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Globe and Mail columnist Tabatha Southey.
Globe and Mail columnist Tabatha Southey.

TABATHA SOUTHEY

The Conservatives’ unease about the ‘whole gay thing’ Add to ...

This week Brad Trost, one of the large and motley crew – I can’t help but worry that somewhere in the world some small and highly dysfunctional country has lost its entire navy – of Conservative Party leadership hopefuls and delusionists opted to inject some sex-talk into the competition. He did this in the form of a heap of the démodé homophobia that is his brand.

Mr. Trost launched this new strategy by sending out an e-mail in which he boldly pledged to never attend a Pride parade. As tough-guy stances go, this feels a bit weak to me. It suggests that by mid-April he’ll release a 10-point plan to never go miniature golfing, but for now his position is: Brad Trost, Standing Up to Big Large Group of People Moving in Approximately the Same Direction.

Stage 2 of Mr. Trost’s new strategy involved a “video update” from his campaign spokesperson, Mike Patton. The video, while not quite Leitch-Lynchian in style, does feature those close-to-becoming-classic Conservative production values. I’ve seen hostage videos more artfully shot than this effort – and considerably less desperate. I must say, I am not lining up for the Conservative Party of Canada Film Festival, which I hope they will call “TIFF About Immigration.”

In that interminable one minute and 40 seconds of video, Mr. Patton, trying very hard to be heard over his much more charismatic co-star, White Noise, explains that Mr. Trost is “not entirely comfortable with the whole gay thing.”

“I’m kinda freaked out by gay people” seems like an odd platform to actively campaign on, but if this works out for Mr. Trost, you can look forward to my “I am really scared of snakes, can I count on your vote?” slogan, come 2019.

When asked about the video, Mr. Trost said it accurately reflects his position. He even clarified that “a gay lifestyle would be people having – how would we put this – gay people having gay sex.”

Gay sex would, however, clearly not be Mr. Trost’s only sex concern, as “sex,” he would have us know, “is supposed to be in a committed heterosexual married relationship,” so, it’s worth noting, Mr. Trost is clearly – how would we put this – not entirely comfortable with a massive chunk of the heterosexual thing either.

This is a man who is clearly vexed about sex beyond the “whole gay thing.”

Which I really think needs to be a musical.

The notion that not being “entirely comfortable with the whole gay thing” is – when one aspires to represent an entire nation – more of a personal failing than a selling point seems to have sailed right by Mr. Trost, along with most of the past 50 years.

A sizable number Canadians are downright cozy with the “whole gay thing,” and the vast majority of our citizens (70 per cent, according to a 2015 Forum Research poll) support same-sex marriage, with that number ever rising.

Not wanting to be upstaged by Mr. Trost’s unease with the “whole gay thing,” expressed as it was on a federal level, newly minted leader of the PC Party of Alberta, Jason Kenney, was lightning-quick to let the whole country know that he is, apparently, not entirely comfortable with the whole privacy thing.

In a discussion of gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools, Mr. Kenney announced that parents should be informed if their offspring join one of these school clubs.

He wouldn’t, he said, move to repeal Bill 10, the 2015 legislation passed by the former PC government that mandates school boards allow students to form gay-straight alliances, if they so wish. He just thinks most parents need to know who’s in, even if they’re not out.

Mr. Kenney is not going to have the GSAs killed, he promises. He’s basically just telling the kids that the GSA are going to go live on a farm now, and no, you can’t visit them.

Few teenagers, straight or gay, are going to join, let alone start a GSA if it means a teacher is going to call their parents. Teacher/parent phone calls are a kid’s kryptonite. I’m willing to bet the chess club would see a serious downturn in membership and eventually fold if joining one meant a mandatory visit to the “So, Johnny, your teacher called to discuss your interest in a two-player strategy game played on 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid …” club when you got home.

“Hey! You know what’s fun, son?” Dad pipes in, “Ms. Pac-Man! You ever tried Ms. Pac-Man, boy? I love Ms. Pac-Man, myself!” and starts leaving well-used Atari cartridges on poor Johnny’s bedside table. And why would you want to saddle the chess club, or any club, with that “It comes with a phone call” stigma?

