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The Olympic Hypocrisy: Or, why I don’t care about your goddamn rainbow flags

The Sochi Olympics are a gift to the Western world.

Not only have they given journalists and athletes the opportunity to bond over how traumatic it can be when a hotel is comically below standard, it’s also given us the opportunity to crow over how backwards Russia is. I mean, Putin! And gay people can’t marry! In Soviet Russia, the jokes make themselves!

Many countries have taken advantage of the opportunity to show how progressive and modern they are by donning rainbow attire. In Canada, rainbow flags have gone up in institutions across the country, including Fredericton’s own City Hall as well as here at UNB.

It’s a waving, brightly-coloured symbol of love, hope, and nauseating hypocrisy.

See, the thing is, everyone’s digging the bash on Russia right now. They ban gay marriage, promote violence against LGBTQ-identified people, have laws against gay “propaganda” and notoriously punish citizens who oppose them.

And people are very right to criticize these laws and the people upholding them. But in the rush to make snide, 140-character comments about Sochi’s dirty laundry – and by “dirty laundry” I mean “blatant human rights violations” – we’re failing to look closely at our own.

Yeah, sure, gay people can get married in Canada. But LGBTQ people, and particularly LGBTQ youth, are vastly overrepresented in the homeless population, disproportionately victims of violence and abuse, and at an increased risk for mental health issues.

Transgender people – that’s the “T” in LGBTQ, along with two-spirited – are particularly excluded from the conversation surrounding LGBTQ rights. This isn’t just a matter of bathroom signs and hurt feelings. 238 transgender people, the vast majority being trans women of colour, were murdered last year solely for being trans. Trans people are vastly more likely to live in poverty or be homeless, and nearly half of all trans people attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

This does not sound like the utopian image of an LGBTQ-positive Canada that the rainbow flags suggest.

Just last week, Avery Edison, a woman who happens to be transgender, was denied entry at the Toronto airport for reasons that were not gender-related. However, because the was trans, she was misgendered and sent to a men’s detention solely because Canadian border officials, and the government they represent, are ignorant enough to believe that a person’s genitalia is relevant to the conversation. It should also be noted that Edison’s legal identification, including her passport, say she is female.

Edison was later transferred to a women’s prison, and then allowed to return to the United Kingdom. Although Edison’s particular story has a ‘happy’ ending, she herself points out she had advantages – that being white, speaking English, and having almost twenty thousand Twitter followers – that many women in similar situations might not have.

Edison’s treatment is indicative of the Canadian government’s stance on transgender equality. For a country that seems to pride itself on its moral superiority to LGBTQ-hating Russia, Canada sure seems to have no problem with transphobia.

Bill C-279, introduced by NDP MP Randall Garrison in 2011, sought to entrench “gender expression and gender identity” into the Canadian Human Rights Act, to be included alongside protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, and religion, among others. If Canada were truly the open-minded LGBTQ haven it claims to be, the bill would have been seen for what it was – a protection against discrimination for transgender Canadians – and passed without much concern. However, that was not the case.

The infamously dubbed “bathroom bill” soon gained national attention as Conservative MP Rob Anders insisted that the ruling would allow sexual predators to access women’s washrooms under the guise of being transgender. Anders is not alone. There are many large groups, such as the “Real Women of Canada” and “Canada Family Action,” who threaten the realization of the bill.

The bill is currently in the second reading in the Senate, while many transgender Canadians continue to face daily discrimination in their professional, social, and personal lives.

The thing is, problems like these are swept under the rug when the conversation is set on mocking Russia and glorifying the free, progressive, magical nation of Canada. The self-congratulatory patriotic rhetoric encompasses the conversations and leaves no room for anything that might actually improve the lives of LGBTQ individuals, either here or in Sochi.

Flying a rainbow flag over city hall doesn’t hurt, I guess.

But it sure doesn’t do shit to help.

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  1. TTUNB Reply

    While I agree that Canada should be doing more for trans rights, part of this article is very misleading.

    “238 transgender people, the vast majority being trans women of colour, were murdered last year solely for being trans. Trans people are vastly more likely to live in poverty or be homeless, and nearly half of all trans people attempt suicide at some point in their lives. This does not sound like the utopian image of an LGBTQ-positive Canada that the rainbow flags suggest.”

    238 trans people were murdered worldwide, not in Canada.  I haven’t found the number for Canada, but bringing up a statistic that describes the entire world (including countries where it’s socially acceptable to murder LGBTQ people) to describe this country does nothing but hurt your credibility for everything else you say.  Are the other statistics relevant to Canada or are they worldwide as well?  I haven’t checked yet, but now I’m quite wary of everything you claim.  Keep that in mind in the future.

