OPINION: False equivalences in our public discourse

The two ‘sides’ in some cultural debate aren’t even

For those who pay attention, and for many of us who work in the information dissemination business, it’s been a hard slog, wading through weeks of discourse at such low levels.

One of the big challenges tacitly undertaken by all media is when to cover certain issues and topics, lest we give voice to hatred and ignorance.

The man standing on a street corner shouting conspiracy theories, for example, is a curiosity, not a news story.

And in the debate over controversial issues we see false equivalences abound left, right and centre.

• READ MORE: Neufeld will run again on ‘gender positive’ platform

• READ MORE: Education minister blasts Chilliwack school trustee on gender issues

Much attention has been given lately to school board trustee Barry Neufeld for his “brave” stance in religious defiance of LGBTQ-inclusion in the school curriculum.

This is a man who called those who support inclusion for gay students “radical cultural nihilists.”

We often talk of the two “sides” of issues. But here one is in favour of a teacher resource that “includes” gay and lesbian and transgendered kids, and the other that seeks to “exclude.”

The same false equivalence has emerged over the years regarding all kinds of sex education in schools, feared in some circles as perverse. Knowledge versus ignorance.

Prominent Christian social conservative broadcaster Michael Coren put it well in a wry Tweet: “I sympathize with those who fear that sex ed will sexualize kids. Our youngest studied WWI on a Monday; by Friday he’d invaded Belgium.”

Coren himself has been excoriated because of the content of his 2016 book Epiphany: A Christian’s change of heart and mind over same-sex marriage.

“My children have been called gay, and I have been compared to a child molester and a murderer,” he says. “These are new experiences for me. Until last year, I was considered something of a champion of social conservatism in Canada and was well known among politically active Christians.”

His crime, of course, is moving from exclusion to inclusion.

Another example: Back in September, without any discussion, city council created a new policy directive to deny requests to decorate crosswalks. The only real crosswalk decoration, of course, is the rainbow, which is seen in many cities including Vancouver, Fort Langley and Vernon.

On Aug. 10, city hall received an email request from an individual to put a rainbow crosswalk somewhere downtown. Then, lo and behold, on Aug. 15 the city received a request from Chilliwack Pro-Life to install a “pro-life crosswalk” depicting “painted crosses or infant feet.”

(The woman who sent the email request did not respond to my question about the coincidence.)

The rainbow flag says everyone is OK. Being anti-rainbow flag means not everyone is OK. A “pro-life” crosswalk? That would be an activist statement showing the city condones a position in violation of the Supreme Court of Canada.

“Canadian law ensures fair treatment, and as a result, the City is unable to pick and choose between multiple applicants,” according to a city staff report.

False equivalence.

City governments and elected officials make choices all the time. That’s why women have reproductive rights and why homosexuality is legal.

There are some who would like to return to times when women could not access safe healthcare and gay men were jailed, but as a society we are past that.

The issue of SOGI and sex education has created a really toxic discourse, and not just from the anti-SOGI side.

But the “sides” here are not equivalent.

We can quibble over the details of how the resource is used, but essentially one “side” is about information and the other ignorance.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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