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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

For those who are keeping track of the out candidates and how they did in the election, I’m pleased to say that — in the election no one else is happy with — we did fairly well. The NDP managed to elect two of its six queer candidates, the Liberals elected three of their four, and Réal Ménard of the Bloc held on to his seat.

Every queer person who ran for re-election won — the Bloc’s Raymond Gravel has quit politics. Even the well-known closeted Conservative cabinet minister held his seat, though whether that’s a victory or not I leave to the reader to decide.

Here’s a breakdown, party by party.

NDP

Bill Siksay won his tightest race yet against Conservative challenger Ronald Leung in Burnaby-Douglas. That’s good, because Siksay has been the loudest voice in the House of Commons for LGBTQ rights since the retirement of Svend Robinson. He is the only critic for LGBTT issues in the House of Commons (the other parties don’t have one), and he has been tireless on the issues of same-sex marriage, queer refugees’ right to asylum in Canada, and trans rights.

Vancouver East’s Libby Davies was the first queer woman MP to come out, and is the NDP’s joint deputy leader. She is more focused on anti-poverty issues than on directly queer ones, but she was one of the passionate voices for same-sex marriage when the issue finally came to a head. One of her main goals now is keeping the Insite needle exchange program alive, which helps slow the spread of HIV infection. She won by her usual massive landslide.

A special mention should go to Thomas Mulcair. Though Mulcair is straight, anyone who becomes uncontrollably enraged by Conservative homophobic policies on immigration — as he did when the Conservatives decided not intervene in the deportation of Kulenthiram Amirthalingam — ought to have a place on this list, and an honorary place in our community.

Special mention, too, should be made of Megan Leslie, one of the NDP’s new MPs — a straight woman who co-founded the queer group OUTlaw at Dalhousie, who’s done work on trans rights, and worked with a number of queer organizations. She was misidentified as a queer woman in Xtra.ca before voting day, though it doesn’t seem to have hurt her in the Halifax election.

Liberal Party

In the 39th Parliament, the Liberals had matched the NDP two out MPs for two. In the 40th parliament, the Liberals have exceeded that number, and now have three.

Scott Brison is a fiscal conservative who’s always been socially liberal. When he came out in 2002, he said he was “not a gay politician, but a politician who happens to be gay,” and his career has mostly focused on business issues, on industry, and technology.

Still, being gay has changed the course of his career. Way back in 1999 — when the Liberal Party voted en masse against same-sex marriage — Brison was a Progressive Conservative who voted for it. When the Canadian Alliance party devoured the old Progressive Conservative one, Brison no longer felt comfortable in the homophobic atmosphere of the Harper Tories, and found a more natural home as a purely fiscal conservative in the Liberal Party.

He was the first openly gay cabinet minister in Canadian history, being named Minister of Public Works in Paul Martin’s government.

By contrast, Mario Silva has a much lower profile. Silva is a cabinet minister that most Canadians have never heard of, although he’s been recognized for his progressive views on environmental, labour rights, and immigration issues.

He hasn’t been lacking on queer issues, however, since he came out. He spoke out in favour of same-sex marriage, and quietly tried to use his influence in the Liberal Party to get the Immigration Officer to permit Juan Camacho to stay with his male common-law Canadian partner, in the days before universal same-sex marriage in early 2005.

Still, of all the LGBTQ MPs currently in the House, Silva is the most controversial. His first election in 2004, he was not yet out, and yet ran an against openly-gay social worker in the NDP, Rui Pires. Some in the riding have claimed that Silva was running a homophobic campaign against Pires, and making his sexuality an issue. If that’s true, I can’t find a solid trace of it in newspapers or in cyberspace.

What is certain is that Harper Conservative Theresa Rodrigues was running a homophobic campaign against both for their parties’ support of same-sex marriage, and most likely Pires — who was out — suffered the brunt of the damage as a result. Silva only came out of the closet after his election — he refused to answer questions about his sexuality until after he arrived in Ottawa.