  2. BG Briden Reply

    TTUNB  Sure, clarity in writing is something for which we should all strive.  Yet, it barely makes a difference if these statistics are national or worldwide.  The reality is the discrimination and violence faced by transgender people in the West.  Attacking the clarity of Thomas’ writing doesn’t diminish her point,  which is the condemnation of Western hypocrisy (namely, Canada’s) on the topic of homophobia and discrimination against the transgendered.  Thomas’ point stands even if you unreasonably choose to wary of her claims.

  3. JamesRisdon Reply

    When a person suffers an indignity, it is not necessarily
    because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 
    Is there discrimination in Canada against gays and lesbians,
    transgendered and bisexual people? Sure, of course. That’s obvious.
    But let’s not jump the gun and assume everything these people
    suffer is due to prejudice. There may well be underlying issues which make a
    person more likely to want to become transgendered which also affect that
    person’s ability to function in society. A correlation does not
    necessarily imply causation. And so, while transgendered people may have a
    higher suicide rate than the general population, this may not necessarily be a
    sign of undue discrimination against them.
    Let me make an analogy. In our society, men are commonly
    considered to be favoured. Discrimination based on gender is commonly
    considered to work against women and in men’s favour. And yet men are roughly
    four times more likely to commit suicide at any age than women. Are we to
    consider that this is a sign that our ideas about sexism against women are
    wrong and that men are the real victims? Or might we consider that there is
    something inherent in masculinity which leads to a vulnerability to suicide? I
    don’t know the answer to that and I respectfully suggest no-one else does
    either. But it would certainly cause quite a social upheaval if we were to
    suddenly put an end to all programs designed to help women and girls in school,
    in the workplace and in society in general and instead turn those programs
    around and start doing that for men and boys instead of women and girls.
    It may well be that transgenderism is an inherently difficult
    process for anyone to undergo and that it is primarily this difficulty which
    leads to a much higher rate of suicide. If that is the case, then attempting to
    reduce the suicide rate by other means might well be a waste of time and
    unfortunately not provide transgendered people with the help they really need.
    It could also cost lives.
    Fortunately, there is a solution. And that solution is to
    research transgenderism free of emotion and bias one way or the other to get at
    the facts. It is only by truly understanding something that we can begin to
    devise policies and laws and methods of dealing with underlying challenges. I
    would also submit that it is only by truly understanding something that we can
    also begin to love and accept it for what it is rather than for what we are
    blindly assuming it to be.
    The University of New Brunswick is filled with bright people. It
    is my hope that people there will look at transgenderism in an objective and
    scientific way so that we may all gain more knowledge and understanding about
    this situation.
    James Risdon

  4. JamesRisdon Reply

    BG Briden TTUNB While there is undoubtedly some discrimination in Canada against gays and lesbians, transgendered and bisexual people, it is a huge stretch to pretend this is a national hypocrisy and condemnation. In Canada, there are laws specifically designed to protect these people. Police departments and the courts have as part of their mandate to protect them. The attitudes of some people cannot be held up as being representative of the country, especially when the laws state otherwise.

  5. BG Briden Reply

    JamesRisdon BG Briden TTUNB  Yes, indeed the courts and all public institutions are constitutionally obliged to protect them , just as they’re designed to protect us all.  Yet, the reality is that these minorities are still subject to gross injustices and discrimination, regardless of the our Charter.  An analogy can be drawn in the United States; although blacks are legally equal citizens of the United States, they have for decades continued to be the subject of discrimination, racism, and non-institutionalized segregation.  Yes, they’re “free,” but only legally speaking. 
    In a similar way, the LGBTQ population, although legally equal and protected,  faces discrimination and unequal opportunity in day to day life. While we praise ourselves for extending civil rights such as marriage to LGBTQ (which is almost the bare minimum, really) and condemn Russia’s backwardness, we fail to look critically at our own treatment of them and, more importantly, fail to notice how awful that treatment really is.  That, by no stretch of the imagination, is a hypocrisy.

  6. JamesRisdon Reply

    BG Briden JamesRisdon TTUNB  If we are to use the analogy of black people in the United States, then I would like to point out that the president of the United States is a black man, that Oprah Winfrey was one of the highest-paid people on TV, and that black Americans have come a long, long way from the days to which you seem to be alluding. 

