THE ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS CODE
1) A Letter From 1977
In 1977 the Ontario Human Rights Commission proposed adding sexual orientation to the provincial human rights code. Much of the organized opposition to this tried to rile public opinion with the boogeyman of openly gay teachers in the educational system. Proposals were made to qualify the inclusion of sexual orientation, limiting its reach, imposing for instance, a don't-ask-don't-tell policy on gay teachers. Hence the following letter of mine to the Globe & Mail in 1977. I later learned the letter had been recommended for publication but was killed up the line.August 1, 1977
The Ontario Human Rights Code And Gay Teachers
Surely underlying any Human Rights Act worth its name is a recognition that there exists a body of rights which belong to the individual whether or not those rights are in conflict with society and the law. Such an act is not simply a piece of legislation granting particular rights to particular people. Rather it is a re-affirmation of the rights of all individuals, whether those individuals are directly referred to in the act or not. Suddenly with the proposal to include a reference to homosexuals in the Ontario act, there is talk of "qualified", "conditional", "limited" equality which is of course mere sophistry and no equality at all. There is a direct contradiction involved in the unhappy spectacle of editorialists and others suggesting a Human Rights Act in fact be used to limit human rights. Once again there is that familiar ease with which in Canada the principle of equality is abandoned precisely where it is most needed, in the case of embattled minorities.
Gay teachers are a main point of anti-gay focus and their situation is useful as an illustration of that of other gay people. There have always been competent gay people in the teaching profession as much as in any other profession. In the past more vicious opponents of this fact have talked of child molestation but this having been widely exposed for the bunk it is, a new position is taken up. No matter how fine a person they may be, homosexuals and lesbians it is now stated, are somehow unsuitable role models. Children are not to be exposed to people who admit to being gay. A gay teacher, to survive, is expected to omit all reference to his or her private life, be hypocritical in answering questions, to avoid rumor be careful not to be seen associating with known or identifiably gay people, be sure not to be seen going into any gay establishment or attending gay events, be careful of what book they may be seen carrying, be extremely guarded in reacting to all criticism of gay people, and on and on. Somehow to be homosexual is interpreted as a put-down of heterosexuality. Such sensitivity on the part of a majority is unflattering to its view of itself and suggests a failure to deal with and understand its own sexuality.
This of course is only a very small part of an enormous list of unwritten rules by which the lives of most gay people are circumscribed, part of the contract by which the dogs are kept at bay. There is enough evidence to testify to the little faith with which even such an insidious bargain is kept by society. To have all this reduced, academicized to talk of role models is beyond farce.
For the heterosexual child, role models abound everywhere, the message of heterosexuality is constant, strong, and omni-present to the point of oppression. A heterosexual child will not become homosexual because a teacher is, any more than a homosexual child will become heterosexual in the reverse situation. Homosexual role models, in contrast to heterosexual ones, have never been allowed to exist in the school system or anywhere else. If they were a factor in homosexuality there wouldn't be a single homosexual in Canada.
Those who in the name of role models say that open and positive gay adults should not be allowed around children, in actuality are saying they do not want children exposed to the fact that there are decent human beings who are homosexual. To put it more bluntly, they are urging, in the name of role models, the perpetuation of the myth of the homosexual as a sick unfulfilled person and want the evidence to the contrary obstructed and withheld. Future heterosexual generations have the right to be given that evidence.
It is the equal right of homosexuals to be brought up in an atmosphere which does not constantly attempt to deny the validity of their very existence.
Although not always possessing the words for it, as a child I knew in which direction my inclinations lay. One of the enduring, unnecessary, and unforgivable experiences of that childhood was the sexual custodianship which denied me all access to other gay people and, except for the notion it was "sick", all information to do with being gay. Any child, now as then, has the right to talk to other gay people, to find out what being gay is about, to be equipped to survive the harshness of the ways in which a heterosexual society attempts to demoralize its gay segment.
