctance to desegregate washrooms because of “delicate sensibilities” and beliefs in the inferiority and impurity of entire groups of people.  In the advent of HIV, there were ignorant comments about gay men in washrooms, borne by fears that had not yet been dispelled by science that AIDS could be contracted from a toilet seat.  I even remember discussions in the 1980s when disabled washrooms were first proposed, in which people expressed their “discomfort” of encountering amputees in intimate spaces (which is a pretty chilling and disgusting objection nowadays, isn’t it?).  And every time, there was hysteria.  Every time, it was unfounded. Every time, our society ultimately moved toward progress, inclusion and accommodation, anyway, and bigots just had to bloody well get over it.  And every time, we looked back and realized that the potty panic was just plain offensive.

Exactly Because This Persists

What people are failing to see is that potty fear is in fact the strongest argument FOR trans human rights inclusion.  And I strongly believe that the moment we realize that and confront Bathroom Bill rhetoric head-on and turn it back on the homophobes and transphobes, we will have human rights opponents tripping over themselves to disavow it.

If we are prepared to stand up and say something.

Human rights protections are necessary exactly because this irrational fear persists.  It’s necessary exactly because trans people still get conflated with sex predators and child predators, or labeled as “sick,” “perverse,” and “freaks.”  It’s necessary exactly because people become so clouded with assumptions and myths that they argue for our deliberate exclusion from human rights under the pretext that granting them would be “dangerous” or “scary.” It’s necessary exactly because this bias is so entrenched that people think nothing about broadcasting it openly as though fact.  It’s necessary exactly because this “ick factor” response is seen as justification for not allowing an entire group of people to share the same space, to terminate their employment or to evict them.  It’s necessary exactly because it is so pervasive that discrimination becomes not only likely but inevitable — especially if there is no explicit direction in law to the contrary on the matter.

Maryland Redux

Politics is local.  In 2007, Montgomery County, Maryland teleported itself into the middle of the conflict between far right Christian Nationalists (as opposed to Christians, some of whom are affirming) and LGBT people, when the NotMyShower website was established and “Citizens for a Responsible Government” (CRG) took the “ew, ick” impulse that cisgender people had about their mythic impression of trans people, mixed it with their feeling of vulnerability in washrooms and came up with the modern version of the “Bathroom Bill” formula.  The meme was originally about showers (where actual nudity could theoretically happen) before they discovered that making it about public restrooms better enabled their scaremongering to go viral.  This probably wasn’t a previously unheard-of objection, but it was polished and perfected into a political technique in Maryland.

Complete with a washroom invasion at a gym and spa in Gaithersburg.   Here is how it was reported on by a local ABC television affiliate, on Tuesday January 15, 2008:

A man dressed as a woman walked into the women’s locker room at the Rio Sport and Health Club in Gaithersburg Monday, spawning concerns over a new controversial law designed to protect transgendered people.

Around 1 p.m. Monday, a man wearing a dress walked into the women’s locker room surprising Mary Ann Ondray who was drying her hair. “I could see his muscles, I could see his large hands. He was wearing a blue ruffled skirt that came down to above the knee.”

The male left without saying anything, but Ondray says, “I was very upset, I’m still upset. There’s a lot he could’ve seen.”

Club officials say he is a male club member, but it’s still unclear why he was dressed as a woman or why he didn’t use a designated family restroom.

(Incidentally, the use of a single-stall locking restroom is in fact the policy for pre- or non-operative trans people at the health club in question)

Speculation abounded almost immediately afterward, and was so blatantly obvious that CRG’s Theresa Rickman eventually admitted to having staged the incident — but it’s still sometimes pointed to by opponents, since the media didn’t as widely report the deception:

THERESA RICKMAN: Yes, at Rio Sport and Health up in Germantown. A guy dressed as a girl went into the ladies bathroom. And, ah you know, essentially what uh, that was meant to get some media attention, you know, and the guy left immediately apparently, I mean but there was, this is the Rio Sport and Health Club, you know and Sport and Health has steam rooms, and there are ladies changing in those locker rooms, people in various stages of undress [laughing] all the time, so there’s lots a guy can see.

