Friday, April 4, 2008

Tommy Douglas on homosexuality in 1968

Yesterday's tape incident with Tory MP Tom Lukiwski reminded me how opinions can evolve over time, how some thoughts shared on tape in a different era can seem so wrong when viewed decades later.

This clip of NDP stalwart Tommy Douglas, the founder of medicare, the CBC's Greatest Canadian, discussing homosexuality during the 1968 federal leaders' debate, speaks volumes about this very issue. Of course, Douglas was simply communicating the mainstream consensus opinion on the subject of homosexuality at the time. His statement may have even been fairly progressive for 1968. Within a few years, that consensus changed, as we know, as homosexuality is not a mental illness, but an inborn sexual orientation just like heterosexuality. When heard today, Douglas' comments seem absolutely archaic.

My point being - it's easy to find old clips of politicians saying things that were mainstream in their day, but considered bigoted by today's standards. Before we crucify Tom Lukiwski for his hateful 1991 remarks, let's not forget that opinions about homosexuality have evolved greatly over time. I truly hope Lukiwski's have as well (despite his vote to re-open the issue of equal marriage in 2006.)

Heck, I'm sure we could even find a clip of Pierre Trudeau attacking homosexuals in the 1940s or 1950s if we had enough time to look.


And of course it's easy to find clips of various Liberals making homophobic statements in the recent past. In posting Douglas' 1968 comments today, I was merely trying to illustrate that even the most progressive of us have come a long way over the years on this issue. This was not an attempt by me to slam Mr. Douglas or the NDP at all. I know full well that, on the issue of queer rights, the NDP has been at the forefront in Canada.

**********UPDATE # 2

I most definitely agree that Tommy Douglas was not motivated by hate with his 1968 comments. Douglas's comments are only offensive if you ignore the historical context in which they were spoken. But of course doing so is unfair. I think highly of Douglas, and not so much of Lukiwski.

With this post, I'm certainly not trying to let Lukiwski off the hook for what he said. But I do agree that everyone should be able to learn or unlearn previous prejudices, given the right life experiences. Or I'd like to think that, at least. My hope is that the learning for Lukiwski starts now, if it hasn't started already. I'm sure this incident will be life-changing for him. And is Lukiwski so untypical of men of his generation? There are very few people out there who haven't uttered or thought homophobic thoughts, or previously been very ignorant. That's why I pointed out Tommy Douglas, because if he can be mistaken, perhaps we all can be forgiven.


rww said...

It should be noted that in 1968 homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

"In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association confirmed the importance of the new, better-designed research and removed homosexuality from the official manual that lists mental and emotional disorders. Two years later, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution supporting this removal.

leftdog said...

Until the early 1970's, the Canadian Medical Association labeled homosexuality as a mental disorder. That means EVERY doctor in this country was bound by that 'scientific' interpretation. The amount of damage that they did to gay men and women was unmeasurable.

However, I am afraid that when I see a Liberal supporter raise the name of 'Tommy Douglas' in this debate, that there is a partisan political motivation behind it. I don't appreciate the fact that you chose to bring Douglas up when you could have discussed the Canadian Medical Association, The Canadian Psychiatric Association, etc.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! Well stated, Matt. I posted something similar over to my little boog.

Like you, I want to take Lukiwski at his word that he's evolved. If we don't believe that attitudes can evolve, there's little point in communication.

And, by way of minor disagreement, I contend that attitudes haven't really changed as much as we'd like to think. But I'm optimistic. Attitudes are changing and evolving, slowly but surely.


Matt Guerin said...

leftdog, please take a pill. My point was even someone as progressive and great as Tommy Douglas has made statements on tape that don't measure up over time on this issue. I'm sure he might have changed his opinion on homosexuality post-1973 and beyond. I don't deny that New Democrats have mostly led the way in terms of queer rights in this country, while at the same time the Conservatives out there have always brought up the rear, no pun intended. Most men have said very hateful bigoted things about homosexuals in the past, and I hope that most over time dispel their hatred when faced with the facts. I don't deny that homophobia is still rampant, more in some communities in Canada than in others. I hope this Lukiwski incident forces more people to re-examine their own prejudices and reflect on how far we've come in 40 short years, or 17 years for that matter.

