Canada’s foreign minister and Russian hate laws

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird

Last week, controversy erupted over a leading conservative women’s group’s condemnation of Canada’s Foreign Minister, John Baird, for advocating for LGBT rights overseas in the wake of prominent anti-gay laws passed in countries like Uganda and Russia. Except that it wasn’t much of a controversy, the group isn’t really leading anything (not in this century, anyway), and John Baird is a bloody hypocrite.

For it is a well-known fact for Baird himself is gay. Officially, it is still but a rumour, though in a recent election a fellow Conservative candidate responded to anti-gay accusations by opponents by commenting on there being a gay cabinet minister, so the official unofficial line is that Baird is our country’s most prominent closet case.

For a closet case, Baird hasn’t been the worst. He’s not some Larry Craig type, voting against same-sex rights; Baird has consistently voted in favour, whether with or against the majority in his caucus and cabinet, for marriage equality. In a certain narrow way, I can’t quibble with John Baird’s commitment to support LGBT rights at home and abroad. And yet…

And yet, there is Sochi, and Russia, and the trampling of LGBT rights that surely seems worse coming from a country that socially we consider part of the West. It is the very nature of the Russian anti-gay laws that give me pause to think, and to condemn, rather than applaud, the actions of a probably-gay Foreign Minister of Soviet Canuckistan.

Those laws do not make gay sex illegal, as they were (well, weren’t, then were) under the old Soviet regime. Those laws make illegal “propaganda” advocating for “non-traditional” sexual relations, which neatly takes care of the media’s reporting Pride marches and anyone foolish enough to think that the Internet is a safe haven.

Supporters of the non-socially conservative aspect of conservative politics like to point out John Baird as a shining example. No one cares about gay or straight, they argue, since we have a practically outed Conservative cabinet minister. Oh really? Because, if you think about it, John Baird could get off scot-free in Russia. Whereas I regularly “propagandize” on behalf of “non-traditional sexual relations,” John Baird hides behind “national values.” He argues that Canadians support his efforts on behalf of LGBT folks worldwide yet nothing he has done actually contradicts the logic behind Russia’s anti-gay legislation.

I suppose, in a narrow way, Baird’s comments prima facie qualify as offending Russian laws: given his propensity for speaking out on LGBT issues, Baird has earned his due condemnation from both REAL Women (please spell it out, because as women they hardly seem “real”) and the scapegoating Russians. Yet isn’t the point of these laws to muzzle self-expression, and is anything more muzzled than a high-ranking (many think future Conservative Party leader) cabinet minister who refuses to come out?

No matter how many water-skiing, boar-hunting photos that Putin feeds to the press, it would be naive to think that Russia’s upper echelon is gay-free. Gays have this uncanny knack of turning up in an ugly way to all the far-right parties. Think Roy Cohn, think Ernest Röhn…think John Baird. I have no doubt that there are all sorts of Putin-backing gay Kremlinists lurking out there, trying to carefully obscure their own same-sex “propagandistic” ways while propagating the hate.

How easy it is for John Baird, who represents a socially liberal, fiscally conservative riding like Ottawa West–Nepean – a suburban constituency that likely has no issue with its member’s sexual proclivities, assuming he doesn’t figuratively or literally shove it down anyone’s throat – when real activists are getting the shit beat out of them by neo-Nazi asswipes, many of whom look like the ubiquitous Russian boys of international gay porn even as they ensnare, humiliate, and terrorize gay youth through personal ads.

Would we tolerate racist or sexist policies from a supposedly ally? What would we expect from a John Baird if Russia passed anti-Jewish laws? Anti-black laws? Laws proscribing the equality of women? Legislation aimed at persecuted religious minorities? Of course we’d expect a better response than “Canadians support equality.” It’s just that anti-gay prejudice is the one prejudice left that we treat as a matter of opinion, not basic human right.

And all the while, John Baird gallivants around, the ugly smirk on his face screaming to the rest of us that, for a foreign minister, for a prominent member of this country’s Conservative cabinet, for the man who is likely the most politically powerful LGBT person in the entire country, it’s good enough to sit there, smug, lecturing others about their illiberal leanings from the safety of his cabinet seat. For shame.

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