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A lesson from Canada

by Steven E. Clem
A couple of weeks ago, I stayed up late, tuned to CNN, watching for updates on Canada’s Parliamentary elections. My heart felt leaden all evening and that feeling did not lift when Stephen Harper — a foe of LGBT equality — emerged as the country’s new leader.

I expect that many in our community will take the “it’s not that bad” approach to this development. They will remind us that it was Harper’s economic, rather than his social, policies that led him to victory.

They will point out the fact that despite his early statements about wanting to roll back gay marriage rights, that in recent weeks he has been silent on the topic and didn’t mention it at all in his acceptance speech. And they will stress the fact that Harper was only given a minority government, and that to get anything done he will have to build alliances with the New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois, both of which are generally supportive of same-sex marriage.

None of that changes the fact that worldwide LGBT rights took a step backward. At the very least, Canada is going to have a government that does not consider equality a high priority. And at the worst, it does not take a particularly creative mind to envision a scenario in which, two to three years from now, emboldened by economic successes and high popular support, Harper — goaded on by his highly conservative base — decides to spend some of his political capital on remaking the nation’s society into his desired image.

The sobering reality we should all be awake to is this: while today’s defeats can become tomorrow’s victories, the opposite is also true. Equality doesn’t always advance — sometimes it retracts.

So why is this important?
Because we need to keep our focus. Here in S.C. we are fighting a legislative battle. It is important that we fight it with all our strength, which we are. But ultimate victory in the larger battle will never come about legislatively (or judicially).

The only way we win a victory that can’t be taken away is to fight — and win — this battle one heart and one mind at a time. To tell our truth, and allow our fellow South Carolinians to acknowledge, then accept, then celebrate who we are. With “The People” on our side, discriminatory laws will be ignored and, eventually, overturned.

We need to battle discrimination and encourage as many people as possible to vote no on the Family Discrimination Amendment. But win or lose, on Nov. 8 the battle will not be over because the debate will still be raging. And so, in all that we do, between now and Nov. 7 and beyond, we need to educate, not alienate.

We need to come out. We need to tell our stories. We need more conversation.
I know I’m saying something most of us already know. But I think it is important from time to time to remind ourselves of the things we already know, in order to keep our focus where it needs to be. I just felt that right now, in the wake of Canada’s elections, it needed to be said again.

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