JimBobby said...

"However, I am afraid that when I see a Liberal supporter raise the name of 'Tommy Douglas' in this debate, that there is a partisan political motivation behind it."

I ain't a Liberal and I ain't got nothin' against ol' Tommy Douglas. I think it's valid point and it illustrates just what Matt wanted to illustrate. Times change, people change.

WADR, I have to ask? Is the fact that two NDP bloggers pounced on this post with nearly identical rebuttals to the Douglas citation an indication of an NDP "talking points" program? I know the Con's have something like that for their members. Do the Dippers have a ready list of responses for blogs and radio phone-in shows and MSM comments like the Con's do? Seriously, because it sure seems like it.


Cicely said...

Very nicely done, slag the NDP but wrap it in around a message that people can change. Your spin abilities are better than most of the other Lib bloggers. Below is the comment I posted at Prairie Fire and others. It still applies since for all your couching about changing values over time it is still a partisan swipe at the NDP. Very Clintonian of you...

Seriously? You are trying to slam Tommy Douglas for having what was at the time a relatively progressive view? Look, I am an activist lesbian feminist. I love my mom and dad but when I came out at 15, these (L)iberal (both party and philosophy) people thought that all I needed was psychotherapy. That was in the mid 80s not the early 70s.
Before you go after the NDP for something that was said 40yrs ago by a man born in 1904, you might want to see how a considerable number of LIberal MPs voted on equal marriage just 4yrs ago. MPs who are still sitting in your Caucus might I add. MPs who came of age during the feminist and gay liberation eras.
PS most of the same MPs are also anti-choice...

Cicely said...

JB - no talking points that I am aware of. It just seems very interesting to me that so many lib bloggers are posting this clip. Not hard to see the partisan swipe either. Matt may be the most subtle but given the number of YouTube clips of Liberal MPs saying nasty things during equal marriage debate (and all LGBT debates since 1982) it is just interesting that it is the Douglas clip that is being used. Coincidence? I think not.

Matt Guerin said...

Wow, is there anything scarier than a rabidly partisan Dipper? I've criticized many Liberals on this site and others and I'll continue to do so, along with anyone else deserving of criticism. Cicely completely misses my point and writes the whole thing off as a partisan attack on the NDP. Now that's pathetic.

And for the record, I support Obama.

Cicely said...

JB - no talking points. Not hard to make the same analysis of the partisan play given how many lib bloggers have picked up on this clip. Matt may be more subtle than others but it doesn't make it less partisan. Why didn't he choose a clip from one of the many members of the Liberal Caucus (many still sitting) that said very nasty things during equal marriage debate?

Cicely said...

Sorry but still not entirely buying it. I have also seen some fairly "rabid partisanship" on your blog. Obama supporter or not - Clintonian play - just call 'em as I see 'em

Matt Guerin said...

Because, Cicely, I was trying to make a point about how opinions can change over time on this issue. By clipping Douglas, I thought I proved quite effectively how far we've all come. Considering the NDP has been the most progressive party when it comes to queer rights over the years, yet if we go back far enough with video clips, we can still be surprised with what he hear.

Do you honestly think I'm arguing the NDP is homophobic or something? Or that Douglas's quote in 1968 somehow reflects badly on the NDP today? Give me a break.

Jay said...

No party is innocent on this matter. Liberals have been as nasty as Lukiwski. Tom Wappel for instance. I must say I was surprised by Tommy Douglas though. The NDP must give up the belief that it is somehow better than everyone else because they haven't been proven otherwise because they unable to form a federal government. You'd swear saying anything negative about the NDP was tantamount to to questioning god back in the crusades.

