Gay-rights groups aren’t among the 168 community organizations invited by the Harper government to nominate Canadians for a prestigious medal marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Among the list, however, is REAL Women of Canada – a conservative women’s group some critics call homophobic.
The saga has left leaders in Canada’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community wondering why they were frozen out while REAL Women (which speaks out against “gay-friendly” schools, laments the “highly sexualized gay agenda” and is a frequent intervenor in gay rights court cases) was included.
“If you’re going to have them at the table, you need to balance them out,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, a gay-rights group among those not invited and one of several people who believes REAL Women is homophobic.
“They’re not on my Christmas card list, that’s for sure,” Ms. Kennedy told The Globe. “... They certainly do not reflect the progressive voice of women in this country.”
Her stand was dismissed by Gwen Landolt, an Ontario attorney and vice-president of REAL Women (an acronym for “real, equal, active for life”). Ms. Landolt said her grassroots organization is well-positioned to recommend outstanding volunteers for the medal and criticized those who’d say otherwise.
“They don’t want anybody who has a differing opinion to have any voice in Canada in any area in any thing, at any time, in any place,” Ms. Landolt said. “We’re involved with all sorts of people, and that’s why they asked us, I think, to participate in this partnership program – only because of our experience dealing with Canadians.”
There are 33 organizations, including REAL Women, among the “social and volunteer” category of groups invited last month to participate. They include major agencies such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada and the YMCA. Most of the 32 other groups have stayed out of the debate, and declined comment, but REAL Women’s presence caught the attention of some of them.
“My personal opinion is I don’t think they have a right to be at the table. That’s my personal opinion,” said a leader of one of the 33 organizations. The leader, who is gay, asked not to be identified because his organization was staying neutral. “Why are we allowing this group to, you know, potentially give out medals for service that are [given]because they’ve exploited or put down another part of the population?”
Such calls for exclusion are intolerant, Ms. Landolt counters. “Their approach is anyone who disagrees with them should be oppressed, should be shut out of community. It’s terrible intolerance,” she said.
REAL Women is outspoken on several issues: They are strictly anti-abortion, believe in the traditional definition of marriage, oppose Canada’s “promoting [of]easy divorce legislation” and say the Supreme Court has too much power. They say Winnipeg’s Human Rights Museum project was spearheaded by “left-wing extremists” that included “representatives of homosexual and feminist interests.”
They also have criticized the “wayward” Michaëlle Jean, the former governor-general, who they say “cavorted” with separatists and Liberals. They wrote that Ms. Jean “appears to be a lightweight with little or no grasp of Canadian history, culture or traditions.” (A spokeswoman said Ms. Jean, now chancellor at the University of Ottawa, wouldn’t comment on the issue.)
This did not deter the office of Ms. Jean’s successor, Governor-General David Johnston, from inviting REAL Women of Canada – an order Rideau Hall says came from the federal government.
“The government of Canada identified and invited partnering organizations, including non-governmental organizations at the national, provincial and community levels, to participate in the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal program,” Marie-Pierre Bélanger, a Rideau Hall spokeswoman, said in an e-mail, later adding: “Our office is taking note of the concerns expressed.”
Ms. Landolt and other groups say they never applied and have no idea how their names were added to the list.
The Diamond Jubilee medal will be given to 60,000 Canadians to make the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s ascension to the throne. Provinces were also invited to nominate people. The volunteer organizations, including REAL Women, were allotted 33 nominations in most cases. The opportunity – not the controversy – is where most other agencies are focusing their efforts.
“I think [REAL Women and Egale]are both organizations that have a mission and have people executing that mission, and that's where our involvement ends,” said Ruth MacKenzie, president and chief executive officer of Volunteer Canada, which was also invited to participate. “Our focus is on recognizing Canadians.”
The exclusion of gay rights groups nonetheless sends a message, Egale’s Ms. Kennedy said.
“I’m disappointed that there isn’t a more equitable playing field in terms of the decision-makers about these medals,” she said. “These are important signifiers, I think, for people to see.”