Breakenridge: Not all Albertans have evolved in their attitudes toward gays
The Alberta government’s sudden and remarkable reversal on the issue of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in schools is illustrative of a great many things, chief among them being the public’s growing intolerance of homophobia.
The government’s initial impulse seemed to be to pander to those who were uncomfortable with GSAs, but that quickly backfired. Even many of those opposed to GSAs took great pains to stress that their position was not intended to marginalize gay kids.
The explicitly anti-gay Christian perspective has, for the most part, been confined to the fringes. One might recall last year when then-Tory leadership candidate Ric McIver was scrambling to distance himself from the notoriously anti-gay Street Church. Even Bill Whatcott, who has previously courted controversy in Alberta for handing out anti-gay pamphlets, has thrown in the towel. Last week, Whatcott announced an end to his ministry in Canada, citing his failure in “activating large numbers of Christians to take a public stand against the homosexual agenda.”
Unfortunately, the broader decline of anti-gay sentiment obscures the homophobia that still thrives in certain communities. Ignoring it means giving additional credence to its purveyors and compounding the damage it’s causing.
There was a big red flag in 2012 when Islamic preacher Bilal Philips was invited by the Muslim Council of Calgary to speak in our city. Philips has openly professed the belief that Islam mandates the death penalty for homosexuals. By presenting him as a serious Islamic thinker, it only vindicates his religious interpretations. Another Islamic preacher, Abdullah Hakim Quick, was brought to Calgary in 2013. He, too, believes that Islam mandates the execution of gays, and refers to homosexuality as “sick” and “not natural.”
Similar language can be found to this day on the Muslims of Calgary website. In the “Ask the Imam” section, a question from a gay Muslim is posted and the answer provided is quite shocking. Homosexuality is described as “a severe illness and a grave calamity.” It warns that Allah “gives people a painful punishment” for partaking in such “evil acts,” but also cautions that “one of the gravest mistakes is to think that there is no remedy for this disease.”
Imagine the torment that a young Muslim struggling with his or her sexuality must feel upon reading that. Imagine the message being sent to others in the Muslim community about how they should feel about gays and lesbians. It’s quite alarming. We see the same even among those held up as pillars of the local Muslim community. Syed Soharwardy, founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, was front and centre last week announcing a new fatwa aimed at the religious ideology of ISIS. But if we are to take Soharwardy as an expert on the “major sins” of Islam, then that only serves to reinforce his other declarations.
As researcher Jonathan Halevi has detailed, Soharwardy’s website describes homosexuality as “completely forbidden” and “one of the Kaba’ir (major) sins in Islam.” A previous version of that webpage also described homosexuality as “abnormal behaviour” that “must be cured.” Soharwardy has also described Ontario’s new modernized sex-ed curriculum as “very destructive” and a “slippery slope” to “legalized pornographic literature for children.”
Again, these are not fringe figures. And by treating them as respected community leaders, we send the message that their views have legitimacy and are widely held. It’s counterproductive to the tolerance we’re trying to foster. It’s also tremendously hypocritical on the part of these Muslim leaders who denounce “Islamophobia” while simultaneously contributing to a destructive marginalization of homosexuals.
As we struggle to eliminate the last vestiges of anti-gay prejudice in Alberta, we do ourselves no favours by turning a blind eye to some of the worst examples of it.
Rob Breakenridge is the co-host of Kingkade & Breakenridge on NewsTalk 770. email@example.com