I am more likely to write off Douglas' view because of the time period he said it in. My parents had reservations about homosexuals until they realized they had one of their own. Now most gay people in my hometown come out to my parents first, including RCMP officers.

Lukiwski, on the other hand, had lived through the charter of rights, decriminalization of homosexuality and the 1990's were not much different than 5 years ago. He was 44 at the time and people are pretty much who they are by then. Brad Wall was being a stupid kid. I don't expect Harper to do anything, nor would I want him to. This is Mr. Lukiwski to own. He should step aside temporarily and do some volunteer work with gay teens, and/or work in an AIDS hospice. Otherwise, his apology is just words like he claims his screed was.

Jennifer Smith said...

Sorry, but while these sorts of comments and attitudes may have been 'mainstream' in 1968, they most certainly were NOT in 1991. They may have been held privately and even spoken aloud in certain circles, but it was certainly not something you would want to be caught saying on the record, even then.

I would say it would be equivalent to someone using the 'N'-word in the mid-seventies, compared to someone using it in the 1950s. In the 50s it wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. In the 70s you would have been berated as a bigot, and if you were any sort of public figure there would have been loud calls for your resignation.

1991 might seem like a long time ago to some of you young'uns, but it really wasn't.

JimBobby said...

I'm carryin' on a similar discussion over to Stageleft and at my own blog. I made a comment on those that I think has relevance here, too. Since I'm on the forgiveness theme, I'll ask your forgiveness for the copy and paste job.

There is still plenty of homophobia that goes either unnoticed or we let it slide. A popular schoolyard taunt in the 50’s and 60’s when I was alad was to call someone a “queer” or a “fag.”

Today, things haven’t changed much. I don’t frequent schoolyards but even I’ve heard the derogatory exclamation, “That’s so gay!” I’ve even heard parents of teenagers use this expression. And, yes, I did react with, “What do you have against gays?” Shocked silence and then they never speak to you again. In 2008.

Males in my generation were given a negative portrayal of homosexuals from the very time we learned such people existed. In fact, we learned of their existence by asking just what it meant when the big boys called someone a fag or a queer. Anti-gay prejudice lives on today and has been far more acceptable than racial or religious prejudice.

Also, wrt Jennifer's point re 1991 attitudes, I point out regional and urban vs rural attitude differences were in play then as now. The N-word may have been taboo by the 70's but Paki jokes, Pollack jokes, Newfie jokes were all the rage in small town Ontario. In the 80's, the emergence of AIDS and HIV were potrayed as the gay plague and near-hysterical anti-gay attitudes were rampant.


Greg said...

WADR, I have to ask? Is the fact that two NDP bloggers pounced on this post with nearly identical rebuttals to the Douglas citation an indication of an NDP "talking points" program? I know the Con's have something like that for their members. Do the Dippers have a ready list of responses for blogs and radio phone-in shows and MSM comments like the Con's do? Seriously, because it sure seems like it.

JB, if only the NDP was that organized.

leftdog said...

In Canada in 1968 .. homosexuality was ILLEGAL and you could go to jail for it. When Trudeau made his 'take the state out of the bedrooms of the nation' statement, many Canadians went off the deep end! They would NOT agree that homosexuality should be legalized. This may give you some idea why many who grew up in that era have had such a difficult time coming out publicly. The fact that it was a jailable offence instilled deep fear of honesty on the subject.

That is the time and context of the Douglas video. He was arguing that gay persons should not be put in jail!

One year late, the Stonewall riot occurred in New York City and the gay rights movement was born.

I still think that bringing a 1968 comment from Douglas into the Lewkiski debate is nothing but Liberal partisanship.

Anonymous said...

Comment by Scott-

The difference was Douglas didn't know better. As you said Public Opinion was similar to Douglas's. In 1991 Tom's comments were not held by the majority, people knew better back then. I think you grasped this but maintained your argument of highlighting Douglas when the two situations aren't similar.


JimBobby said...