Those who in the past acted to "protect" us as children gave those who were heterosexual only a perpetuation of prejudice, and those of us who were growing up gay, long years of isolation, fed only ugly myths about "queers" and "faggots". For myself the experience was unrelentingly destructive of self-esteem, an acrid and total gutting of the soul.
Full civil rights will have little meaning if other homosexuals have still to go through that kind of experience in the future. Those who think the gay movement is just a debate over this or that civil right badly misjudge the depth of feeling and experience from which it springs. Indeed until they begin to understand from where we are speaking, I doubt if they can truly understand what is being said.
2) The View From The Gallery As Legislation Is Finally Passed In 1986
Along with many others, in fact a packed and almost all GLBT gallery, I sat and watched the entire debate at Queen's Park. The particularly odious Margaret Marland particularly incensed me. Apart from that though it was more a matter of playing out fifteen years of memories and wondering what it all added up to. Tom Warner, Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario (CLGRO) stalwart, remains one of the few people in the political end of things whose sentiments I trust.
The following was put together from my notes at the time.
Went to Queen's Park to watch the sexual orientation debate. Ian Scott introduced the amendment. He spoke with more coherence than most who followed but the substance could have been better. (Scott of course, was gay, the Attorney General, and with influence in the Liberal cabinet second only to the Premier's.) Evelyn Gigantes (NDP) did fairly well, it being her amendment. They were followed by Liberals & Conservatives against, all busily quoting from their fundamentalist constituents, letter after letter. The last Liberal, from Essex, was at times incoherent, at times contradictory, impossible to take seriously and yet with a vote. Anyways it goes on tomorrow. David Peterson (Liberal Premier) told ..., who is gay, that it will pass. If it does it looks to be close.
Went to the Legislature around 5pm. Listened to a couple of PC's spouting the usual. Then Robert Nixon (former Liberal leader) gave a good speech. I had been wanting to hear this. Yesterday when the first Liberal delivered his diatribe against the amendment Nixon very noisily ripped a large brown envelope, in a gesture of disgust.
I wondered, listening to all these people saying they were opposed to giving "special rights" to homosexuals, why nobody stood up & asked what special rights. The amendment reads "sexual orientation" not "homosexual orientation" Any heterosexual who feels discriminated against is being given exactly the same right to appeal to the OHRC.
After some hassle with the security guards because I'd taken my sweater off in the gallery & would therefore have to go & put it outside with my coat I settled in to listen to a smarmy PC matron mouthing off. Margaret something-or-other from Mississauga something-or-other.
First she went on about a former federal justice minister indicating sexual orientation might be covered under "sex" in the federal charter. Therefore this additional legislation was unnecessary. No matter this was the exact opposite of what the other PC's had been saying i.e. that since the federal charter framers had supposedly specifically rejected covering sex. orient. therefore it was unfit to be covered by Ontario.
Then she read out a couple of dictionary definitions of "race" and concluded we were a race & therefore we were already covered under that section.
Then she dipped into the CLGRO (Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario) brief & said she was appalled by all the physical violence against gays listed therein. From here she ever so sweetly sailed right into Emmanuelle Jacques (a young boy raped and murdered in the late 70's) describing his murder in graphic detail & holding us responsible for it.
Then she went on as to how you couldn't tell a gay person unless we made an issue of it. Therefore we deserved anything we got because we must have allowed ourselves to be revealed in some way.
Alan Pope got up and went on & on. A big blowup near six o'clock when it became apparent he was going to talk the clock out. The PC's, it seems, had told the NDP the vote would happen if the NDP shut up & let the PC's have their say. So the NDP stayed out of the debate today, but the PC's just forced it into another day.
(2011 Note -- Move forward to June 28, 2005 and we're in the House of Commons in the middle of the debate on same-sex marriage. Even the Conservatives see an attempt to directly drag child predation into the discussion as politically doubtful. Instead, for the second day in a row, and in a twist on the Marland tactic, they make the link by repeatedly trying to interrupt the marriage debate with a private member's bill to raise the sexual age of consent.)