A new face among the Liberals is openly gay United Church minister Rob Oliphant, who beat the Conservatives in Don Valley West. Again, he’s mostly an unknown quantity on the federal political scene, but he’s been deeply involved in both Toronto’s gay community, and a strong supporter of their community centre, the 519. He’s also been involved behind the scenes in the Liberal Party since the 1970s.

The Bloc Québécois

The Bloc had two out members last session. But pro-choice, gay Catholic priest Raymond Gravel was refused the right to run by the church, even though he abstained on all LGBTQ votes like same-sex marriage.

Réal Ménard was the second out MP. He came out in 1994 in parliament, speaking against Liberal backbencher Rosenanne Skoke’s objections to including “sexual orientation” in Canada’s hate-crimes law. His background is political science, and he’s been shuffled into every position in the Bloc’s shadow cabinet, from immigration to health care to defence to public housing.

He’s also the Bloc’s unofficial spokesman on all LGBTQ issues. In 2004, when Montreal’s Gay Chamber of Commerce invited all the candidates for the area to debate issues affecting queer people, Gilles Duceppe — who represents the riding — didn’t go personally but sent Réal Ménard as his representative. During the same-sex marriage debates, it was Ménard who led the attack for equal marriage on the Bloc side.

Green

Of course, the Green party didn’t win any seats. But the Green’s one out candidate, Andre Papadimitriou, did increase his party’s share of the vote in his Toronto riding from 3.75% to 5.1%.

Conservatives

In my last post, I mentioned there was a fiscal conservative cabinet minister whose homosexuality was an open secret in Ottawa, but that I wouldn’t out him here because his record on LGBT issues was good. Well, he too retained his seat.

It does make me wonder, though — would he still be with us if he’d come out in the last parliament? Would the ultra-conservative base of his party abandon him? Or would they have put partisanship and policy over personal disgust?

The Conservatives have run openly gay candidates, usually in urban ridings with large gay populations where they’re considered to have little or no chance of winning. These are usually fiscal conservatives who try to soften their party’s image for gay voters. Lorne Mayencourt and Chris Reid both come to mind. Chris Reid was primarily known for wanting looser gun control laws, while Mayencourt’s focus is lower taxes, and law and order.

I mentioned a debate held by the Gay Chamber of Commerce above. This was in Gilles Duceppe’s riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, which includes Montreal’s Gay Village, in 2004. I was at that debate, and that year the Conservatives were running an openly gay candidate in the riding named Pierre Albert. Albert’s defence of his choice to run for the Conservatives gave me some insight into the mind of an openly gay Conservative.

Albert was attacked from all sides throughout the debate. Put on the defensive for running for the Conservatives, Albert admitted that his party had an atmosphere of homophobia and a dangerous number of social conservatives. He argued that this was because the party was western-province dominated, and that the solution was for more socially liberal people from other parts of the country to join the party and change it from the inside.

He explained that as a fiscal conservative, he couldn’t join the Bloc or the NDP, and that while the Liberals espoused fiscal conservatism in theory, in practice they tended to make money disappear — frequently to their friends. He didn’t consider that fiscally responsible, so he felt he had nowhere else to go.

Albert’s arguments struck me, and I present them here because I’m still fascinated by the idea of gay fiscal conservatives trying to change the party from the inside. I wonder sometimes if this is what Mayencourt and Reid imagine they’ll one day be able to do.

If so, given their support outside the party — and the evangelical Christianity deeply entrenched within the party — it seems unlikely they’ll be able to transform the Harper Conservatives anytime.

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Since we’re looking at a federal election in this country on Tuesday, I thought it might be a good time to look at the records of the parties.

The parties’ platforms are discussed at length on other sites. But platforms during an election are airy things — anyone can promise the moon. I personally believe that past performance is the best predictor of future behaviour, when it comes to party politics.