Matt asks: "Do you honestly think I'm arguing the NDP is homophobic or something? Or that Douglas's quote in 1968 somehow reflects badly on the NDP today?"

LeftDog answers:"I still think that bringing a 1968 comment from Douglas into the Lewkiski debate is nothing but Liberal partisanship."

Not accepting peoples' word seems to be the order of the day on this topic.

Just for a bit of incendiary historical reference, AIDS was on most people's minds in the mid-to-late 80's. Back then, it was still referred to as the "gay plague." Gays were suspected of spreading a worldwide epidemic.

I don't think that impression has been fully erased even today. In 1991 Canada it was still a widely held belief. The tolerance and acceptance that we know today started in the 60's. It was dealt a big setback with the AIDS epidemic.

I don't think Lukiwski's 1991 attitude was all that rare. Unenlightened, yes. Uncommon, no.


toujoursdan said...

As a gay man, I have to agree with leftdog and others who are offended by this comparison.

When Tommy Douglas spoke in 1968, George Klippert was rotting in jail under a life sentence as a "dangerous sex offender", upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada for merely admitting he was gay to police. Douglas was being progressive and pushing for more freedom and equality. Lukiwski's statements have no such intent.

Secondly, the content and intent between Douglas and Lukiwski couldn't be more different. Douglas was repeating what medical literature said at the time to call for compassion towards gays.

On the other hand, Lukiwski was demonizing gays as "homosexual faggots... who spread diseases" which is hate speech by focusing on a group of people rather than an act. It's demonizing a group of people using reductionist thinking that we are no more than what we do in bed. If someone made a similar comment about Jews, aboriginals or Quebecois, they would have been out on their butt.

I am a little shocked that so many non-right-wing wingnuts are trotting this equivalency out. They are completely different in content and intent.

Finally, it was Lukiwski who gave the last speech in parliament before the Civil Marriage Act in 2005 was voted on. He was the one who said that passing the gay marriage act would out a "slippery slope" to polygamy. That wasn't 17 years ago; it was 3 years ago. How much has changed?

RuralSandi said...

You have to keep in mind that Tommy Douglas was around 65 at that time (born: 1904). This was a whole generation (almost 2 generations) prior to Lukiwski (who would have been 17 at the time).

Lukiwski was a babyboomer, had gone throught the Civil Rights era, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, etc. Unless he lived in the backwoods and didn't know what was going on at the time - there is no excuse.

If you consider what Douglas said, he was ahead of his time in thinking compared to most born when he was. He wasn't spewing hate - he just didn't understand.

There's a huge difference.

Matt Guerin said...

Scott, I think, sadly, most would agree that Lukiwski's 1991 comments were likely held by the majority of folks at that time, certainly in conservative circles in Saskatchewan. In an ideal world, he would've known better, but not this one...

Reality Bites said...

During that same debate, neither Mr. Trudeau, nor Mr. Stanfield, saw fit to make remarks as regressive as Mr. Douglas.

Of course his words pale compared to those of Ed Schreyer, who in the late 1980s called homosexuality an affliction society needs to protect itself against. Words that to this day he has steadfastly refused to apologize for.

Matt Guerin said...

I agree Douglas' comments show him to be very progressive for his time, very much the leader we know he was.

By comparison, Lukiwski is anything but. Very much a small-minded, backroom Tory type, comfortable talking like this among colleagues on video, typical and average for his time, both in 1991 and dare I say it now.

Still, we can't deny the fact that Tommy's 1968 comments haven't aged well, which was my original point. Only NDP partisans can't seem to get their heads around this one. We could condemn him too using modern sensibilities, but that would be unfair.

I can't say if Lukiwski has changed since 1991, only he can. He says he no longer holds those views. This seems probable to me, as I know many people who used to talk like that, but have changed their tune in the last 15 or so years.

Mark said...

I love it when people say the guy has "evolved"

Maybe he has. But what if his seat mates don't believe in evolution? Then what?

toujoursdan said...

