Sunday, July 22, 2012

Political PRIDE? Not for Me!

I write this blog with extreme mixed emotions this morning. Having met in person yesterday with Federal NDP MP Dany Morin, and Provincial NDP MHA Gerry Rogers, I am quite pleased and excited that not only do we have gay politicians, but they want to take on trans issues. This is huge progress from where we were even five years ago, when politicians attending pride simply seemed to speak about gay marriage.

At the same time, while I was running St. John's Pride Inc from Sept 2010 - March 2012, I was always very careful to ensure that the organization remained politically neutral. Yes it is great that so many NDPers wanted to speak at the flag-raising, and were granted that opportunity, the fact that NDP t-shirts were apparently being sold at pride this week, well, that's crossing over the line.  At the flag-raising, I heard NDP member Gerry Rogers speak and encourage people to donate money to St. John's Pride Inc., and to Planned Parenthood Newfoundland, but did not hear her encourage donations to either of the trans entities that I am involved with: East Coast Trans Alliance or Newfoundland Patient Association for Transsexual Health. Hmmm.

While I know many folks out there are happy that the NDP was the only political party that showed up, Pride is supposed to be an lgbt event, not a political event.  There are many gay and trans Liberals out there, and even some gay and trans Conservatives too.  I can only imagine how they felt to see this type of fundraising at pride for NDP.

Secondly, I must point out that I have kept a keen watch on NDP members this week.  I am really interested in figuring out whether they really do care about trans people, or if this just a political move? Funny how we kept seeing and hearing cis NDP politicians talk about trans rights, yet no effort was ever made by the NDP to have trans folks speak about these issues, on behalf of the party.

The ultimate test came for me last Monday. I advised Rogers that I was unhappy with the lack of trans speakers at the flag raising and let her know there would be a separate trans flag event. I encouraged her to take part. I was essentially met with a brick wall. Much like Conservative Minister of Justice Felix Collins argued that we don't need trans rights because we are already given protection under 'sex', I was essentially told that a trans event was not needed and should be considered included into the main pride event.

Not only did St. John's Pride Inc fail to recognize or attend my trans flag event, neither did the NDP.

While I had an awesome private meeting yesterday with Federal Quebec NDP MP Dany Morin, to talk about trans issues, and while I genuinely believe Dany is genuine about his wishes to help trans people, sadly, I don't get that sense from many other NDP politicians.

Egale Canada, ironically enough, often talks about the difference between tolerance and full acceptance. In my year and a half as member of both provincial and federal NDP Parties, while I have felt tolerated, I definitely can't say that I have ever felt fully accepted (except for a few rare isolated cases - such as my meeting with Dany; my e-mail exchanges with Niki Ashton - a Federal NDP MP from Manitoba who I think the world of; and Lorraine Michael, who I think genuinely loves and cares for all human beings on this planet).

For years, I resisted joining a political party because I knew the importance of taking steps to demonstrate that I feel that gay and trans rights have to be universal, and not a partisan political issue.  When I chose to join the NDP in April 2011, I felt it was the right time to show my public approval for their efforts to demonstrate commitment to gay and trans rights, at a time when the other parties did not.

One thing that is not high on my priority list is to show loyalty to any political party. My loyalty has to life, first and foremost, to what's best for me as an individual who is struggling to negotiate day to day life in a very tough environment. secondly, my loyalty has to lie with my trans friends, my gay friends, and the various advocacy work I have been involved with. While I previously stated I was going to give up advocacy work, I have realized that what I need to do now, is become a part of forming a somewhat more formalized trans community.

This week, about half a dozen trans people in Newfoundland reached out to me. They told me that they wanted and needed me to be part of such a community.  we formed a bond and partnership. We agree that there needs to be a trans pride that is at an arms-length from any gay-lead initiative. Yes, we need to be a part of the broader LGBT community, but at the same time, we need our own safe space - both publicly and privately.

With this in mind, I am going to make a promise right now that there will be a Trans Pride Newfoundland next year. there will be pride event that are organized exclusively by the trans community.  some will be public events for all, and some will be private safe-space events for trans-only. I can only hope that the gays will respect our needs to do this. we hope to develop a working relationship with them so that they will feel comfortable endorsing and attending events such as a trans flag event that they all wanted no part of this year.

Back to politics, if any of us want full acceptance for trans or gay people, then we need to ensure that our involvement in society is accepted by everyone. This cannot be a partisan political issue, and we can't be used as political pawns.

I am going to work long and hard over the next year to take steps to ensure that all three major political parties gain an understanding of pride, trans pride, gay, and trans issues. I will stop at nothing to make sure leaders from all political parties attend and speak at pride events next year.

Yesterday, I made the bold move of publicly skipping the pride parade in favour of attending 'family day' in Mount Pearl - where the only politicians I saw were those of a conservative nature. Well, I was extremely pleased to see just how welcoming and accepting they were of me and my attendance. the mayor had read my press release and knew I was coming. Conservative MHA Paul Lane was more than happy to shake my hand, accept a big hug, chat for several minutes about gay and trans issues, and take a photograph with me for the media.  I get a sense that this guy really does care about everyone, regardless of where things are politically. Ditto for Conservative Steve Kent, who unfortunately was out of town.

While in office, Liberal Siobhan Coady was always there at Pride. But she also reached out to me privately to talk trans issues on frequent occasion. Now that she is out of politics, I decided to put her to the test to see if she really did care, and you know what I truly believe that she does indeed care!

I hate having to wear a political colour. I want to be able to openly praise any political party and any politician when they do good, and openly criticize any and all whenever they do bad.

If we want gay and trans rights, then we need everyone at the table as human beings, not as politicians. we need to develop genuine rapport with all, and as advocates and activists, we need to do so without political stripes.

While I am not going to make any official decision today or any formal announcement today (as I want to have the chance to privately address my NDP leaders first), I'm sure you can all read in between the lines here and get a sense for where my thoughts are at.

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