NDP

It will likely come as no surprise that the New Democratic Party has by far the best record of any sitting party on LGBTQ issues. This started forty-one years ago, in 1967, when party founder and Baptist minister Tommy Douglas became the first parliamentarian to call for the legalization of homosexuality. This support became official in 1976, when the party was the first to make support of the gay liberation movement a part of its platform.

The party has most of “firsts” of LGBTQ politics. It ran its first openly gay candidate in 1988 (Douglas Wilson). After the 1988 election, the NDP’s Svend Robinson became the first member of parliament to come out publicly. In 2001, Libby Davies of the NDP became the first queer woman parliamentarian to come out. In 2004, Bill Siksay became the first MP to come out before he was elected and still win his seat.

The party was also the first to propose same-sex marriage — Robinson had been arguing for this throughout the 1990s. It regularly whips LGBTQ-related votes in our favour, such as the vote to add us to the human rights code, and to add violence against us to the hate-crimes provisions. It has “affirmative action committees” made up of LGBTQ members of the party that drafts its policies on queer issues.

The NDP was the only party to whip the most recent vote on same-sex marriage. One NDPer voted against it — Bev Desjarlais — and was remove from the shadow cabinet as punishment. She later lost the nomination for her riding. In an earlier free vote on the definition of marriage in 1999, eleven of fourteen New Democrats in the House of Commons voted not to keep the heterosexual-only definition of marriage.

On immigration issues, the NDP’s newest MP Thomas Mulcair made a name for himself fighting the deportation of Kulenthiram Amirthalingam to Malaysia, where he has already suffered violent persecution as a gay man.

Some activists have taken the NDP to task on the age-of-consent crime bill, as the party whipped the vote in favour of it. Age of consent laws are known to be enforced unevenly to control the sexuality of gay teenagers, and there’s a different age of consent for anal sex.

Still, it should be noted that Bill Siksay was the only MP of any party to vote against the bill, and unlike Bev Desjarlais when she voted against marriage, he remains a member of the shadow cabinet and a candidate. Not one Blocquiste, Liberal, or Conservative voted against it.

The NDP is also only party to put forward bills to prevent discrimination against trans people.

At the time parliament was dissolved last month, the NDP had two out MPs among its thirty — Bill Siksay and Libby Davies. The news site Xtra.ca claimed that the party is running seven out candidates across Canada in 308 ridings, but one has since written to me to inform me that she is not queer — she was misidentified by the newspaper — so that makes six.

Bloc Québécois

The Bloc has the second-best record of the four parties in parliament. It was the second party to have an openly-gay MP — Réal Ménard, who came out in 1995 when Liberal Roseanne Skoke was fighting against our inclusion in the hate crimes bill.

On the majority of LGBTQ issues, most Blocquistes have voted with the NDP — same-sex marriage, hate crimes legislation, the human rights code. Bloc MPs have spoken passionately on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to unfair immigration laws.

Its voting record has been good overall — although it nearly stopped same-sex marriage in its tracks by voting against a Liberal budget bill at a crucial moment — but the party is hampered by the fact that’s it’s a nationalist party first and foremost, rather than a left-wing party. For this reason, votes on things like same-sex marriage are never whipped in the Bloc. Seven MPs voted against same-sex marriage, and were never punished in any way.

Louise Thibault — one of the ones who voted against same-sex marriage — quit the party in 2007 over pressure to vote against re-opening the same-sex marriage debate. Thibault issued a statement a week into this election with five other former Bloc MPs, saying that the Bloc no longer represents Quebec’s interests. The five ex-Blocquistes lamented that the Bloc is now just another left-wing party.

Duceppe shrugged off criticism. But Conservative support has been rising for years in rural Quebec, and the Bloc now has to fight battles off its right flank — and from its own former right-wing MPs. Duceppe says he represents the consensus of opinion in Quebec, but as the province polarizes between an increasingly left-wing Montreal and the rest of the province, a real consensus will become harder and harder to find.