No one disputes that Douglas' views are out of date in 2008. I don't think you understand that one is hate speech and the other isn't.

What I (and perhaps others) don't understand is why one would trot Douglas out in this debate at all. The intent and content between Douglas and Lukiwski is completely different. Douglas was quoting a mainstream medical opinion in calling for increasing compassion and right. Lukiwski was attacking poeple. There is no comparison.

If Lukiwski had said that homosexual acts are "dirty and spread diseases" that would one thing, but he attacked people by saying that "homosexual faggots... spread disease". That is hate speech. Unlike Douglas', Lukiwski's statement was never one of professional opinion.

Using the defence that others hold the same view is not valid. Lukiwski is an MP. Lukiwski has power over the rest of us. He can pass laws which grant and take away rights. People who have that kind of power have a higher responsibility for their speech.

Again, if he had said that aboriginals or Jews spread disease, would this even be debated?

(who votes Liberal)

Cicely said...

Matt - it is tough for me not to be partisan on this issue in particular because I was VERY active on Equal Marriage as well as other gay rights issues dating back to the 80s. I can't tell you how often I was disappointed by the Liberal Party of Canada for forcing the LGBTQ community to fight for each and every right in court (appealing us all the way) and turn around and repeatedly argue that they were the party of minorities, the party of the Charter (blah blah). I can assure you that the NDP was much much much better.
BTW - During all of this time, I was not affiliated with any party. If I need to proves non-partisan bona fides - my grandfather was a lib MP for 20yrs and my father worked on Paul Martin Sr campaign so of the liberal party I know a few things.
In fact, if I come across as rabid, it is because of the dismal track record the liberal party has on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Lukiwski voted against SSM three years ago - how much as he "evolved"?

Again, if he had said that aboriginals or Jews spread disease, would this even be debated?
Against the Jews? He'd have resigned already. Just goes to show that society has not changed all that much...

I find it shameful that some are excusing him.

Bringing up Douglas is only trying to deflect the issue.

The Mound of Sound said...

Excellent post Matt. Unlike some of the virulent stuff thrown at you by enraged dippers I don't think you disparaged Douglas at all. That is what he believed back then and, yes, it was progressive for its time just as Trudeau was when he proclaimed the state had no business in the bedrooms of the nation.
This whole Lukiwski business has generated oceans of sanctimony and lakes of hypocrisy. You're to be commended for your balance on this one.


Matt Guerin said...

Cicely, okay I take bad the word "rabid." I should say that all parties have bad track records on gay rights, incl the NDP, although the Dippers are the most advanced on these issues, I have admitted. The Libs have come a long way. Now only about 20% of the federal caucus remains anti-gay and those numbers are dwindling. We're even making inroads into the Tories, where only 3 voted for SSM in 2005, 13 voted to keep SSM in 2006.

Although I should remind that it was Jean Chretien who didn't appeal an Ontario court ruling in 2003 when he could've continued the fight against SSM. That paved the way to legalized SSM across the country.

True it's easy to be cynical about political motivations. Paul Martin used to be opposed to SSM, yet it was his government that chose to move on it. Partially to embarrass the Tories and because they knew they could count on NDP and BQ support to pass it. But in the end, it was the right result.

Anonymous said...

My rebuttal:

Miles Lunn said...

I agree that views can change, especially as society becomes more tolerant. After all, my Grand-parents would have not tolerated my parents marrying a non-white in the 60s, but they would have absolutely no problem with me marrying a visible minority today. That being said, I think the issue is have Lukiwski's views evolved or is he just sorry he got caught. He should resign as parliamentary secretary, but I think kicking him out of caucus is inappropriate. Larry Spencer's comments were made in 2003 so they were present and such views were clearly out of the mainstream by then. Unfortunately when I was younger (I was only 10 in 1991) homophobia was quite rampant. Thankfully, it has largely subsided. If anything I am pleased at how far the gay community has come over the past 50 years. Off course there is still work to be done, but hopefully some day homophobes will be relegated to the most extreme fringes (unfortunately there will always be some bigoted people, but the fewer the better and the more ostracized the are also the better).

