Sunday, April 12, 2015

When Everyone's A Bully, Nobody Is

On the eve of the 2015 celebration of the International Day of Pink, many -- myself included -- were startled to find that Laureen Harper had been named an ambassador of the event. Ms Harper's letter of support appeared on the front page of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), formerly known as Jer's Vision for its founder Jeremy Dias. Sparks flew briefly, and we went on about our business.

CBC reported on both the controversy and the successes of the day: LGBT activists boycott #DayOfPink over Laureen Harper's involvement.

Well, sort of. But not really. There were no disruptions of the event, per se.

Ariel Troster posted an essay on Storify which elucidated the concerns of many: Why I won't be wearing pink tomorrow: How the #DayofPink just sold out trans youth.
While the Harper Conservatives have been trying to paint themselves as gay-friendly, the party is stacked with vicious homophobes who said absolutely atrocious things during the same sex marriage debate. And just last month, Conservative Senator Don Plett was responsible for inserting a poison pill into long-awaited trans human rights legislation. But don't be fooled into believing he did this single-handed. As Justin Ling reported in Vice, this was part of an organized strategy by the Conservative government to ensure that enshrined protections on the basis of gender identity would never make it into Canadian law.

Staff at Crew Magazine voiced a similar sentiment in their April 9th piece: On Day Of Pink, Laureen Harper, and Being An Ally: An admirable initiative makes a misstep, but who's the real bully?:
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s wife, she is PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER’S WIFE. That would be the very same Stephen Harper whose government is using the Senate to stop a trans rights bill and promote transphobic bigotry, the same Stephen Harper who supports and encourages anti-LGBTQ politicians and their policies, and the same Stephen Harper who by any measure of the word is a bully towards our community.
As an Ambassador for CCGSD, Laureen Harper made no mention of either the gala or Day of Pink anywhere on social media. In fact, her email missive pointedly excluded the words “gay”, “lesbian”, “bi”, “trans”, “queer”, and “lgbtq”; it’s hard to see her as any kind of Ambassador when she can’t even say the words, let alone make a meaningful action. CCGSD’s selection of her is baffling (a misguided attempt at reaching people who wouldn’t ordinarily pay attention this cause?) at best and cynical (an equally misguided move to grab media and hobnob with a big name?) at worst…although we wonder if the overly harsh activist response is entirely called for.
I'll go a step further. Ms Harper's message left out some other words, too: "violence," "poverty," "suicide," "unemployment," "oppression," "transphobia," "homophobia," "misogyny," "transmisogyny" and "justice." Stripping the message of these powerful words runs the risk of making Day of Pink like so many generic and unambitious anti-bullying programs that say, Gee kids, why can't we all just get along.

Let's look at the inevitable responses of Harper apologists:

Brian Lilley took some swipes at Ariel Troster and other critics -- "Pink Shirt" LGBT activists show true colours over Laureen Harper. Not surprisingly, Mr Lilley labelled Ms Harper's LGBT and allied critics as bullies.

Next into the fray was Mark Steyn with Let's Bully the Anti-Bullying Ambassador! Steyn, you will recall, wrote a piece for NatPo in 2012 called, Pink is now the colour of conformity. That article has become anthemic for Day of Pink naysayers, and they trot it out every April, the same way my parents used to watch The Bells of St Mary's on Christmas Day. Here's Mr Steyn's latest on DoP (emphasis mine):
But next thing you know big chunks of the LGBTQWERTY machine announced they would have no truck with the Day of Pink on the grounds that Mrs Harper is married to a big transphobic bully...
I don't think she has any "business showing support for gay and trans youth", either, mainly because, as I said the other day and in my book, I think the "Day of Pink" is a lot of tedious poseur bollocks. I may also add that an institution called "the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity" is not just self-evidently risible but something a conservative such as Mrs Harper ought to be wary of: We live in an age where "gender and sexual diversity" is unbounded but the only diversity that really matters - intellectual diversity, diversity of thought - is on the ropes. Nor do I like the idea that the participation of the Prime Ministerial consort adds the imprimatur of officialdom to an event that is already unpleasantly coercive. Next year the Governor General?
I'll digress, ever so briefly, on the matter of intellectual diversity to point out that one of Mr Steyn's roles in life is to sit in for Rush Limbaugh on his radio program.

Now if you look at the CBC report way up top, as well as the pieces by Mr Lilley and Mr Steyn, and read the tweets against Ms Harper's participation in Day of Pink -- they don't come close to any reasonable definition of bullying. And if there was something really nasty out there, it would have been published by now for all to see. The commentary against Ms Harper had more to do with her husband's abysmal track record on gender and sexual diversity.

As for the allegations of bullying Ms Harper, that were tossed at Ariel Troster and others, let's look at what bullying is:

From Samantha Cleaver's blog post on bullying as it pertains to kids and adults:
The team at Clear Springs Elementary in Minnetonka, Minnesota, defines bullying as “when a person repeatedly and purposefully does mean and hurtful things to a person who has a hard time defending him- or herself.”

That definition is a kid-friendly version of the official definition used by psychologists: bullying is “verbal or physical aggression that occurs repeatedly and involves some kind of power difference” between the aggressor and the victim.

It's a pattern of behaviour over time, in which the perpetrator has power over the target, who is ill-equipped to defend herself or himself.

Both Ms Harper and Mr Dias were subject to a bit of a pile-on, which I wasn't crazy about. Neither of them, however, have come forward to say they were bullied. If anybody understands bullying -- what it is and what it is not -- it's Jer Dias. Ariel Troster also took some hits for her point of view, which she defended in a follow-up piece, that was picked up by The Rabble. Ms Troster said she was boycotting the event -- a voluntary act on her part. Nowhere did she denigrate or intimidate those who planned to participate. She is not a bully in this affair.

Speaking at a workshop the following Saturday, organized by the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, I'm told that Mr Dias reiterated his commitment to pressing for support wherever he can.

Day of Pink, ultimately, is voluntary. Some parents adamantly will not send their kids to school in pink, or choose to keep them at home. People can decide, for whatever reason, to participate in the day or not

And if Mark Steyn's and Brian Lilley's reactions are any indication, Ms Harper's participation in the Day of Pink rattled some cages among the Tory faithful.

That's not a bad thing at all.

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