The Bloc had had two openly-gay MPs at the time the election was called — Réal Ménard, and a left-wing Catholic priest named Raymond Gravel. Gravel (who was pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage) was ordered by the church not to run again, so Ménard is their only out candidate in all of Quebec’s 75 ridings.

The Liberal Party

The Liberals are the oldest party still going — the Harper Tories really are a new party, after all — so they have the longest record to look at. Sadly, the Liberal Party shines its brightest the farther back you go.

Way back in 1892, a Liberal named David Mills actually asked if homosexuality should be punishable with jail time. He thought whipping was sufficient. Even Wilfrid Laurier — then leader of the Opposition — managed to express some criticism over the vagueness of the law.

Fast-forward sixty-five years, and Pierre Trudeau was calling the legalization of homosexuality — though only after the NDP had raised the subject. The Liberals rightly deserve credit for legalizing homosexuality. Trudeau famously statement that there is “no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

In 1978, the Liberals also passed legislation allowing openly homosexual people to immigrate to Canada.

When the torch passed to Jean Chrétien, though, the Liberals’ star began to dim. Chrétien was much more prepared to move with political winds than Trudeau had ever been. And the political winds in the 1980s and 1990s were the rising clout of the religious right.

The Liberals’ lowest moment on LGBT issues came on June 8, 1999, when they voted overwhelming in favour of the one man/one woman definition of marriage. Only three new democrats voted in favour, to eleven against, and none of those are still involved in the party. By contrast, the 131 Liberals — the majority of the 216 votes — voted in favour of the heterosexual-only definition of marriage. Only ten Liberals voted against.

It would be easy to dismiss this as ancient history, but many of the names on the list are people who are still very much involved in the Liberal Party — including some very disappointing ones. Seeing Marlene Jennings’ name on the list of those who voted for this piece of homophobic legislation, you’d never suspect she now frequently marches in Montreal’s gay pride parade.

Of all the members of the 2008 Liberal Shadow Cabinet who were sitting MPs back in 1999, only three did not vote in favour of keeping marriage unequal. Hedy Fry didn’t show up that day. Scott Brison was a Progressive Conservative. Colleen Beaumier — critic for multiculturalism — was the only Liberal who voted no to the homophobic bill and still manages to hold power in the party.

Even more worrying is the Liberal leadership. Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, and Stéphane Dion all voted against in favour of the homophobic definition of marriage. In fact, the only Liberal leader (past or future potential) since Turner who could claim credibility on the issue is Bob Rae, who tried to extend benefits to same-sex couples way back in 1994 when he was an NDP premier of Ontario. Michael Ignatieff’s views at the time are unknown.

It’s not surprising then that the Liberals appealed all three supreme court decisions requiring the government to extend the definition of marriage to same-sex couples. To my knowledge, no one has counted how much it cost the taxpayers to engage in this stalling game.

When the Supreme Court of Ontario finally gave up on the government and made same-sex marriage available immediately, many Liberals followed the prevailing wind and experienced an instantaneous conversion. Those who’d voted no — like Jennings and Dion, Chrétien and Martin — suddenly set themselves up as champions of equality. I have never heard one of these converts apologize for the vote, nor even heard a reporter ask about it, but they did vote in favour of same-sex marriage when the bill came up again.

Not all the Liberals got the message that things had changed though. When the vote came up for the government to confirm what the courts had already done on same-sex marriage, just over one-third of Liberal MPs voted against equal marriage. They were, of course, never punished, as the Liberals didn’t want to split the party.

Not wanting to split the party has generally been the post-Chrétien Liberals’ mode of operation when dealing with LGBTQ issues. This is why when Liberal MPs Roseanne Skoke and Tom Wappel were never punished for attacking their own government, when it tried to introduce stiffer penalties for homophobic violence back in 1994.

This may also explain why the Dion Liberals do not have a plank about LGBTQ rights in their official platform — it could cause internal problems.

