In addition to the leadership debate that was held here in Saskatoon (which we will be talking about in a bit), the NDP Leadership candidates took some time to attend a brunch held at the Avenue Community Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity. For those unfamiliar with the Centre, it is a non-profit organization here in Saskatoon that addresses LGBT2Q issues throughout the province, and that works with other organizations such as AIDS Saskatoon to raise awareness of issues related to sexual health and education.
As such, the bulk of people in attendance had a keen interest in finding out where the candidates stood with regards to LGBT2Q issues and asked some hard hitting questions that one doesn't typically here during a leadership; or even during an election, in a province such as Saskatchewan. I have to commend all the candidates for attending the event, and for providing thoughtful answers to the questions asked by those assembled.
I won't be 'critiquing' the performance of the candidates here; as they all did a damn fine job and I don't have any real notes on that front. However, I will be posting questions and answers because these issues are important, and I think we should know where our candidates stand on them. So, for those who were unable to get to Saskatoon (or unable just to attend the brunch), this is as faithful a transcription as I could make.
As with all written notes, there is a degree of shorthand; which means I've written down the key statement rather than all the words, so there's some editor's liberty with some of the answers and questions, but the spirit of the response will be accurate.
To help make things a little more navigational, I've bolded the candidates names' when used, so you should be able to find what they had to say more easily; as such, questions are UNDERLINED.
Like the debate, the candidates were given a brief moment to introduce themselves and explain a little bit about why they were running for leadership of the NDP.
Cam stayed on message with this question; talking about revitalizing the party and moving towards the creation of a more equal province.
Erin used the time to talk about his federal run in Regina-Wascana, wherein he was aided by an Iranian refuge who came to Canada and just happened to be a member of the LGBT2Q community. Erin also stuck to his message of providing a policy alternative to the SK Party, and not just being an 'echo'.
Ryan talked a bit about growing up in a different time, and how the word gay was used to describe everything that was bad and something someone didn't want to get called. He talked a bit about his involvement in social justice, and how he came to see that people in that community were in his family, circle of friends, and mentors that he had had in medical school. He talked about some of the improvements we've made as a society, but also was keen to note there was still a lot of work to do.
Trent talked about some of the community outreach and contacts that he's made with the LGBT2Q community in Regina, and also agreed with Ryan about the different mindset he saw when he was growing up. He talked about the need for us as a province to have a more open and frank discussion when it comes to LGBT2Q issues, and how it was a good first step in moving forward to a fairer and more equal province.
Question: What is your plan and take on Transgendered issues in Saskatchewan?
Erin: We've made progress on gay & lesbian rights in the province, with the legalization of same-sex marriage, but we need to talk more about transgendered issues. In truth, I don't know as much on this issue as I should; but I've come here today to learn more about the issues facing the community.
Ryan: Three things that we need to do: We need to recognize transgendered people in our human rights codes; we need to allow people a legal process of self-identification with regards to gender; and we need to cover medical procedures for transgendered people.
Trent: I think we need to increase understanding across the province to enhance knowledge about the transgendered community and the challenges that they face. We need to allow transgendered people to self-identify their gender, but we also need to work on things as simple as creating gender neutral washrooms in our buildings; we need to enhance education so we can fight ignorance as well.
Cam: I'm also not as well versed in these issues, but I'd like to learn more so that I can be an effective advocate for the community. We need to educate better and we need to have an open discussion of the issues facing the transgendered community so that we can inform the people of the province better than we are now.
Follow-Up Question: Right now, you must undergo gender reassignment surgeries in order to be legally classified as your gender; would you change that?
*All candidates agreed that everyone should be able to legally self-identify their own gender; Ryan had one addition to add:
Ryan: Also, we need to ensure that physicians aren't discriminatory towards transgendered patients.
Follow-Up Question: Also, people undergoing gender reassignment need two diagnoses; they have to get diagnosed here in Saskatchewan, then go to Toronto (since the surgeries aren't performed in Saskatchewan) and often have to get re-diagnosed upon arrival. What would you do about that?
Ryan: We should be able to increase communication between medical professionals to avoid that; a person shouldn't have to be diagnosed twice before receiving the proper care.
Follow-Up Question: As a mother with two children, one who identifies as transgender and another who identifies as two-spirited, how strong are you willing to fight and stand up for transgendered children?
Trent: Schools are publicly funded and need to reflect the diversity of our population; we need to have a backbone on these issues to ensure that no child is being discriminated against, and that's why I support installing Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in all schools to increase awareness of issues and enhance education of that diversity.
Cam: There needs to be standards, but we also need to find allies within the school system who are willing to fight and help guide these changes in our schools. We need to be smart about how we move forward, to ensure that we don't end up moving backwards and burning bridges within the educational community. This is especially true in the Catholic School system, since people see a value to having a Catholic system, and we can't ignore the values in that system either.
Erin: We need to reach out and work with people; we should use our spending power to have the public and private school systems address these issues and ensure that they adhere to a framework and standards set up by the Ministry of Education.
Ryan: There's no soft answer on discrimination; we need to work with the Catholic system to create GSAs that don't push back or cause problems within the separate school system. We need to also do more education when training teachers in order to prepare them to understand the needs and issues facing a diverse group of children in their classrooms.
Question: Members of the LGBT2Q community face a higher rate of health issues, including shorter lifespans and people receive little education about the needs of LGBT2Q patients in the health sector. On top of that, education is done by the Avenue Centre here in Saskatoon, but it receives little funding to address the needs of the province. What will you pledge to do about this?
Cam: Simple answer: We need to increase the funding to the centre. The amount you quoted is less than the cost of a car to drive a minister for a year, and the return on the work done here is worth the value we put into it.
