Monday, 18 March 2013

We hear your dog whistles

Last week went by very quickly.

Provincial antibullying Bill 18 dominated the news cycle last week. Amid the controversy, Kelvin Goertzen quit Twitter and The Winnipeg RAG Review made the evening news.

While it initially seemed (to me, at least) like I was the sole "backlash" Tweeter, it's become apparent that others were part of the pushback. A notable Twitter critic of the Steinbach MLA is fellow Conservative Ally Beauchesne!

Brian Pallister will have a tough time selling
"religious freedom" objections to safe & inclusive schools
in suburban Winnipeg.

Image Source: Alyssa McDonald/Metro Winnipeg
Looks like the Pallister CONs are in for a rude awakening, as not all provincial Conservatives - especially the young, urban ones - are members of the religious right.

All in all the provincial Conservatives are walking on a very fine line. Jean-Guy Bourgeois accurately describes the Pallister CON approach to Bill 18 as "dog whistle politics". The unsettling reality is that many powerful figures in communities represented by the party's rural rump think religious privilege trumps human rights. Gay students shouldn't get much needed support, in their minds, because "homosexuality is an abomination" or a "lifestyle choice" they disagree with. But the Pallister CONs can't own up to this - many socially moderate, suburban voters that the party needs to form government rightly find such attitudes repulsive.

So, instead, the CON framing is that targeted measures for students facing specific, unique, and real threats are a distraction from what "really matters". In Brian Pallister's own words:

"We're concerned that the bill work for all children, not specifically concerned with a sub-set of the students of our province, but rather that it work to protect all children against bullying." [-Brian Pallister]

("Manitoba Tories won't say whether they support gay student group clause in bill".
The Canadian Press. Lambert, Steve (March 4, 2013))
Certain religious schools, which receive PUBLIC
, have a problem with accommodating
safe spaces for gay students.

The Principal of Steinbach Secondary School
prevented a student from setting up posters for a
gay-straight alliance, while letting other
student groups set up posters.

Image Source: 
Colby Melvin
Kelvin Goertzen's Twitter activity likely got in the way of that framing. For one, he clearly associated his opposition to Bill 18 with the (grossly misnamed) "Protect Our Schools" (henceforth POS) group and "religious freedom" concerns. POS makes it abundantly clear that they oppose Bill 18 because it provides safe and supportive spaces for gay students - contradicting the religiously-rationalized antigay prejudices of some faith-based independent (yet 50% publicly-financed) schools.

Bill 18 requires schools to accommodate and promote student groups that have values and beliefs in direct contradiction to many faith based independent schools and in contradiction to the communities many public schools are located.

I don't know where the "promote" comes from. All that the bill does is prevent the obstruction of gay-straight alliances. Obstructions like the case of the Steinbach teen who was barred from setting up posters for his school's gay-straight alliance by the Principal.

Yes. This really is what Gay-Straight Alliances are about. Protecting real, flesh-and-blood students from crap like this. Homophobic bullying happens in Steinbach and in religious schools, its ugly, and it terrorizes LGTBQ students. These students deserve the protection of their human rights, regardless of whether or not school administrators use religious excuses to turn a blind eye to suffering.

The flair up of fundamentalist pastor Ray Duerksen's staunch, apocalyptic opposition to Bill 18 was another media nightmare for the Pallister CONs. This Winnipeg Free Press coverage that shed a little too much light on what the real issue Conservatives have with the bill.

The Winnipeg Free Press also noted:

Fundamentalist Steinbach Pastor
Ray Duerksen sees Bill 18 as a part of
an ongoing cultural struggle that places
Christianity in "mortal" danger.
Women's reproductive rights and
same-sex marriage considered "loses"
by Duerksen in this struggle.

Image Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Several area municipal councillors are reportedly members of the Southland congregation. In his official online biography, Tory education critic MLA Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach) says his family has belonged to Southland for 15 years.
Goertzen's Twitter exchanges (particularly with me) associated him with the over the top, "threat to religious freedom" rhetoric of fundamentalists like Duerksen. The Pallister CONs need a more reasonable public image if they're to win the next provincial election. This is my hypothesis as to why Goertzen suspended his Twitter account: party officials gave him the Pat Martin treatment.

Which is why I must disagree with politics professor Royce Koop. Goertzen wasn't hindered by Twitter's hard word cap - if anything, 140 provided too much rope for him. In my conversations on Twitter with the Tory education critic, I noted profoundly evasive behaviours and a lack of straight answers coupled with heavy overtones of a "religious persecution" complex. These obstacles to serious discussion wouldn't disappear if Kelvin Goertzen had 10,000 characters to play with - if anything, all it'd do is let him play better obscurantist games.

The fundamental "strategic mistake" of Goertzen was conversing with people who could type back. When he did that, the inconsistencies in the CON's framing became all too apparent.

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