When the election was called, Scott Brison and Mario Silva were the party’s only two out members. It’s running a total of four out candidates this election in 307 ridings.

The Conservative Party of Canada

What can I say about this party? Its evil on LGBTQ issues is so well-known as to be proverbial in our community. When a study was released this year saying that only 7% of gay men and 10% of lesbians voted for Harper last election, the only shock was that the numbers were that high.

Still, it’s helpful to go over the reasons why there’s so little support for this party in our community, in case you’re ever in an argument with a gay Conservative — most of the ones I’ve talked to believe that Harper’s homophobia is a media invention:

  • Harper’s Conservatives have overwhelmingly opposed same-sex marriage, homosexuality, LGBTQ human rights, and our culture. They’ve been the main engine of the religious right in making itself heard in Canada — and with 70 evangelical Christians among its 129 in the last parliament, it’s easy to see why.
  • It gives its most extreme evangelicals positions of power — like handing Stockwell Day the job of Minister of Public Safety, and giving Focus on the Family’s Darryl Reid a place next to Harper in the Prime Minister’s Office. Of course, the most powerful of these evangelicals is Stephen Harper himself, who is a member of an extreme church called the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
  • Its voting record is atrocious on all LGBTQ issues — on the same-sex marriage vote, for instance, 93 voted against same-sex marriage, while 5 voted in favour. Harper also killed the Court Challenges program, which we had used to fight unjust laws like unequal marriage.
  • Sometimes its members slip their leashes and say things we suspect most of the party is thinking, as when Tom Lukiwski was caught telling a camera that homosexuals spread disease. The seminars run by Preston Manning and Tristan Emmanuel — aimed at helping evangelicals to disguise themselves as fiscal conservatives — don’t help the party’s image as a Trojan horse for puritans.
  • Harper led the crusade against same-sex marriage. He tried to play cultural communities off against our community in a move that managed to insult everyone.
  • He’s made war on LGBTQ culture, attempting to deny film credits to our movies, and cutting funding to queer cultural events like Montreal’s Black & Blue because they aren’t “family friendly” enough.

This list is by no means exhaustive, of course. But then space is limited.

To be fair, not every single Conservative MP is homophobic. The party does include a few purely fiscal Conservatives. Jim Prentice is one who has real credibility on the issue — he voted in favour of same-sex marriage. But the Prentices are a very tiny minority within the party.

The Conservatives are only running one out candidate — Lorne Mayencourt in Vancouver. Another out candidate named Chris Reid in Toronto dropped out of the race after saying that the passengers of a Greyhound bus who witnessed a decapitation should have fought back. Reid said, “This is where socialism [has] gotten us folks, a castrated effeminate population.” For many gay men, the statement resonates with homophobia.

There is at least one more gay man in the Conservatives race, as keen observers of Ottawa political culture know. But as he’s one of the fiscal conservatives with a decent record on LGBTQ issues, I won’t be outing him on this page.

None of its MPs were openly gay at the time parliament dissolved, though one as I said was an open secret.

Green Party

The Greens are an unknown quantity, having never held power and not regarded as a serious contender for any seats until this election.

They do get credit for having elected the first gay leader of a Canadian party — Chris Lea, the party’s longest-serving leader from 1990-1996.

Since then, however, the party’s taken a swing toward the centre. And while the official platform of the party is very much in favour of LGBTQ equality, leader Elizabeth May’s personal social conservatism has some worried. Until recently, her boldest statements in favour of equality were that the Bible didn’t require her to fight against same-sex marriage, and that there were more important issues to worry about.

This election, though, she’s taken aim at the culture of homophobia inside the Conservative Party, and presented a very progressive platform ranging on issues from reinstating the court challenges program to protecting trans rights.

Without a record, though, it’s difficult to know how the Greens would vote on LGBTQ issues. They are running only one out candidate — Andre Papadimitriou in Toronto.