Transphobia has fomented in Maryland with a peculiar intensity in the past four years,where an odyssey unfolded which saw trans protections pass in Montgomery County, only to have opponents push a petition drive fiercely enough to put the option on the ballot for voters to repeal it… only for the courts to then recognize that enough of the petition’s signatures were questionable or likely to have been obtained under false pretenses to invalidate it.  Montgomery County also saw a murder attempt that was investigated as a hate crime in 2009, and attempts to destroy Dana Beyer’s political career.

Context is everything, and it’s important to recognize how the “Bathroom Bill” spin cycle progressed in Maryland, and where it differs or is similar to what happened elsewhere.

Oh Canada!

Transsexuals — those people who are primarily being villainized in the washroom territory dispute — face challenges to their very existence regularly during a transition process that is recognized by medical authorities as valid and necessary.  Zoe Brain outlines quite vividly the kinds of hoops we need to go through when we begin our transition… and how it is far from a whim.

That’s not good enough for Charles McVety.  He feels that:

“Bill C-389 is a danger to our children,” said Charles McVety, president of the Institute for Canadian Values. “If ‘gender identity’ is enshrined in the Criminal Code of Canada, any male at any time will be permitted in girls’ bathrooms, showers and change rooms as long as they have an ‘innate feeling’ of being female.”

If one has the innate feeling of having a doctorate — and the cash — on the other hand, why not?

McVety and other homo/transphobes started up the spin cycle almost from the moment that trans protections went to committee for second reading. Gwen Landolt of REAL Women of Canada tried to exploit mental health prejudices by repeatedly citing a pamphlet by the American College of Pediatricians (a legitimate-sounding medical body that screens its membership according to far-right views on abortion and homosexuality, and whose publication has been disavowed by the American Academy of Pediatrics — the accepted authority in ACP’s domain).  The website No Apologies openly proclaimed allegations that trans people are “sexual predators and voyeurs.”  The Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada was notable among several online initiatives by automating the process so that with a click of a button, people who were sufficiently frightened by the rhetoric could click a button and mail every Member of Parliament with a prepared letter.

And although mainstream media — outside the Harper government -influenced Sun Media, which is currently trying to launch a preferentially-treated television network that is referred to as “Fox News North” — refused to dignify much of the washroom scare tripe (and sometimes printed notably positive editorials), trans voices were largely excluded the conversation about trans rights almost altogether.  This happened despite the fact that trans people across Canada approached media with a willingness to speak on the issue.

But regardless of all of this, on February 9th, 2011, the Government of Canada passed Bill C-389, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression) on a narrow vote of 143-135.  In a nation that hadn’t encountered “Bathroom Bill” spin before and had been somewhat insulated from similar discussions that happened south of the border, it had fared better… but still (thus far) failed.

Incidentally, McVety runs an organization directly funded by John Hagee and Focus on the Family, Landolt uses talking points that are almost verbatim those used by Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition (and derived from CRG), and Tristan Emmanuel — mentor to Timothy Bloedow and the original founder of both No Apologies and a centre dedicated to training Evangelicals and Christian Nationalists to try to form a biblically-driven government — now runs a company that publishes Matt Barber.  If we don’t think these folks are trading strategies, we’re fooling ourselves.

Missoula, Montana: The Little City That Could

Alberta is very much a community caught between Montana’s ranchman culture, Texas oil culture and our trademark Canadian complacency.  As well as being the birthplace of the Harper government and a hotbed for Christian Nationalism, we were home to the Stephen Boissoin “religious persecution” hate speech case heard around the world, provided a home (and tenure!) to a military psychiatrist who was accused of using horrific techniques to cure gays in South Africa, and witnessed the firing of a teacher by a publicly-funded Catholic school board that explicitly stated the termination was because of his transition to male.  At some moments, we’re embarrassingly regressive, and yet there is a fiercely progressive streak among the public not often reflected by provincial politics or social issues.  It is this stubborn live-and-let-live silent majority that has endeared me to Alberta and kept me here, and it is because Montana is quite similar in this regard that I had followed the events in Missoula closely.

