Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Federal Candidate in Sudbury Calls for 'Homosexuals' to be Executed

I kid you not. Here is the story. The perpetrator of this awful, blatant hatred is David Popescu, an independent candidate who regularly runs in elections while spouting extremist views that he claims to derive from his version of Christianity. He made this point in at an all-candidates meeting at a local high school, and then reaffirmed his position on the matter in a later interview with the reporter who wrote the linked story, which quotes him directly:

"A young man asked me what I think of homosexual marriages and I said I think homosexuals should be executed," he said.

The local police are investigating it as a hate crime. My feelings about the best role for the state in responding to oppressive actions are complicated and I'm not going to try to figure them out here. In particular, I have concerns about how this allows the state to masquerade as protecting the rights and safety of queer people, when in fact historically and in the present it plays a major role in perpetuating heterosexism in ways that make acute hatred like this more possible. However, to the extent that it signals serious disapproval of at least certain kinds of anti-queer actions, I do appreciate the fact they are opening an investigation.

What I think is notable and reprehensible is the response of authority figures in the school and the other candidates...apparently students were upset about the call for mass executions and let their displeasure be known, but "Candidates and teachers looked on in silence as students called for him to be 'cut off.'" In other words, none of the non-youth in the room seemed to feel any need to condemn Popescu's comment.

Here is how the article goes on to describe the responses from various parts of the education system:

Paul Camillo, principal of Sudbury Secondary, emphasized the school's inclusiveness in his closing remarks but did not condemn the statement.

"We're here today to hear what the candidates have to say," he said in an interview. "As an inclusive school, we respect all other opinion although we may not agree with them — and I know there were definitely some things said today that we don't agree with." When Sun Media-owned Sudbury Star later requested a comment on the controversy from the Rainbow District School Board, the board directed Camillo to provide its response, rather than the board's chair or director of education.

Camillo said he could not state whether Popescu would be welcomed back to Sudbury Secondary, as a candidate in a future political debate.

So let me just be clear here: a guest in their school said that some of their students should be executed, and they refused to condemn the statement? They are more concerned with being "inclusive" of his speech than responding in a meaningful way to the experiences of the 20-plus people in that auditorium that he had just said deserved to die? Many of whom are probably wrestling with all kinds of shame and self-loathing already? When suicide by queer youth is much higher than the average for straight youth?

It is this sort of response, especially coming as it does to about as extreme an anti-queer sentiment as you could possibly find, that contributes to circumstances I blogged about back in the spring -- the profound lack of safety felt by queer youth in Canadian schools, as found in a national survey. One of its key findings was that two-thirds of queer youth in grades 8 to 12 feel that their schools are unsafe. But evidently them feeling safe is much, much less important to the schools than some hateful idiot getting to feel included.

The article about these hateful comments is not a bad one, as the mainstream media goes, but it is telling that the dictates of newspaper article structure -- put what you consider to be most important first because most people only read the first few paragraphs, and leave what you consider to be least important to the end, where most people don't see it -- have been interpreted such that response from a person whose death was actually advocated was left to the last few paragraphs. Here is what Gary Kinsman (who also happens to be a friend and a fellow activist on many issues) told the reporter:

An advocate for the Sudbury Gay and Lesbian community said while Popescu's extreme views are well known, he has never said something "so extreme." "He's not simply saying that lesbians or gay men are mentally ill or somehow deviant or criminals. He's saying we should be subject to the death penalty," said Gary Kinsman.

"I think sometimes violence and hatred towards gays and lesbians gets dressed up in sort of a religious guise and is somehow tolerated. I just don't think it should be tolerated at all." Kinsman was particularly concerned the comments were made before a group of young people.

"There are lots of young people in high schools in Sudbury who are struggling with their sexualities. Often times, it's pretty hard time for them," he said. "To say something to young people is pretty terrible."

It would be great if this horrible event could be used by local queer activists to put some pressure on the local school board to actually start taking the safety of queer youth seriously.


skdadl said...

Well, somebody has to do something about that. I have a lot of trouble with our hate-speech laws, but that statement comes very close to incitement, and people have to see how dangerous it is.

Feminists understand this danger too. Unquestionably, the hatred fomented against feminists and pro-choice politics has encouraged some wingnuts to go out and commit violence, a few to kill. It doesn't matter how many killers might be sparked by that kind of rhetoric -- one is already too many, obviously.

noamzs said...

When I heard this story, the first thing I thought about was 'what did the other candidates he was debating have to say about this?' Why is nobody asking this question? Did they just sit idly by as well, or did the stand up and defend the rights of gays or anyone else who chooses a lifestyle that doesn't harm anybody else?

Scott said...

Hi skdadl and noamzs!

Yes, somebody has to do something. Regardless of my uncertainty about police involvement, it is a disgrace that school officials and the other candidates said nothing. I hadn't seen it when I wrote this piece originally, but part of the sub-headline in the Sudbury Star print version of this story is "fellow candidates say nothing."

Only the youth who were present had the politically appropriate response.

Shame on the school personnel and shame on the candidates.

Anonymous said...

I was there, and I don't feel that the lack of immediate reaction from the adults in the room was due to a lack of caring. I think many people were just in such a state of shock that they were not sure how to react. The staff members of Sudbury Secondary School are open minded and supportive people. Many gay people come to my school to find acceptance. However, I also feel that the fact that he was allowed to continue in the debate after his hateful comment was shameful. I left the building shocked; I'm not a naive person but I never expected to see someone display so much hatred towards gay people. Thank you for writing about this issue with the students in mind as many of us feet incredibly hurt by the comment.