I hope I’ve done something to help Canadians make up their minds this election. Our issues have been largely pushed to the side this election — an in the case of the Liberals and Conservatives, not even in the party platforms.

It’s important to know where the parties really stand when the elections are over and the real business of politics begins.

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Changing Views on Homosexuality in the West

By the mid-1800s, most of Europe had stopped executing “sodomites.” The United Kingdom and Canada were among the last to end the death penalty, but finally followed suit in the 1860s.

In 1868, Europe got its first gay-rights activist. Homosexual sexologist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs began publishing pamphlets under an assumed name, advocating the abolition of sodomy laws.

An ally of his was a heterosexual journalist and human-rights campaigner named Károly Mária Kertbeny, whose gay best friend had committed suicide after having been blackmailed. Kertbeny coined the term “homosexual” as an alternative to the bigoted phrases used up to that point. This joined a number of other phrases invented in the 1860s as non-insulting names for homosexuals – “the third sex,” “inverts,” “similisexuals,” and “urnings.”

In short, there were reasons to hope that things would get rapidly better. The spirit of the times was that of the Enlightenment: a questioning of the assumptions of the past, a declaration of the equality of all members of the human race, and a claim to individual freedom. It was the core belief of the Enlightenment that reason and science would fix all human problems, and that human beings were perfectible.

There was just one problem: very few Enlightenment thinkers were willing to take up the homosexual’s cause. Men like Jeremy Bentham, Ulrichs, and Kertbeny were the exceptions. Most saw us as a problem to be corrected through the proper application of science.

Of Sodomites and Homosexuals

Before we can tackle the prejudices of another age, we’re going to have to tackle the prejudices of this one.

Anyone who’s studied LGBT history seriously will have come across the name Michel Foucault pretty rapidly. Foucault was a French philosopher who is famous, among other things, for having studied the history of sexuality, and particularly that of homosexuality.

Foucault, his followers say, was of the belief that identity and sexuality were created by language and culture. He believed, they say, that exclusive homosexuality and exclusive heterosexuality were invented when medical science discovered these concepts – that until then, no one considered themselves gay or straight, there was no gay community nor culture. His famous phrase that, “The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species,” has become the rallying cry of this perspective in academia.

(“Temporary aberration” is always the phrase used by Foucault’s disciples, though this is a bad translation of the original. The word translated as “temporary aberration” — relaps — means “relapsed heretic” or “lapsed Catholic.” Thus it’s someone who returns to their original state, not someone who takes on a new, temporary one. This suggests that Foucault may have been misinterpreted somewhat.)

Now, LGBT history done since Foucault has done pretty much nothing but erode that view – exclusive homosexuality and heterosexuality were both known in Classical Greece and Rome, and in many places outside the West, and their origins (divine, inborn, or environment) have been debated by philosophers and medical theorists at least as far back as The Symposium of Plato some two and a half millennia ago. An anonymous work once believed to be Aristotle – an important thinker right up until modern times – suggested that some homosexually passive men were born that way. A medieval monk named Arnald of Verniolle said at his trial that God had made him gay.

There is also linguistic and literary evidence of gay communities going back at least to the 1600s, and at least one eminent historian – John Boswell – argues there’s evidence of gay communities in the 1000 s AD in Europe. Communities of exclusively homosexual men seem to appear in any city of sufficient size anywhere in the world at any point in history, regardless of other cultural considerations.

Yet in spite of all this, the theory that homosexuality is a modern invention that replaced a natural bisexuality has proven remarkably resilient, largely for ideological reasons. Worse, the theories have become increasingly distorted with each generation. Foucault’s own nuances have disappeared, and now periods like 17th-century France – when state-sanctioned burnings of homosexuals had greatly increased – are more and more being portrayed as bisexual Edens spoilt by the arrival of medical science.