To me, Missoula signaled the beginning of the end of the Bathroom Bill tactic.  There, opponents took the (by this time) highly original approach of creating the NotMyBathroom website and engaged in several distortions.  But there was a difference.  With a little information, people saw through the fearmongering.

In a panel hosted by Forward Montana and featuring a Wyoming Republican, a pastor, a veteran and a past chairman of the Montana College Republicans, the latter stated in support of LGBT protections: “I cannot believe we’re fighting issues like this in 2010.”  And although members of CrossPoint Community Church and senior pastor Dr. Bruce Speer disrupted a meeting of community religious leaders who came together to express support for the ordinance, the affirming leaders soldiered on, forming Flush the Fear, which declares:

“All people should be free from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.  Faith communities value dignity, fairness, diversity, and justice, and we know our strength as a community is based on treating each other fairly and with respect.  Our group will be a strong and peaceful voice for the full inclusion of the LGBT community in non-discrimination policy.”

Allies and affirming people of faith stood with us.  Cisgender people who realized that they too were the focus of hatred for thinking outside the stereotypically male and stereotypically female boxes stood with us.  And on April 10th, civic legislators passed an ordinance to protect LGBT people at a margin of 10-2.  Don’t get me wrong — this didn’t happen without vile rhetoric and loud opposition… but enough people saw through it to do the right thing.

“Fool me once…”

Once that happened, opponents of LGBT rights (because it wasn’t only trans people who the ordinance protected) realized they couldn’t use pee fear in an overt capacity, and pushed the state government to pass legislation that would invalidate Missoula’s ordinance under the pretext of making human rights protections consistent throughout the state, thereby avoiding confusion.  If that sounds spurious, you’re not the only one.  Especially when cast against the disgusting comments by Dr. William Wise during discussion of a concurrent bill to remove sodomy from the Montana penal code.

Although, that hasn’t stopped the “Bathroom Bill” meme from being used under the radar:

Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, defended the right “not to be overregulated.”

He said he has heard comments from people asking about whether a business, under the ordinance, could legally keep “a certain sector” out of a multi-stall public restrooms. It was an apparent reference to transgender men [sic] using women’s restrooms, an issue raised by some people testifying against the bill in hearings.

But ultimately, washrooms (which — like anywhere else trans protections exist — have not experienced an actual trans predator since the ordinance passed) were never the issue at all: refusal to coexist with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people was.

(Montanans who want to petition legislators or find out how they can be involved can find out info via the Montana Human Rights Network.  The bill was recently amended to narrow it so that it specifically changed ONLY Missoula’s protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity)

Maryland Revisited

So the struggle comes right back to Maryland, with a state-wide ordinance HB235.  This time, because peoples’ concerns about washrooms had put intense pressure on her, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties) dropped a provision for “public accommodations” from it.  Pena-Melnyk had sponsored trans-inclusive legislation since 2007, and this was reportedly a difficult decision — but ultimately, the support that she would have needed to overcome the “Bathroom Bill” meme just wasn’t there.

Noting that supporters were unable to get the bill out of committee during the past three years, [Equality Maryland Executive Director Morgan] Meneses-Sheets said most supporters believe an incremental strategy of advancing employment and housing protections for transgender people this year is a “far better” option than seeing the bill go down to defeat and having no protections at all.

An online petition has been started to have the provision reinstated and a Facebook group has been set up to”Tell Maryland Legislators NO to HB235 Omitting Public Accommodations.”  Equality Maryland has come under fire for silencing critics of the move.  On Tuesday, activists from Trans Maryland rallied outside the Supreme Court to try to have the provision reinstated (although commenters have questioned whether the rally might have been more effective at the MD state legislature).

