Make the silent heard and the invisible seen.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Is B.C. ready for a story asking if it's ready for a gay leader?

"A column that some will find contentious
... but people are talking about nonetheless."
 - Gary Mason (Facebook)
It is the story that not only Mike Farnworth (pictured right), a leading contender to replace the deposed Carole James as leader of B.C.’s NDP, knew would be told before he announced his candidacy. A story that I, along with NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert and former Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt had been awaiting. And, although I can’t speak for them, I’m certain that they would all agree that if the story had to be broken – and it did – I, somewhat biasedly, say, better that it be done by The Globe and Mail’s award-winning journalist Gary Mason than by some lesser scribe.

Nine days ago, Gary sent me this email: 
“Looking for your advice on this.

 Today (Jan. 13/11), Mike Farnworth will announce his candidacy for leadership of the NDP. He's got a real shot at winning and if he does it will prompt the question: is B.C. ready for an openly (although he doesn't broadcast it much) gay premier?
I think it's a worthy subject, if not a little controversial. I realize that having gay MPs and MLAs is not a big deal at all in 2011. But I wonder if there are some who, even in this day and age, might have some trouble with a gay premier.
What do you think of the premise of this piece? Any advice on how to pursue it?”

I, too, thought it a worthy subject, not to mention flattering that a journalist of Gary’s skill and integrity would ask my advice of how to approach it.

In the end, it took Gary 9 days to write his column. Nine. Days. I can speak with some experience that when it takes nine days to write a column, some blood, sweat and tears went into the writing. 

Then last night, I got this Facebook message from him:

The piece is up. I needed 5,000 words to do this subject justice. I honestly did. I had 950 so the best I could hope for was to represent some of the thoughts of people like yourself out there."
Since my thoughts on the subject are quoted in the column, I recuse any feedback on what Gary wrote. Nor will I make some wild assumption that TGAM decided to publish the story online late Friday night and publish in it’s largest read Saturday edition. To booster readership? Or that it showed sensitivity to the subject, in that by making Farnworth's sexuality a story now, it leaves the gadflies and gadabouts on geezer radio and TV chewing chips and watching hockey and football until Monday, when, one hopes, it will no longer be a headline except as digested on Bill Good's dozy CKNW talk show. 

"I will, however, point out the lesson in journalism — time and care — that we in new media can learn from Gary. Most of the time, we get the subject matter for our posts from the geezer media. Then we amplify. Even if we comment that the story is a “non-issue” and that The Globe is just trying to make it one, we’re helping it to do so. So it’s a good thing that we still have some journalists out there willing to sit on a piece for nine days to get it right. In the blogosphere’s rush to be first-to-post and to always-be-trending, time and care is the element that too often goes out the window."

It is a contentious column and people are talking about it. At the time of this posting, it's the 2nd most read story at The Globe and Mail BC, and the comments have doubled what they were at midnight. Many share this mind-set: 

"MacKenna 2:27 AM on January 22, 2011
How about Is BC ready for an honest and ethical leader? Because it hasn't had one for decades.

Gay shmay, who cares? A person's sexual orientation is completely irrelevant.

But trust the Globe to focus on that."

My reply and to others like it, as posted, was:

“As enlightened and progressive as so many of you profess on the headline question, it is an issue. We gay men might enjoy our rights as Canadians in the Westend, but that does not extend to large parts of Surrey, Richmond and the bible belt in the valley. Remember that it was a pivotal issue in 2008 when Americans were deciding if they were ready for a black President? That was a story. So is this.”
There are large cultural, religious and social constituencies within the B.C. NDP, just as the party's membership reflects the provincial demographic, that are not ready for an openly gay leader. That block is big enough to make it so. Go back to the beginning of this week when Adrian Dix, likely the only real challenger to Farnworth, did a last-minute membership dump that might give him the numbers to win. Most of those memberships were from party associations within those constituencies of which I speak. While voters in the cities might be progressive enough to accept a gay leader, will the mill and mining towns of the coast and interior? Not everyone in the little community at the end-of-the-road will.

And, there is the gay community itself. We are, for the most part, highly educated and very political. But just because one of our "own" runs for the leadership of a party doesn't necessary mean that we're going to vote for that person. Politics is a numbers game not a moral ground.

As my friend Larry Shaprio emailed: 
“It seems to me that until Mike Farnworth is open about his sexuality he will be unsuitable for NDP leader. Let him run as an openly gay man. If he loses because of this, then B.C. can be confronted with its bigotry and maybe move forward.”

Christy Clark can wait

Common Sense Canadian carton by Gerry Hummel
Plans to post on B.C. Liberal leadership front-runner Christy Clark's unfathomably shallow campaign have been derailed to expand on my quote in friend and colleague Gary Mason's Globe and Mail column, Is B.C. ready for an openly gay party leader?
"...the idea of an openly gay leader of one of the province’s political parties, let alone a gay premier, is certainly not going to be welcome.” - Dave Brindle
Watch for the post later today at Frank Moher's and here.