General

Kathleen Wynne

Sharlee
Cranston-Reimer, The Conversation, June 6, 2018

How
homophobia, misogyny & race played a role in the Ontario election

In this
file photo, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne smiles as she arrives at the Toronto
Blue Jays game against the New York Yankees during home opener AL baseball
action in Toronto on Friday, April 4, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Kathleen
Wynne’s status as the first lesbian premier of Ontario has worked against her
this election, just as her sexuality has throughout her career. But we cannot
stop at sexuality when asking tough questions. Wynne’s tenure as premier might
be called feminist, but homophobia may be less of a factor in her defeat than
misogyny.
As
cultural critics Rinaldo
Walcott and Naomi Klein
point out in the Toronto Star, Conservative
leader Doug Ford’s taunting comments about Wynne’s smile served to remind us of
the similarities between her treatment and that of Hillary Clinton, another
widely hated (though straight) woman who was well-qualified for the job.
Women in
politics (indeed, most women in the public sphere) in the West have always
experienced gender-based discrimination in the form of punishment and policing
for daring to step out of the domestic sphere.
This
discrimination ranges from dismissal, especially of younger women, to the
“bitch” stereotype for older women, who would merely be called “tough” if they
were men, and, of course, these forms of discrimination extend to sexual
harassment and assault.
For queer
women, there is the added stereotype of being “man-hating” and they also face
the threat of “corrective rape” in addition to slurs and other forms of
homophobic harassment. 
Ontario
Premier Kathleen Wynne walks with her partner Jane Rounthwaite, left, during
the annual Pride Parade in Toronto, Sunday July 3, 2016. THE CANADIAN
PRESS/Mark Blinch

Despite
what Canada believes about its tolerance, particularly with regard to gay
marriage, the recent
apology to queer people
and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marching
in the annual Pride parade, we live in a homophobic society.

That
means that all queer people are subject to implicit (and, far too often,
explicit) bias. This happens to varying degrees, of course, but even in more
supposedly liberal places like Toronto, where police didn’t
believe the queer community
when it spoke out about the
disappearances of community members. Homophobia is alive and well across
Canada.
With that
said, though, Wynne has made some decisions that were unpopular and that have
also surely contributed to what will likely be her party’s loss on Thursday,
though the reasons for the Liberals’ lack of popularity are contradictory.
A rise in
inequality in Ontario?
There
have been victories under Wynne, but also too many losses and too much
maintenance of the status quo. As Walcott and
Klein
write: “Despite important victories for workers like the
minimum wage hike, and despite election-year promises of new spending, Ontario
under the Liberals has become a more unequal society, with the benefits of a
long period of prosperity still stuck at the top.”
Ontarians
have heavily criticized the sale of Hydro One, for example, for privatizing our
energy and spurring rate increases for consumers.
Wynne’s
legislating people back to work during a strike has received divergent
responses: It has been both heavily criticized as an assault on labour rights,
and also championed as necessary.
Indeed, her anti-NDP statement that the striking York University employees
ought to be legislated back to work shows her priorities are with maintaining
the status quo.
The
forefront of women’s rights
At the
same time, people have taken issue with the sexual education curriculum the
Wynne government introduced for being too left-leaning; in particular, people
have responded badly to the inclusion of queer and transgender content as well
as the curriculum’s challenges to heteronormativity. Some of that criticism
focused on Wynne’s sexuality and the stereotype of “queer
indoctrination
.”
Aside
from the changes to the curriculum, the closest the Wynne government has come
to initiatives that explicitly benefit queer communities — though not very
prominently — is with the Ontario Fertility Program, which names queer people
among candidates for fertility treatment. This program has not received much
criticism; it’s hard to argue with the facilitation of reproduction for people
who struggle. But it is one place that her queerness might be made visible. 
Ontario
Premier Kathleen Wynne waves from her bus at a campaign event in Paris, Ont. in
May 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Significantly,
these are all feminist issues: The economy, labour rights, knowledge about
ourselves and our bodies and reproductive rights. And Wynne’s track record on
these issues is divided.

Economically,
Wynne’s policies have been right-leaning, while her more gender-focused work —
while far from perfect — provide more protections than women have previously
had in Ontario. Historically queer women have been at the forefront of most, if
not all, feminist fights.
The other
more explicit feminist initiative has been Wynne’s “It’s Never Ok” program,
which aims to combat sexual violence, and requires new workplace and campus
sexual violence policies. It also includes funding for education initiatives.
Getting a
seat at the table
It is
notable, though, that these policy decisions do not tend to have a lot to do
with queerness.
Wynne’s
sexuality has not significantly informed her political choices because it
can’t. Her career wouldn’t survive it, as no queer politician’s would in the
current climate; queer people are stuck in a discourse that “we’re just like
you,” making it nearly impossible to address issues that are specifically faced
by queer people.
Wynne’s
status as a lesbian is also evidence that a marginalized identity is not a
guarantee of political investment. She is a queer woman who has experienced
discrimination, but she is a white queer woman, and that makes a world of
difference in her priorities, how she has been treated and how she is received
and understood publicly.
Wynne’s
right-leaning investments shore up her proximity to power in order to get a
seat at the table. This is regardless of the consequences for the most
vulnerable members of our society. She rarely mentions the issues that most
affect, for example, racialized Ontarians. Her marginalized identity is
potentially exploited, both by herself and others, in order to appear “diverse”
without making substantive change.
The
“leftist” issues that Wynne has focused on speak mainly to white women. Far too
little attention is paid, for example, to the staggering numbers of missing and
murdered Indigenous women. As is the case for the over-representation of
racialized, poor, disabled women and transgender people who experience gender
violence in the “It’s Never Ok” policy. And where there is mention, the policy
is vague, additive and police-centric, which does not address the needs of
people who do not feel safe with the police.
A
centrist is a centrist is a centrist
So when
we think about Wynne’s sexuality, we simply cannot consider it outside of the
rest of the social categories she occupies. 
Wynne is
pictured between glasses as she speaks during a campaign stop at Crosscut
Distillery in Sudbury, Ont., on May 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

She is
certainly hated for her sexuality, for being a woman and for being a feminist
(even if she doesn’t take up that label herself). But despite these
identifications, her whiteness protects her from the worst of the violence she
might experience. Her privilege helps to shape her priorities.

Wynne’s
willingness to take a “centrist” position (which are always conservative
positions, despite how they are coded) harms people whose lives and well-being
are put at risk by these policies or by the lack thereof.
Her
alliances are clear when she calls the NDP and Andrea Horwath “radical.”
Instead of fighting those systems that are so violent, she, like many white
queer people, has shown that she will shore up too many of them.
She has
been protected by her alliances with power structures and the ways she has sold
out Ontarians, especially the most vulnerable. Being a lesbian has not changed
that.