At the legislature this afternoon.
Shymko giving a bombastic passionate speech. All of it simply to announce his abstention. Better than voting against anyways but he actually favors the legislation. The Catholic bishops got to him. (The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops had united with leaders of other denominations to oppose the legislation. They had lobbied each of the MP's with unprecedented and continuing fierceness, threatening organized mayhem come the next election.)
He announced Terry O'Connor who was on the legislative committee & voted in favor there, is abstaining too.........
Susan Fish, sounding like a high school debater, gave a long speech that actually ended up fairly well. She really gave it to the bishops. More, more!......
Bob McKenzie of the NDP gave a very straightforward extremely effective speech . . .
Everything is building to a climax, certainly different than if it had passed in one day.
To the legislature a little after 3pm. Phil Gillies (also gay) the PC who has sat through all the debate clapping very demonstratively for the pro side gave his speech. Apparently he spoke at the St. Lawrence Mkt. rally too
There were several cameras set up when I arrived but they began to take them down again. I took that as a signal there wasn't going to be a vote. But then, finally, first Rae (NDP leader]), then Grossman (PC leader) & then Peterson (Premier) got up and closed off the debate.
Rae gave a very good speech, the first one to get a handle on the private morality, public policy issue. Grossman had to weave all over the place to protect his position, being a leader voting aqainst his own party. He was good though, congratulating the people in the galleries (now full) for taking some very objectionable speeches very calmly. He deplored the pressure tactics used by the Coalition For Family Values et al.
Peterson was in his best Bill Davis (former Premier of Ontario notable for inaudible and uninflected speeches designed to lull) speaking form, you had to strain to hear him. He too gave a decent speech, asking the other MPP's to consider what they would have to say to a child of their own who revealed they were gay. Surely not the kinds of things which were said in many of the speeches etc.
That morning I'd put on a fresh white shirt & clean pants to make an occasion of it, thinking today would be the day. And phoned Charlie to pick up a bottle of champagne after work just in case. Then it had seemed that once again there would be no vote -- even the MPP's didn't know. One of the speeches suggested it might be tomorrow.
Then when Rae got up to speak I realized that just maybe this was it. Ever so slowly the floor filling up, and more and more people in the galleries. And then Grossman & knowing this was it. And then Peterson and I was all wound up and telling myself to relax.
And then the call to vote & the milling around for five minutes. I was sitting on the government side of the house. Harvey (Hamburg) and I could see each other across the House and I'd signalled I was coming over to sit with him. But when I got there they wouldn't let me in, said there was no room. Now I was afraid they weren't going to let me back in on the government side.
But then I made it back in.
With the leaders speaking, everybody in the gallery had been leaning forward for the past hour, listening intently. Lots of tension.
Finally, the vote.
I couldn't tell how many Liberals were ayes (this was crucial and I couldn't see many of them from my side of the gallery.) The other gallery wasn't reacting, unsure too whether we had it. Then they announced. 64-45 in favor. Everybody yelled in one great release and we started clapping. We got to our feet and gave ourselves & the House a standing ovation for a couple of minutes. And then it was over.
I was sitting with Tom Warner & I put my hand on his shoulder. The fulfillment of years of work for him.
George (Hislop) was sitting in the other gallery with Brent Hawkes and the media went to him it seems, since that was who was on the news. Peter Maloney, being a card-carrying Liberal, was down in the special guests' gallery where he'd been for the whole debate.
It had been almost funny, sitting in the legislature, listening to MPP's saying not to worry, this wouldn't lead to recognition of gay spouses, challenge of religious organizations hiring practices, etc. And in the galleries ... all of us with that little gleam in our eye.
Harvey & I came home and he, Charlie and I had supper & drank champagne, and that was that, one more item off the list.