I don’t consider myself a “political” person. However, like never before, I am feeling a great deal of anxiety and fear concerning what this province could look like in the next few months following the upcoming provincial election. Despite my usual lack of engagement in the political debate, this time I feel I must make my voice heard in order to help my community make an informed decision about their vote.
I am a geologist with seventeen years of experience in the oil and gas industry. I consider myself knowledgeable of oil and gas issues having had a great deal of exposure to our province’s dominant industry. I have lived through and understand clearly the last few difficult years in Alberta. I have many friends, family members, and colleagues who have lost their employment through this challenging time so I understand and am extremely empathetic for how difficult this downturn has been. I also know with certainty that the economic downturn was not localized to Alberta but instead was the result of a global drop in commodity prices, and therefore, not caused directly by any single government or policy in Alberta.
On a personal note, I am a transgender woman, in a same-sex marriage, and am an exceptionally proud member of the LGBTQ2S+ community in this province. I am actively and passionately working in my community to ensure that everyone under the rainbow feels safe and has access to the quality of life that we all deserve.
Here is where I start to get worried about our current political climate in Alberta.
First let me clarify that I am happy to debate carbon tax, pipelines, farm safety and anything else on the laundry list of political issues facing our province. I will happily do some reading and educate myself appropriately while respectfully listening to others opinions and perspectives in the hopes to better understand alternative viewpoints. I trust that it is in this dialogue and diversity of opinion that we build a better tomorrow. This is a democracy, and it is one of the many reasons that I am grateful to live in Canada.
But here’s the thing. When the debate crosses the line into fundamental human rights poorly disguised as “political issues,” there is no middle ground for me. I will not, and cannot respectfully listen and pretend that there is anything to debate. You see, the difference is that when we are debating carbon tax, pipelines, and farming, for example, we are debating people’s income, lifestyle, and employment opportunities. Don’t get me wrong, all of this is extremely important for our province, but none of it, in my opinion, will ever be more important than ensuring basic human rights for everyone in Alberta.
To be very clear, and to ensure we are differentiating between political issues and human rights, I wanted to provide some specific examples of human rights, particularly relevant to the LGBTQ2S+ community. I hope that we can all agree that ALL of these should be guarantees in our Province.
“Some forms of human rights discrimination experienced by people of diverse sexual orientation or gender identity include the denial of the right to live, the right to work and the right to privacy, non-recognition of personal and family relationships, interference with human dignity, interference with security of the person, discrimination in access to economic, social and cultural rights, including housing, health and education, and pressure to remain silent and invisible.” 
To be completely honest, I am terrified of what Jason Kenney will bring to our province. One of his vocal campaign promises is to roll back protections for LGBTQ2S+ youth in our schools. This move would directly violate kids right to privacy, right to human dignity, right to personal security, and their right to a safe educational setting (see our post on the value of GSA’s). Additionally, he has a long and painfully clear track record of directly attacking and showing incredible discrimination against the LGBTQ2S+ community. Throughout his political career, he has voted against basic rights and protections (as described above) for LGBTQ2S+ Canadians EVERY SINGLE TIME. So as worried as I am about what he is telling us he will do, I am equally, perhaps more, worried about what he is not telling us he will do.
Here are some examples (unfortunately there are many more…follow the link for references and back up) :
- 2018 – He boasted about his “political” work in barring dying AIDS patients from seeing their partners (follow the link for the audio)
- 2018 – Voted against Bill 24 thereby failing to stand up for some of the most vulnerable youth in Alberta
- 2017 – Argued that the constitutional protection of LGBTQ2S rights “opened the door” to “polygamy” and “incest.”
- 2013 – Voted against basic human rights protections for transgender Canadians
- 2012 -Voted against basic human rights protections for transgender Canadians
- 2011 – Voted against basic human rights protections for transgender Canadians
- 2010 – Blocked any reference to gay rights in a new study guide for immigrants applying for Canadian Citizenship
- 2006 – Voted to re-open the marriage equality debate
- 2005 – Voted against marriage equality. Stated that discrimination against LGBTQ Canadians was “okay.” Stated, “gays can marry, but not each other.” Stated that there’s absolutely “no social benefit” for LGBTQ families.
- 1998 – called a landmark court ruling that gave LGBTQ people in Alberta essential employment and housing rights a “virus” and advocated to build a new political party that would fight against these fundamental human rights
While he says he has changed, I have found zero acknowledgements of his past behaviour nor has he apologized for his incredibly discriminatory actions and the people and communities he has directly harmed. In fact, when I dug further for information, most indications are that he has not changed at all. I believe firmly that for a person to change, they must be willing to be accountable for their past actions and as a result, I think that Jason Kenny’s past behaviour is a visible indication of his future if we give him that power.
And that’s why I am scared. For me, for my family, for my friends and for the youth and community that I support daily.
With all that said, this post is a genuine and heartfelt request for voters in my community and beyond to please do your research leading into this election. Although it is difficult, don’t allow sensational social media, headlines and emotion to cloud your better judgement. Read, think critically, and above all, PLEASE differentiate political issues from human rights. We must uncompromisingly prioritize the rights and freedoms of EVERYONE in this province. If you’ve never actually worried about the state of human rights in Alberta, for yourself or for others, that may be a sign that you are living with great privilege. Please use that privilege to help protect those that don’t.
NORMALIZATION OF DEVIANCE
To use an analogy where we are able to have the benefit of hindsight, over the last two years, I have found myself in countless casual discussions with disgusted people, asking “how did Trump ever get elected?” Here are my thoughts on how that may have happened and how we can prevent it from happening here in Canada.
One of the principles by which we can find ourselves in unbelievable situations (in this case with human rights), such as Trump, is called the ‘Normalization of Deviance.’ It is defined as “the gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become [treated as] acceptable. As the deviant behaviour or opinion is repeated without consequence or catastrophic results, it slowly becomes the social norm for the organization.”
So, knowing that, I would argue that comments about Kenny such as “he has changed,” “that’s just him, not the party,” or “that won’t happen here,” are all explicit examples of how people can be willing to overlook unacceptable words and actions when those words and actions do not directly affect themselves. Ignoring a track record like Jason Kenney’s when casting ballots is exactly how Trump got elected.
Please read. Please be critical. Please prioritize equality before anything else when you choose your vote. Once that is a guarantee, then we can start working on sounder policies around the carbon tax, education, farm safety and all the other important POLITICAL issues that currently face our province.
This is 2019. We know better. We must grow and continue to do better to make sure EVERYONE in this province is supported and safe BEFORE we talk politics.
~ Kiersten (she/her)
- M O’Flaherty and J Fisher Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and International Human Rights Law: Contextualising the Yogyakarta Principles (2008) 8 HRLR 207 at 208.