    Are there still poor black Americans? Yes, of course. There are also poor white Americans. Is there still discrimination against black Americans? Yes, of course. There is also discrimination against white Americans. Although I am technically Metis, I appear to be white and I myself have personally experienced racism from people of other races. I know I am not alone. The fact is that many people hold racist views of other people and this will likely never completely disappear. 

    That isn’t the issue. The issue is whether, as a group, gays and lesbians, transgendered and bisexual people are discriminated against by Canada as a nation. And the answer to that is very clearly that they are most definitely not discriminated against in Canada. They are protected against discrimination not only with the same laws that apply to us all but with additional provisions against hate crimes and special protections. Canada as a nation has been very accomodating of gays and lesbians, transgendered and bisexual people. 

    This openness by Canada is reflected in the high standard of living, excellent medical care and inclusion in media portrayals of gays and lesbians, transgendered and bisexual people. 

    I do understand that as long as a single person is victimized by someone else for their gender preference or identification, there will be someone else just aching to use that incident to further an agenda. But, if we put aside the rhetoric of groups lobbying and jockeying for power and influence, it is clear that the situation for gays and lesbians, transgendered and bisexual people is qualitatively very, very different in Canada than in Russia. 

    There is no hypocrisy on the part of Canadians expressing their views on the situation for gays and lesbians, transgendered and bisexual people in Russia. Canadians who note there is a world of difference between the two countries are simply noting an objective fact. 

    It is laughable to think that anyone would think otherwise.

  7. BG Briden Reply

    JamesRisdon BG Briden TTUNB  Honestly, Mr. Risdon, I’m surprised at your naïveté regarding race and America.  Here are statistics on only the topic of race and the American penal system:  blacks are incarcerated in the United States at almost six times the rate of whites (blacks make up only 30% of the US population, whereas whites comprise 72.5%); blacks and hispanics constitute 58% of all prisoners in the United States; the “Get tough on Crime” and “war on drugs” policies have primarily targeted black/hispanic communities; and finally, one in six black men have been incarcerated as of 2001.  Do you still doubt a system biased against blacks?  Those figures suggest quite the disparity to me.

    How about these figures pertaining to racially-based crime: in 2012, there were 1,805 instances of hate crimes against blacks (keep in mind that blacks only make up 30% of the population) compared to 657 against whites (whites comprise 72.5% of the population); the total number of black victims of hate crimes in 2012 was 2,295, out of a victim total of 3,467 (that stat has blacks comprising 66.2% of all hate crime victims).  Sure, the president IS black (albeit from a middle class family), and yes, Oprah may be one of the highest paid TV personalities.  But those two facts are anomalous.  They are weighted against a disturbing and sobering truth: blacks are the victims of gross discrimination, racism, and pure unadulterated hatred en masse.  Clearly their position has barely improved since the end of Reconstruction.  Perhaps you should look into the subject race in America before you make unsupportable assertions about it. 
    Now, to return to the object of discussion.  Your claim that Canada does not discriminate against the LGBTQ population is utterly wrong.  Did you read Thomas’ article?  She cites two instances of Canada discriminating against LGBTQ people, including one from last week!  How, then, can you possibly argue that Canada the nation does not discriminate against the LGBTQ?  Your assertion sits angular to the basic facts.  Simply because they’re protected in the Charter does not in any way mean they immune to discrimination by the state.  It’s happening, and you choose to ignore it!  If being accommodating means having them equal in theory but not in practice, then I would absolutely hate to see what being intolerant looks like. 

    Your claim about the high standard of living for LGBTQ is also false.  Again, did you read Thomas’ article?  Moreover, the media portrays LGBTQ favourably only when it’s convenient; failing that, they are ignored or excluded.  

    It IS hypocritical to condemn another country for the very thing that happens to a slightly lesser degree in one’s own country.   It is right to condemn Russia, but that condemnation must be a general condemnation of all homophobia and transphobia, including that which appears in one’s own society.  Anything less than that is blatantly hypocritical and ignorant.

  8. JamesRisdon Reply

    BG Briden JamesRisdon TTUNB  Yes, I did read the article. 

    Regarding the two incidents of so-called discrimination, one is a case where people faced with a transgendered person who,  I take it from the article, was pre-op and still had male gentalia, and was therefore sent to the men’s detention centre. That’s hardly surprising. People are taught from the time they are very young that if a person has an innie, she’s a girl and if that person has an outie, he’s a boy. Given that, it is not at all surprising that these officials made that call. Was it the right call given today’s laws? Probably not. Was it discrimination? No. I can’t see that it’s discrimination at all if it was an  honest mistake. That might not suit the pro-LGBT rights lobbyists but ignorance and honest mistakes are not willful discrimination. 