Meanwhile, opponents continue to oppose the bill — this time, because it “redefines gender.”  And even when acknowledging the removal of the public accommodations provision, they continue raising the specter of “bathroom rapes” by citing violent acts committed by people who aren’t trans at all and weren’t enabled in any way by an extension of human rights protections to trans people.

The underpinnings of every community’s political situation is always different from situation to situation.  Maryland is not Canada is not Missoula is not ENDA.  Toilet terror has been waged longer, fiercer and and more bitterly than anywhere on the planet so far.  It is inevitable that some LGBT Marylanders will feel that something is better than nothing, at this point.  But even if a best-case scenario unfolded for incrementalists and HB235 passed, with public accommodations being added in some way shortly thereafter (and before someone could be negatively affected by its absence), the act of removing the provision has already seriously fractured pro-trans forces in that state.

Missoula was the beginning of the end of washroom tactics… unless we wave the white flag of surrender.

So What is the Answer?

It’s one thing to condemn and criticize.  It’s another to come up with a solution, and that is the challenge we face both in Maryland and anywhere the “Bathroom Bill” talking points are exploited.  This is the moment we either rise to that challenge or turn on each other.  “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

In some private discussions during the quest to pass Bill C-389 in Canada, there was some talk about doing a “sit-out” protest (either at a visible government building washroom entrance or with the iconic male and female symbols put on the doors of the government buildings themselves) that uses the theme of being shut out of washrooms as a metaphor for being shut out of legislation, human rights and basic necessities. Media releases sent out the night before would use the washroom angle to generate interest, and then during a daytime rally (in the media cycle), speakers could focus on that, telling stories of exclusion from within the trans community, and having a handout.

Ultimately, too many people were afraid of possibly lending credence to the meme, and it never happened.  And depending on what happens in the Senate, it may not have been necessary.  But I do believe that by effective communication, and by including a diversity of people — especially cisgender people who queer their gender a bit (making the point of how gender expression protections are of value to far more than trans people) — it can turn the conversation right back on the fearmongers.  Because that’s what we need to do.

But politics is local.  Is Maryland the time and place to revisit this?

All of a sudden, these things just started appearing in womens’ washrooms everywhere.

And then, there’s the possibility of a stickering campaign, which could be employed anywhere that washroom panic is used to attempt to deny trans people legal protections.  It would require the participation of those trans people and allies who do use a ladies’ restroom, to cumulatively make it be noticed and be effective.   Because if a sticker like this started appearing in washrooms all across North America, the discussion would likely change.  Completely.

(I have the URL, and would be more than happy to employ it to flush the fear on an international level.  I would not, however, be able to fund and maintain it on my own.)

This would require people to have the stickers printed and place them, and is a relatively inexpensive approach that could be done on a grassroots level.  It could, however, cause some blow-back, from those who would portray us as “men invading womens’ spaces.”  It is the only part of the discussion that the general public will see as having merit, but it is one of the central foundations of the “Bathroom Bill” argument, and something that will need to be addressed.  If we proceed on a sticker campaign, we will need to be prepared and equipped to do this.

This would be a bit different from initiatives like that of a coalition of Illinois groups, who started a campaign to highlight businesses that have trans-inclusive washroom policies.

I’m sure there are more ideas.

It’s infuriating that we should have to dignify washroom predator rhetoric with a response.  But if we must, then let’s turn it right back on the fearmongers and use it to show exactly why it demonstrates that trans-inclusive human rights legislation is needed.  Starting right where it all began and moving all across North America.

Because with ENDA being about to be reintroduced in the House soon (albeit more symbolically than otherwise), and being championed by a legislator who has done more to perpetuate the washroom scare than to challenge it, I doubt American trans folk can afford to let this tactic run amok, anymore.

This has been diaried at DailyKos.  If you feel it should have wide visibility, please vote there for it to be promoted to the front page.

Also crossposted to The Bilerico Project, DentedBlueMercedes and Progressive Bloggers.

Edit: Thanks to Dana Beyer for reviewing the Maryland information in this article.

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