Still, Foucault’s theories are not entirely without merit. While they very poorly frame the worldviews of gay men and lesbians at the time, they do accurately capture a shift in the views of the persecuting groups. The era’s defenders of morality lost interest in bisexuality, marginalizing it during this period, and psychiatry became absolutely obsessed with exclusive homosexuality or “inversion.”

Science

The idea that an understanding of nature could teach people to be better human beings is an old one in the West. During the Age of Reason, the idea came back with renewed vigour – Francis Bacon, father of the scientific method, argued that human being should take their cues from nature. Philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau built government systems by imagining what human beings would’ve been like in nature – and coming to exactly opposite conclusions.

With the Enlightenment, these ideas went mainstream, and reason, science, and knowledge replaced religion as central idea of the West. Not surprisingly, science quickly turned its attention to human society and the human mind. Throughout the 1800s, the so-called “social sciences” were invented in their modern forms – economics, sociology, political science, and (most important for us) psychology.

It’s difficult not to be suspicious of the whole discipline of psychology when you’ve studied its history. That history is littered with the corpses of very strange theories, held to with quasi-religious fervour by a few psychologists who assert their authority and expertise over the common run of humanity who might question them. Each generation of new psychological theories wipes away the previous ones, and raises themselves up as modern gods.

This is especially obvious now when we read the theories of homosexuality popular in the mid-1800s and early 1900s. While some researchers (such as Ulrichs, Karl Westphals, and Paul Moreau) felt that homosexuality was inborn, the idea won out that that some or all cases of homosexuality were caused by nurture, not nature.

Historian Byrne Fone notes that “as early as 1852, some medical theorists distinguished between ‘innate’ and ‘acquired’ sexual characteristics.” It followed logically that – if homosexuality was dangerous to society – the “innate” homosexual had to be contained or controlled, to prevent the spread of “acquired” homosexuality.

Gradually, though, psychiatry came to be dominated by the theories of Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. These suggested that domineering mothers and passive or absent fathers were the cause of homosexuality. This theory still survives in pop psychology, and is often touted by the religious right when they wish to give a veneer of science to their arguments.

Psychiatry changed the landscape of homosexual life. Outside of gay history circles, it’s often been assumed these changes were for the better, but a closer look makes this idea suspect.

Arrests and convictions on charges relating to homosexuality greatly increased in this period in the English-speaking world. Parents were likely more willing to turn children over to a psychiatrist for a “cure” than to a tribunal for execution, but many of the methods used throughout Europe and North America for “treating” homosexuality – such as electroshock or castration – essentially constituted torture.

The Enlightenment had swept away the idea that a human being was fundamentally flawed, and hopeless without God’s intervention. Psychiatry now added the idea that the homosexual was often or always created, and could be contained or eliminated as part of the perfectibility of the human race that the Enlightenment had offered.

In early Canada, the law had been very rarely used against consensual homosexual couples – and apparently never for execution. However, those laws were changing, too.

Influenced by science, legal attitudes – which had been getting more permissive – began to get worse again. While execution never returned, new laws came into existence to help the police contain the danger homosexuality was seen to represent, and the flames of this terror were fanned by the new science of psychiatry. With the arrival of the modern police force and the penitentiary system in the 1830s, there was every sign that things were going to get a lot worse before they got better.

We’ll turn toward law enforcement and the police in our next instalment.


Sources: Many, although a good place to start would by Byrne Fone’s Homophobia: A History and John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. There is also Louis Crompton’s Homosexuality and Civilization. Foucault’s theories are laid out in his multivolume Histoire de la Sexualité, although my description of how those theories are used in universities is largely from personal experience. An excellent critique of this perspective can be found in the work of historian Rictor Norton, who blogs here.

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Health Canada has decided to exclude gay men from donating organs. Here’s a the story.

It’s my understanding that we cannot even give an organ to a friend or relative under Health Canada’s recommendation — though some hospitals are saying they’ll ignore the ban. This joins the ban on gay blood and gay sperm. The sperm ban is particularly disturbing now that current medical and psychiatric science considers homosexuality to be at least partially hereditary.

