Monday, April 7, 2008

Trying to Live It Down

This week's tempest in the teapot that is frequently Canadian politics is the Lukiwski Affair. For non-Canadians, Tom Lukiwksi is the Conservative Member of Parliament who was caught on videotape making a slur against gays (the exchange starts around time 2:40):

On the tape, which was released by the provincial NDP on Thursday, the cameraman made a comment about Lukiwski being old.

"As we say on tour, I may be old, but I'm f---ing A," Lukiwski responded.

The cameraman retorted: "And who is this A person?"

"Well, let me put it to you this way. There's A's and there's B's. The A's are guys like me. The B's are homosexual faggots with dirt on their fingernails that transmit diseases," Lukiwski said.

The videotape was shot at a campaign office party -- in 1991. The NDP just happened to find it recently when, back on Lukiwski's home ground in Saskatchewan, they moved into offices recently vacated by the Conservatives. The opposition parties are making predictable hay out of it, including demands for the Prime Minister to fire Lukiwski from his post as parliamentary secretary to the government house leader, or even throw him out of caucus.

Before I go on, let me make a few things clear:
  • I am strongly pro-gay rights and anti-bigotry in any form.
  • I've never voted Tory in my life, and I have no plans to start any time soon (certainly not while Harper and the rest of the ex-Reform crew is in charge).
  • I'd never heard of Lukiwski before, and know nothing about him beyond what has been reported in connection with this incident. His political fortunes, for their own sake, interest me not at all.
Lukiwski's remark is a stupid-yahoo thing to say, reflective of a kind of casual macho bigotry that used to be more prevalent (or at least, more openly acceptable) than it is now. He has delivered what sounds to me like a fairly handsome apology for it, in the House.

And that is where I think the matter should rest. However, others are not so ready to forgive and forget. Across the board, there seem to be three main reasons given for sanctioning Lukiwski:

The Unforgivable Sin
On this view, no apology can be an adequate atonement: Lukiwski has committed an unforgivable sin, and should be made a pariah for life. I don't know what to say about this one: you either believe that, or you don't. And I don't. A single off-the-cuff remark does not merit that level of punishment.

The Closet Bigot
Others believe that Lukiwski still holds anti-gay views -- that he hasn't changed in 17 years (somehow, the fact that he was 40 at the time also figures into this). As one commenter put it: "These are core beliefs, and they don't change".

Rubbish. I've changed my mind about lots of things (including homosexuality) in the last 17 years. Some of them were important things too -- easily as much "core beliefs" as any attitude Lukiwski has expressed about gays. And I expect that 17 years hence, I will have changed my mind some more. It's called "growing and learning", and I intend to continue until the day they put me in a box and nail down the lid.

While I can't prove Lukiwski's apology is sincere, I think the onus is on those who disbelieve him to argue for that claim, not just assert it. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.

So: shame on Lukiwski for saying something bigoted in 1991 -- and good on him for growing out of it.

The Larry Spencer Affair
Five years ago while in Opposition, Harper fired another MP, Larry Spencer, as family issues critic for anti-gay remarks. The argument then goes that, to be consistent he should also fire Lukiwski. However, the two cases are not really parallel. According to news stories at the time, Spencer said:
In late November 2003, Spencer caused controversy in Canada by Vancouver Sun reporter Peter O'Neil when he said that he would support any initiative to outlaw homosexuality. He stated that in the 1960s, a "well-orchestrated" conspiracy began and led to recent successes in the gay rights movement. This conspiracy, he further said, included seducing and recruiting young boys in playgrounds and locker rooms, and deliberately infiltrating North America's schools, judiciaries, entertainment industries, and religious communities.
He said this conspiracy has led to successes in the gay-rights movement. "It's so sad that we have to take an issue like this and be asked to put the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on it without being allowed to tell the truth and talk about facts," said Spencer, a U.S.-born former Baptist pastor.

He said homosexuals, due to AIDS and other health problems, have a far lower life expectancy than straight men.

"Let's just say if ... anybody that used Colgate toothpaste, their life expectancy was lowered by 10, 15 years. What do you think would happen to Colgate toothpaste? It would be outlawed. Well, we know that's what happens to men living a gay lifestyle."

He also said homosexuals can transform themselves into heterosexuals.
This, I submit, goes well beyond anything Lukiwski said. In the Spencer case, we have a sitting member openly and deliberately talking about outlawing homosexuality, and repeating several of the standard calumnies against gays -- that they want to recruit young boys, that there is a "gay agenda" (a label applied any time LGBTs ask to be treated like human beings and full citizens), and that gays are sick and have poor life expectancy due to their lifestyle. On this last point, Spencer seems to be repeating the claims of discredited anti-gay activist Paul Cameron. There is no question that this is the kind of wingnut one does not want anywhere near the legislative process. Moreover, there seems to be little doubt that Spencer continues to hold such views: having lost his seat in the 2004 election (after being ejected from caucus, he ran as an independent, and lost -- ironically to Tom Lukiwski), he joined the Christian Heritage Party, which advocates government based on "Biblical principles".

It is in no way inconsistent for Harper to let Lukiwski off with an apology -- it simply and rightly recognizes the relative magnitudes of the two offenses.

In conclusion, my take on it is that, in an unguarded (and possibly tipsy) moment 17 years ago, Tom Lukiwski stuck his foot badly in his mouth. Hopefully, his apology is sincere and he now regrets what he said, for its own sake. Going forward: keep an eye on the guy, but otherwise let the matter drop.

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