In response to the tragic suicide of Jamie Hubley, the 15-year-old gay teen from Ottawa, I advocated that it was time for Canadian politicians to be more vocal in their support for struggling LGBT youth. I suggested a simple step they might take was to join their American political counterparts and make a video for the It Gets Better campaign.
In the three days since the video was uploaded it has been viewed over 12,000 times. It has also been exposed to numerous criticisms. Most of the complaints I've heard and read centre around the individuals in the video and their history of engagement with, or against, Canada's LGBT community.
Numerous MPs in the video voted against same-sex marriage. Rona Ambrose and Vic Toews voted against gay marriage in 2005 and voted again in the 2006 motion in the House of Commons to restore the traditional definition of marriage. Of those in the video, I believe only Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird voted against the motion.
So the challenge then becomes, what to make of a bunch of historically anti-gay MPs all of sudden attempting to reach out to gay teens. Is it hypocritical? Does it redeem them of their past? Has Vic Toews disavowed his comment that gay marriages are "black masses" and has Alice Wong moved away from her beliefs that led to a past association with the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association?
The answer to all of these questions is no, but with a caveat appended on the question about hypocrisy.
I believe the Conservatives were right to make the video. As Dan Savage, creator of It Gets Better, reacted:
"People who are in a position to make it better -- elected officials -- but who have chosen, over the years, to make it worse, can come around. It's essential that they do. People who have advanced the cause of ignorance and bigotry and hate--people, like Vic Toews, people who have empowered the bullies--are welcome to see the error of their ways, to come around, to make amends and make it up."
However, he adds that a video is just the start.
I am not in Minister Toews' constituency. But those who are might not be the type who advocate for his participation in anti-homophobia bullying videos. Therefore, his place in the video is significant. It shows that, unfortunately through such a tragic event, new sets of ears are willing to listen and understand that there are very real issues faced by LGBT Canadians.
This isn't something to be dismissed; it is a national moment that must be capitalized on. Otherwise, Jamie's suicide will have been in vain. It is for this reason that the video is to be commended; it opens the door. And given what's at stake, I believe that heaping criticism and labeling those in it as hypocrites will only seek to undermine the potential for real change and deter the government from meaningful engagement with the LGBT community.
Instead of being outright dismissive, the question becomes, "What will come next?" Will Minister Toews and Rona Ambrose talk to their colleagues about the plight of LBGT youth and the widespread homophobia in high school hallways and online forums? Can the government act quickly on a national anti-bullying and anti-teen suicide strategy with a specific focus on homophobia and LGBT youth? Will Prime Minister Harper, like Britain's Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, make a video and highlight a commitment to these issues from the top?
People's well-placed skepticism on these questions is why the Conservative Party does not have much street cred with Canada's LGBT community.
Interestingly though, Canada has been vocal on the issue at an international level. Stephen Harper has spoken against Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill. So has Minister Baird, whose office told me that the criminalization of homosexuality within the Commonwealth is an issue he plans to raise at this week's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia.
Minister Baird's office also pointed out, "Earlier this year, Canada was pleased to see the UN Human Rights Council adopt the Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. With our early co-sponsorship of this resolution, we demonstrated our support and commitment to this initiative."
My question then becomes, will members of the Conservative Party vote in favour of bills C-276 and C-279 to amend the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in Canada? Will they demonstrate their support and commitment to this initiative domestically? After all, they have told Canadian LGBT teens that it gets better.
The Conservative video is commendable, but only if it signifies a shift in attitude on the part of the party. It cannot be an attempt to repent and score political points amid such a tragedy. Thus, engagement with the LGBT community and its issues will be the true barometer. Until then, the Conservatives will have done nothing but talk about things getting better, denoting this will happen some time in the future. What's really needed is for things to get better today.
Follow Josh D. Scheinert on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joshscheinert