The worst of it is that there’s no shortage of people in our own community willing to defend the policy, on the grounds that gay men are a high-risk group when it comes to AIDS.

But for all that, putting human rights on the altar of pragmatism — an increasingly popular pastime — won’t even make the blood supply safe. It’s risky sexual activity that health institutions should be screening for, including risky heterosexual behaviour. The question that needs to be asked is, “Have you had penile sex without a condom in the last six months?”

That question will never be asked, though. It can’t be asked, because if it were, the blood and organ supply would dry up.

It’s the elephant in the room when it comes to sex, AIDS, blood, and organs. Most gay men I know practice safe sex even in monogamous relationships. No heterosexual woman I’ve ever discussed sex with did the same — the ones I’ve spoken to about this (obviously not a scientific sample) considered “safe sex” to be “with birth control.” One woman I spoke to online said she’d rather die than question her husband’s fidelity.

And right there is part of the reason why heterosexual women are the fastest-growing demographic of persons with AIDS. Moreover, this is the reason why Health Canada cannot refuse heterosexuals indulging in high-risk sexual behaviour from donating organs or blood.

Given the other option of trying to change the sexual behaviour of heterosexuals, Health Canada has chosen for the much easier route of a purely cosmetic change in policy that rehashes the old stereotype that AIDS is a “gay disease” — not something heterosexuals need to concern themselves with. It gives the supply an appearance of safety, with little thought to the social harm caused by indulging a dangerous stereotype.

It’ll probably take another tainted blood scandal — or a tainted organ scandal — for us to realize that it isn’t actually working.

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Alvaro Orozco Needs Help

Although this is mainly a historical website, today I’m hoping to bring the public’s attention to Alvaro Orozco, who had his refugee claim rejected because he couldn’t prove he’s gay.

Orozco figured out his sexuality early, and fled his native Nicaragua — where homosexuality is illegal and anti-gay violence rampant — at the age of 12. He headed for an Francisco. He details his adventures on his website. Suffice to stay, his reception when he got to the United States was not warm — he spent most of his teenage years in government institutions, or under the protection of religious groups (who did not know he’s gay).

Orozco finally reached Canada, hoping for a better reception. Sadly, our one-person refugee board — Deborah Lamont — decided she didn’t believe Orozco was gay based on a videotaped interview. She pointed out that he can’t prove he’s gay. She did not say what she’d consider adequate proof.

Under a law passed several years ago under the Liberals, refugees have the right to an appeal if they are rejected. Problem is, neither the Liberal nor Conservative governments bothered to set up an appeals board, so Lamont’s decree is the law unless the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, Diane Finley, gets involved. She has the authority to grant him a Minister’s Permit — a special exception.

The NDP’s Olivia Chow has gotten involved in the fight to keep Orozco from going back to a country where he risks jail time or worse, as has former Liberal House of Commons leader Bill Graham. Graham has been deeply involved in the fight, and even provided Orozco a place to stay. But only Finley can help Orozco at this point.

Now to my point: We’re trying to set up a letter-writing campaign, urging Immigration Minister Diane Finley to personally intervene to keep Alvaro Antonio Orozco Hurtado (immigration Client I.D. Number: 5489-8782) in the country, and grant him refugee status.

You can write to the minister, postage-free, at:

The Honourable Diane Finley
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Please take the time to write the letter. If Finley believes this is an important issue for people, she may be willing to grant that Permit, especially if she expects it to influence the vote next election.

Thank you.

UPDATE: Alvaro Orozco went into hiding when his claim was rejected. Since then, Lamont has rejected a gay Malaysian man who suffered violence at the hands of police, and a gay El Salvadoran who suffered harassment and sexual abuse at the hands of police in his own country. Gareth Henry — the Jamaican gay activist — is still before the board, but given the IRB’s atrocious record on GLBT refugees, it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll be accepted.

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