Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Straight Goods on #Homosexism

I happened to be at home with the flu, February 9th of this year, when word turned up on my Facebook wall about a curious exchange between a Toronto District School Board trustee and a Toronto City Councillor. The exchange had to do with nudity at Toronto Pride, at the event's annual Sunday parade, in particular.

I logged into my Twitter account to see @TrusteeSam and @krystenwongtam have at it. Sam Sotiropoulos, a Trustee in the The TDSB's Ward 20, wanted Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the riding of Toronto Centre Rosedale, home to the city's LGBTQ Village, to explain why "Canada's nudity laws" were not being enforced during the annual Pride Parade. The heated exchange quickly made the press -- in particular, because of the trustee's assertion that defenders of Pride traditions were guilty of, in his description, "homosexism." 

Twitter followers paused, fingers flexing over keyboards and devices, before asking the rookie trustee to substantiate his claim and define his term. Sotiropoulos took to UrbanDictionary.com, where a post by “Dave1234567891011121” defined the term as...



Undaunted by guffaws, Sotiropolous pressed on...
He even brought his anti-homosexism crusade to talk radio, appearing on AM640's John Oakley Show on February 14th and The Tarek Fatah Show on CFRB on February 16th.

Then Mr Sotiropoulos cited a source...
Something never sat right with me about the way the passage was framed. I was pretty sure the author had something else in mind in collocating the terms homosexism and heterosexism, and so I tracked down Professor Peg O'Connor at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, where she chairs the Department of Philosophy and teaches in the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Program. Coincidentally, Peg has been a repeat guest on TVO's The Agenda, recently speaking about Russian anti-gay laws.

I sent her scene caps of some of Trustee Sotiropoulos' tweets, including the one referencing her article. Below is her reply, reprinted with permission:

Hi Gordon,
Wow. It is ever outrageous that Sam Sotiropoulos could use the term "homosexism" in the way he has. It is completely inaccurate and willfully so it seems. I coined the term to describe the discrimination against bisexual people by lesbians and gays who assume one can/should only desire one sex. This is a shared and deeply problematic assumption with heterosexim.
More frightening is that this person is on the school board. He has earned himself a failing grade for reading comprehension.
Here's the full article in case you want to read it. I hadn't read this in years, so it was interesting to revisit this piece.
Feel free to share my response. May there be many wonderful floats in a totally fabulous parade. I will be following from afar.
Thanks for bringing this to my attention!
Best,
peg 
-- Peg O'ConnorChair, Department of Philosophy
Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Program 
Gustavus Adolphus College
Peg and I emailed back and forth discussing her article and her reaction to how her work had been misused. What she called homosexism at that time, many scholars, notably Shiri Eisner, would now reference as monosexism, at least where it applies to the oppression of bisexual, pansexual and fluid communities by some lesbians, gays and straights. Given the unique dynamic of relations she was describing between lesbians and bisexual women, homosexism was a workable term to use. Her work had nothing to do with queer-identified people discriminating against heterosexuals. 

Her article was entitled, Warning! Contents Under Heterosexual Pressure.

Postscript:

Peg O'Connor will be pleased to know that a motion by Trustee Sotiropoulos to have the Chair of the Toronto District School Board write to Toronto City Council and the The Office of the Mayor asking if Toronto Police Services will enforce nudity laws at Pride was defeated at the Board's April 9th meeting. Additionally  the Board voted to reaffirm its commitment to Toronto Pride. Toronto will play host to World Pride in June/July of 2014.

The Crown Prosecutor of Ontario has not pressed charges of public nudity against Pride participants since 2000.