Erin: We need to improve our health care education, but also address the problems that are creating these health problems. I imagine a lot of it stems from the result of discrimination, whether that is in finding employment or housing, and that in turn can cause more health problems. So we need to address poverty and discrimination in the province to improve health.
Ryan: We need downstream services. I've been involved in community led organizations, like Station 20 West and SWITCH, where a need was identified by the community and then the community took action on it to achieve results. I think there's already talk of doing so, but there should be exploration of the creation of a clinic that serves the LGBT2Q community.
Trent: I agree with everyone; we need to address finances, discrimination and inequality itself and the injustices that exist in our current social structures. Workers rights and unions, I think, have a role to play here as well as unions have done very well at addressing the needs and rights of workers who are in the LGBT2Q community.
Follow-Up: With some regards, the LGBT2Q umbrella is a bit far reaching. Some members of the transgendered community experience discrimination from within the LGBT group, as do people who identify as bisexual. As such, our needs are not always met within the wider view of the community umbrella.
Cam: As an outsider, it's not my place to decide what the best response to that would be. But we do need to be willing and ready to listen to everyone who wants to speak to us. We need to have an open door policy and ensure that the needs of all are being addressed.
Erin: I agree; if the transgendered community want to continue to work within the framework of the LGBT2Q community umbrella, or whether they would prefer to establish their own organizations and community, we need to ensure that we're prepared to assist in that and help build that.
Ryan & Trent: Both agree.
Follow-Up Question: Getting back to the schools a bit, would you mandate a curriculum that is more reflective of the LGBT2Q Community?
Erin: We need to have provincial standards and need to do a better job educating students, which I believe, would help address some of the discrimination that we see in our schools.
Ryan: Yes, but we shouldn't stop at sexual orientation; we need to include gender, race, and poverty in these types of discussions. Studies have shown that having schools with wide diversity doesn't increase awareness or decrease discrimination; students don't blend, they break into cliques that tend to reflect their race, economic standing, and so forth. We need to support inclusion, but we also have to have open discussion.
Trent: Education is transformational, and we need to work in schools; but we also need to educate everyone, not just the next generation. So that means working to educate employers and the community at large as well.
Cam: Yes, we should be including LGBT2Q teaching in our classrooms. I know I'd like my daughters to receive more education on these issues than I did growing up.
Question: How will you change the "silos" that exist in the civil service and ensure that departments are working together?
Ryan: I think having an overall focus on a health lens is a good first step and provides the impetus to foster greater co-operation between departments. Also, we need more projects like Station 20 West that bring together a wide and diverse group of people to foster discussions and increase advocacy.
Trent: Agreed; we need to have an inter-disciplinary approach, for which we'll need strong leadership to foster real change in the environment. The will has to come from the leader, so that it can flow from the leader and cabinet into the departments.
Cam: I agree with the focus on a health lens, but we also need a 'long-term thinking' lens. We make too many decisions based on the short term and don't think too much about the consequences in the long run. It's a bit off topic, but with refuge health care in the province, it is cheaper for us to provide the care needed now than it would be if and when that person ends up in the hospital.
Erin: I think there is a knee-jerk reaction to blame the bureaucracy for the shortcomings of our government. In our last government, we didn't get all the plans and dreams that we set out to do accomplished and part of that was due to lack of funding. We need to have political leadership that will step up and provide not only the vision, but the plan to get there.
Trent: I fear budgetary pressures we're going to see in the future, especially since right-wing governments tend to see these kinds of programs and projects as not worth funding. We do need to work with the community, but we also need a broader discussion and to ensure that when we go out to meet with shareholders and those concerned, it's not just the NDP talking to these groups, but the province talking to them.
Cam: Right now, there are cuts going on on campus; and this is due to the government shirking its responsibilities and downloading debt onto the campuses. And when campus has to tighten its belt, it's optional programs and then course offerings that get slashed and dropped. We need to ensure that we have an involved community that is helping to keep us aware of these cuts so that we can hold the government to task and also try to ensure that cuts are not focused on one department or program.
Erin: I think we need to get to a place where we don't need advocacy, but rather a place where people who identify within the LGBT2Q Community aren't standing out from the rest of the province.
Ryan: We need community involvement and we need to bring people together; if we're bragging about being in a booming economy, why are there even cuts going on in the first place? We need to reset our leadership to ensure that we're embodying and living up to the messages that we put up and try to promote.
In addition to the questions, there were several comments from the gathered audience that are of particular note; so, here are those comments.
Comment: It's all fine and dandy to talk to experts and professionals when preparing a policy, but we need to ensure that government is also talking to stakeholders and the people who are there at the ground level and who are working as advocates.
Comment: I just want to inform the candidates about the need to address the problems facing LGBT2Q members in senior care; a lot of time, partners are separated from one another and very often unable to even visit each other. There are more horror stories when these kinds of senior care facilities are privatized, often into the hands of religious orders.
Comment: We need to ensure that we're keeping "Queer Men" in the province's HIV Strategy; the most recent strategy included nothing about men who have sex with other men, and its a staggering oversight. We need to ensure that any plan to deal with HIV in the province includes this group within the strategy.
I think that more or less does it for the reporting from the event; like I said, it's not a 100% accurate record of the event, but I did what I could with the speed of writing my hand could provide. I think all of the issues discussed are worth talking about here, if only because they're issues that aren't often discussed within the realm of Saskatchewan politics.
And knowing that all of the candidates are committed to an inclusive Saskatchewan, that includes members of the LGBT2Q community, is certainly a good thing to know.