    With regards to the “bathroom bill”, which I take it is the other example of alleged discrimination, the claim of discrimination again fails. It is not discrimination to sideline a piece of legislation because of problems with it. A key problem with legislating transgenderism is its nebulous nature. For a law to be useful, it needs clear definitions. And currently, the definition of a transgendered individual includes anyone who identifies themselves as being of the other gender than the one to which they were apparently born. Legislators have quite rightly pointed out that this would allow people who are not truly transgendered people to exploit such a loose definition by claiming to be transgendered and then pose a series of problems in our society. Unless we accept that it is okay for men to be enterring women’s washrooms to prey upon them, these legislators were quite responsible in voicing their concern. I do agree their concern is discriminatory. But it is not discrimination against transgendered people. It is not these people the legislators were fearing. The concern was potential male rapists. So, the discrimination legislators were displaying was against men who rape women. I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not that is an acceptable prejudice. Personally, I’m on their side on this one. I too think it is wrong for men to weasel their way into women’s washrooms to force them to have sex.

    With regards to race in America, you may very well regard me as naive but this is an issue I have actually examined. And I am aware of many of the types of statistics you cite. A very damning one is that black men are incarcerated at almost six times the rate as whites in America. You suggest this is proof of racism against black Americans. Perhaps it is. Or perhaps there is another factor at play. Let me cite you another statistic. In America, more than 93 per cent of inmates are men, even though men comprise only about half the population of the United States. Women comprise less than seven per cent of the inmate population. Based on your logic, the fact that men are incarcerated at more than 13 times the frequency of women would surely indicate an extraordinary amount of discrimination against men. And yet I do not hear this claim made that men are the victims of wholescale discrimination. On the contrary, the conventional wisdom is that men in favoured in our society and that it is women who suffer discrimination. So, let me ask you: Is the incidence of incarceration necessarily proof of discrimination against a demographic group? If it is, then I suppose it must be true that men are victims of discrimination in our society. If it is not, then it may well be that the incarceration of black Americans in no way indicates they are the victims of discrimination.

    That aside, I have already admitted there is some discrimination in North American society. I have been a victim of that discrimination myself. And, as a person who appears to be white, I can tell you that hateful, racist acts against a white person are very hard to get prosecuted because the legal system and society as a whole does not take hate crimes against white people seriously. I am therefore not at all surprised that hate crimes against white Americans show a much lower incidence than hate crimes against black Americans. That is how we are conditionned to think. However, that does not make it true.

    When it comes to crime perpetuated by black Americans in particular, it may be worth noting that a family whose ancestors were slaves or poor sharecroppers is less likely to have great wealth as an inheritance to the children. In a country where university education is very expensive, poor people have a great deal of difficulty getting through university. And so, because of the racist past practices, many black Americans are now poor and socially disadvantaged. That, however, is not a reflection of current discrimination based on race. It is discrimination based on wealth and poverty. 

    Personally, I think that type of discrimination which prevents the poor from being able to get a university education is completely appalling. That is why I have, for example, called for completely free university access for all New Brunswick residents. (See my editorial at: http://www.nbdailystar.com/2014/02/19/free-university-education-needed-in-nb/)

  9. JamesRisdon Reply

    BG Briden JamesRisdon TTUNB  Here is the last bit of my reply which was deemed too long to include as one comment.

    Yes, there is discrimination by individuals in our society against all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. Gays and lesbians, transgendered and bisexual people probably get at least their share of that. It’s unfortunate but, well, there it is. We don’t live in a utopia; we live in the real world where some people will discriminate against others for having red hair, black skin, being too tall or too short, having the wrong sneakers or just about anything else.

    The fact remains that Canada as a country is not homophobic or transphobic, that Canadian laws are very good in this regard, and that Canadian businesses and institutions are among the most accepting and welcoming of gays and lesbians and transgendered and bisexual people. There will always be room for improvement and particularly in areas where medical science is quickly developing such as in gender re-assignment. That’s to be expected. Laws are always changing and efforts made to adapt them to the times. 

    But to pretend that Canada and Canadians are hypocritical when they look at Russia and note the vast differences in the treatment of gays and lesbians, transgendered and bisexual people in those two countries is simply disingenuous. The differences between how Canada and Canadians treat gays and lesbians and transgendered and bisexual people and how they are treated in Russia is huge and obvious to anyone who knows anything about the subject.

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