Before you say, “It’s different because these kids may be gay!” understand that the point to GSAs is that it’s not different. GSAs are there so LGBT or questioning kids and straight kids who support them can hang out, discuss their hopes and concerns, but likely mostly talk about their respective Tumblr blogs in a place they feel safe and unjudged.

No one needs to get a note sent home as if he has mono, or has been exposed to mono, as a result of this particular extracurricular activity.

Obviously, given the risk of serious abuse in their homes that a fair number of LGBT youth face, and the large number who get thrown out of their homes, giving teachers parental disclosure discretion may lead to something dramatically worse than a few awkward conversations.

Mr. Kenney attempted to clarify his remarks by saying later, in a Facebook post, that “In some cases informing parents would clearly be inappropriate.”

To which I can only say “Hey, Mr. Kenney, what about those cases where it’s not ‘clearly inappropriate’? Just, ultimately, tragically so?”

It’s not as if a lot of parents show up on curriculum night wearing nametags saying things like “Hello, my name is Mike and I beat the living daylights out of gay kids,” now, is it? Leaving it to teachers to intuit from a parent’s response to, say, their kids’ math grade that it’s safe to disclose young Alex’s GSA involvement sure puts (more) on teachers’ shoulders, and possibly their consciences, and I’d warrant has the potential to get a teacher named in a lawsuit.

I also wouldn’t want to be the teacher who, when the policy is that parents have a “right to know what’s going on with their kids” unless they’ve been deemed a danger, decides not to tell a parent about their 15-year-old joining a GSA. There might be some blowback when a parent learns later, at, say, a dinner party, that that’s where Jason’s been Tuesdays until 4 p.m. Sure glad it wasn’t Ultimate Frisbee. “Oh, they didn’t tell you, Mike Who Can I Only Assume Beats the Living Daylights Out of Gay Kids? Let me just suddenly get a text message and slide out the door” would be an understandable response.

It benefits no one to go all The Lives of Others on students, even if you think they would benefit from their parents knowing that they may be gay, or may be comfortable with the “whole gay thing.”

You know who might know if and when a particular set of parents ought to be informed that their kid has joined a GSA and who might find the resolve and support needed to tell their folks that deeply personal information? A kid who has spent some time in a GSA. So let’s not end a school club with outings.

While we’re on the subject of outing, Jason Kenney, a note doesn’t go home when a kid joins the Springdale Hill Crest High Young Conservatives, even if his parents have been deemed not sufficiently NDP to be a threat.

No one calls from the school to say “We just want to be certain these vulnerable young people are sure they’re Conservatives before they do something as irreversible as insisting on getting a BlackBerry because they think it makes them look much more ‘professional’ than all the other kids in Grade 10.”

A school library copy of Atlas Shrugged in the briefcase they recently swapped for their backpack doesn’t mean a youth is necessarily embracing the whole young libertarian, objectivist or “just generally really concerned about their hypothetical tax dollars” lifestyle that is – how would we put this – young people being really insufferable.

Whether a student is a raging Young Conservative, Randian curious or just attending the club to support an insufferable friend, it wouldn’t be right to have them walking home at the end of each day terrified that tonight’s the night their parents will suddenly get very quiet during dinner before launching into “We just want to say, Eden, that we know you’re young and experimenting with tax policy, but your father and I both feel a flat tax is regressive and remind you that as long as you’re living under our roof you will support a strong social safety net.”

I just don’t want to see any budding young Stephen Harpers locked in a room, fed GMO-free, free-range (don’t ask) granola and forced to watch Michael Moore films, Clockwork Orange-style.

Picture those poor kids, deprived of the ill-fitting suits and blue ties they feel so much more comfortable in, trapped there, big stupid hipster beards strapped to their faces until they scream, “Do it to Julia! Provide Julia with free tuition at every level of education and ensure she is empowered to choose when and if she wishes to have children!”

Let’s keep all the clubs private and get entirely comfortable with the whole Canadian Thing.

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

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