What does homophobia have to do with journalism? Janice Kennedy op/ed shames Ottawa Citizen
I was in Ottawa on the same day that Janice Kennedy published her sickeningly offensive op/ed “What does tacky sex have to do with gay pride?” I visited the Capital Pride control room at City Hall, where volunteers were preparing for the weekend they work towards all year. Ms. Kennedy’s column spat on them, spat on our community, all in the name of “taste.” Hopefully, before the week is over, we will be able to refer to her as “former Ottawa Citizen columnist.”
- Capital Pride invites writer of homophobic op/ed to attend 2013 Parade
- Young + feverish: Capital Pride outdoes itself with new music acts
- Flags, puppies, leather & love @ Capital Pride
I visited Ottawa last Friday (Aug 24) to deliver our latest issue to volunteers at Capital Pride’s control room, and a dozen other locations such as book stores and cafés in O-town, which, like many capital cities, has a reputation for being rather zipped-up. In the Harper era, even more so. In Sanita Fejzic’s overview of the Capital Pride celebrations “Flags, puppies, leather & love @ Capital Pride,” we gave our readers a fun laundry list of the awesome variety of events that Pride and its partners offer the Ottawa community over 10 days of grass-roots good times. These included a queer prom, a human rights vigil, and yes, some kinkier and sexier events, as to be expected.
Ottawa Citizen columnist Janice Kennedy’s op/ed was published that very day, just to make sure the Capital Pride organizers and their friends feel fully spat on and insulted by their city’s only major newspaper just before their big weekend. In her column entitled “What does tacky sex have to do with gay pride?” Ms. Kennedy provides a witless list of every homophobic and sexphobic argument against gay pride’s exuberance we have been hearing since, well, the beginning of time.
Janice Kennedy tells readers that queer culture is “foreign to me and there are psycho-social elements I couldn’t possibly understand,” and as proof of that, she lumps together all of the aspects of Pride that she presumes will be on display over the weekend, including “jock strap auctions, fetish celebrations, leather brunches, sex toy workshops and the proud wearing of kink. Not to mention the big parade Sunday afternoon, which will feature drag queens, leather kings, sailor-capped guys in leopard skin bikinis and the usual display of rampant horniness on floats dedicated to sexuality made adolescent, trivial and — what’s the word? — tacky? vulgar? classless? all of the above?” That was her first mistake.
First off: when you don’t know what word to choose, you should get out the thesaurus and choose the one that makes the most sense. What she calls “tacky,” we call camp. What she calls “vulgar,” we call revenge on centuries of censorship, silencing, police violence and imprisonment. As an editor, I admit I don’t always seek out experts’ opinions when I write my editorials. But the difference between me and Ms. Kennedy is that I only write on issues that I feel adequately informed to write on. Her column spews ancient homophobic insults at my community, at Capital Pride, and at the broader LGBT community by writing about a culture and an intersection of movements she admittedly does not understand, from the perspective of a prudish nanny asking her gay grandson why he insists on wearing such tight T-shirts and making such a big deal of kissing his boyfriend in public. You, Ms. Kennedy, are the new face of homophobia. And by new face, I mean the old face.
“In a mature society, as long as they don’t constitute predatory victimization, people’s sexual preferences and practices simply don’t matter. And shouldn’t matter,” she continues. Right. Implicit here is that an evolved approach to celebrating gay social and political progress would mean shedding our attachment to bare skin, fetishes, and overtly sexual icons – i.e “the pageantry of monumental bad taste” as she calls it – and perhaps also asking the drag queens and drag kings to tone it down…
just as every homophobic and transphobic family member, employer, and religious leader has been asking us to do for centuries. The transparent bigotry is lost on Janice Kennedy, and sadly, also slipped by her editors.
“How does a public sexfest honour a struggle for equality and human rights?” she asks. That is an unfair question, Ms. Kennedy, and one that relates to a logical flaw in your rhetoric of censorship and sexphobia. Lumping everything that Pride presents – particularly Ottawa’s Capital Pride, with its family and teen-friendly events, free outdoor concerts, and grass-roots approach – with “tacky sex” or a “sexfest” for the purposes of defaming their project is referred to as a “straw man” fallacy (known in the UK as an “Aunt Sally”, and known to me from now on as an “Aunt Janice”). In an “Aunt Janice” argument, you reduce the subject of your criticism to only their most vulnerable elements, so that you appear to come out the easy winner. This style of argumentation is also a favourite amongst bullies, such as religious fundamentalists and social conservatives who always, without fail, focus on the leather and kink community when seeking to decry gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender/two-spirited peoples’ once-a-year publicly ordained foray into exhibitionism.
Ms. Kennedy seems unaware of the history of bigoted opposition to LGBT culture with which she has indelibly associated herself and her publication.
The (we hope soon-to-be former) Ottawa Citizen columnist is also stuck in a rut of arguments that place her squarely in the second wave on all matters of sex and oppressed communities. “I would love to live in a time when sexual orientation is truly, absolutely irrelevant,” she bemoans. Well, Ms. Kennedy, here’s a newsflash: WE WOULD NOT. A person’s gender identity and sexual orientation are only irrelevant if they are part of the hegemonic majority. Gay Pride, queer pride, and every stripe and colour of LGBTTIQ Pride(s) exist in order to defy the crushing weight of silence and shame with which people like Janice Kennedy have afflicted us since birth, and since the beginning of the modern era’s concept of sexuality. The sexuality, gender expression, style, love, and politics of the LGBT community are indeed a monumental pageant, but not of “bad taste” as she claims. We are a monumental pageant of everything Janice Kennedy’s homophobia is not: beauty, fearlessness, pain, oppression, fear, pride, gender, sex, self-criticism, love, love, love, and fucking love. She has done a great disservice to her employer and to her readership with this column, and ought to issue an apology immediately. I would also sign any petition which calls for her dismissal from the Ottawa Citizen‘s dwindling roster of otherwise competent columnists.
The queer community is defined by a history of social, religious, and political violence and oppression which only in the past 40 years have we even begun to overcome. The homophobic attack contained in Ms. Kennedy’s latest column is a wart on the reputation of the Ottawa Citizen‘s otherwise anodyne face. Before publishing this, an e-mail was sent to OC Editor-in-chief Gerry Nott asking him to explain why this op/ed was allowed to be published. Capital Pride Committee Chair Loresa Novy, no doubt recovering from a fabulously successful and thoughtfully executed festival weekend, was not available for comment at this time.