Cicely said...

Matt: I read your thoughtful comments over on Scott's blog - getting beyond the clip issue (I am prepare to agree to disagree on it for the moment ;) I don't disagree with you that the next step for our community must be to engage those beyond it, beyond our immediate friends and family (both blood and chosen). We have gone about as far as we can go legislatively and it is now a matter or 'hearts and minds'. Do I think that Lukiwski is a willing/worthy example of such a heart and mind...? Not sure, doubt it.
Re partisanship:
My frustration with progressives who choose the Liberal Party is that I have watched them get kicked in the teeth time and again by their Party. Your party had 13yrs of SUPER majorities. Safer than houses. Almost a decade of surpluses I believe. In that time, the Chretien/Martin Party did sweet FA on national child care, the environment, health care, etc. They set the pretense for the Harris tories to wreak havoc slashing services in the name of too little transfer payments. First Nations went decades without resolved land claims as their reserves deteriorated and their reparations went unpaid. OK, I know that that is a long list, but they had a lot of time. Maybe I would be willing to cut them some slack if some of it was addressed.
The Liberal Party of Canada is equivalent to the Democratic Leadership Conference. Why progressive Liberals don't see that is baffling to me. I know progressive liberals and dippers have a lot in common but dippers don't have much in common with the Liberal Party.
Even Dion the leader of peace, the leader for the environment has ignored his base within the party. I am sure you will take exception to most of my post but I thought it only fair that I make the distinction and to assure you I hold no personal animosity even when I get very partisan.

Darren McEwen said...

Great post! I agree. My problem is with those who still support the views expressed in 1991 or the views expressed by Mr. Douglas in this video. The people who said these things can change and I believe both men's views have evolved but some other people haven't --- that's the real shame.

Candace said...

Matt: "Scott, I think, sadly, most would agree that Lukiwski's 1991 comments were likely held by the majority of folks at that time, certainly in conservative circles in Saskatchewan. In an ideal world, he would've known better, but not this one..."

It was rampant in the Bible Belt of BC (East of the Port Mann Bridge to Hope) at that time, too.

Cicely: "The Liberal Party of Canada is equivalent to the Democratic Leadership Conference. "

I beg to differ. The chances of either Clinton or Obama getting elected in Canada are low, although significantly higher than a Bush or McCain. Why the supporters of the Liberal Party of Canada don't get that the CPoC is actually left of the US Democrats is a question I continually ask myself.

dirk buchholz said...

To compare what Tommy said as compared to Lukiwski,is like the proverbial apple and orange argument.
Lukiwiski was just displaying his ignorance's and bigoted narrow mindedness to a room full of like minded idiots,who were sitting around shooting their fool mouths off.
But hey you know the saying,about latent tendencies and those that scream the loudest about certain subjects/people.
All said though,I understand your point... but I still think Tommy's view point was not/is not in the same category as that of Lukiwski,never mind being a comparable example of a certain mindset.
People are products of their times for sure...
But Lukiwski is just a product of his own stupidity.
In fact the guy was 41 at the time (1991)if he was still mouthing such stupidity at age 41 I doubt like hell the guy has changed much since then.
By 41 most people outgrow youthful bravado and such displays of juvenile intolerance.If they haven't well what can I say other then perhaps,he is just another dumb slob who still had some growing up to do.
That said he has definitly missed or failed to learn certain life lessons,[i.e humbleness,we all have skeletons we are all fallible etc etc],that many of use learn as we age.
This despite his 40+ years of life experience....yikes
But hey people can I think he has no,do I care no.
He just got caught and in his chosen field such comments can turn into liabilities,never mind partisan fodder.Hence the kerfuffle.
If one practices partisan politics,like most of Harper's Cons do,expect to get stung also.