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Gay leaders denounce Egale award to Jaime Watt

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Gay leaders denounce Egale award to Jaime Watt

EGALE HONOURS WATT. Political strategist Jaime Watt helped bring Mike Harris's Conservatives to power in Ontario in 1995 and 1999. IMAGE 1 OF 1
Work as a rightwing activist should disqualify him, they say
Egale Canada's plan to present its inaugural leadership award to Jaime Watt has come under fire from those who say his communications work for rightwing governments should disqualify him.

At a gala fundraiser on Fri, Jun 5 in Toronto to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada, Egale will present the award to Watt for "outstanding contribution to LGBT human rights in Canada."

In an email, Watt writes that the award comes out of the blue.

"It was a complete surprise. I don't think of the award as one for me," he writes. "Rather, I think of it for all those who have played leadership roles, in a variety of ways, in our ongoing fight for equality.

"I think I have been given an opportunity, in a number of different ways, to contribute whether through the Canadian Human Rights Trust, Canadians for Equal Marriage, Egale or Casey House, amongst many others. I hope I have made a difference. That, however, is for others to say."

Egale executive director Helen Kennedy did not respond to requests for an interview with Xtra.ca. But queer activists say Watt's work for Mike Harris's Conservative government in Ontario and for the Canadian Alliance — the successor to the Reform Party, which eventually merged with the Conservative Party — should make such an award unthinkable.

"I'm sorry, that's just wrong," says Peter Bochove, a Toronto bathhouse owner who has campaigned for changes to Canadian sex laws. "I find it personally offensive. I don't understand how you can be gay and belong to these parties. Leave aside the gay community, let's talk about Walkerton, let's talk about Ipperwash, let's talk about the amalgamation of Toronto, let's talk about the 'common-sense revolution'. It's the antithesis of everything in the gay community."



Tim McCaskell, one of the founders of AIDS Action Now, says Watt's work for the Harris government did massive damage to queer communities across Ontario.

"He was one of the architects of the Harris common-sense revolution," he says. "There was tremendous damage to infrastructure that most gays depend on. There were cuts to schools that set back anti-homophobia education by years. They closed hospitals that people with AIDS use. Jaime was on board for all that."

Asked about the criticism, Watt writes only, "I would ask them if they have heard of Bill 5."

Bill 5 was a bill passed by the Harris government in 1999, which changed provincial statutes to give same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex common-law couples. The bill followed the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in M vs H that same-sex couples should have the same rights and obligations and the same right to benefit from social programs as opposite-sex common-law couples.

Watt was one of the architects of Harris' election victories in 1995 and 1999. He was also the director of communications in the first Harris government before being forced to resign after a fraud conviction in the '80s came to light. Watt also worked on Tom Long's campaign for leadership of the Canadian Alliance. Long was attacked by the Christian right for employing an openly gay man on his campaign.

"Watt, a self-proclaimed homosexual, is a prominent gay activist and no friend of pro-lifers," wrote the rightwing Campaign Life Coalition. "As co-chair of the Canadian Human Rights Committee [sic] in 1997 he traveled to Ottawa to lobby MPs for increased 'equality' rights for homosexuals."

Watt supported Jim Flaherty — now the federal finance minister — in his campaign to succeed Mike Harris as Ontario premier, but worked on the election campaign of Ernie Eves in 2003. According to the National Post, Watt signed off on the press release from the Tories accusing Dalton McGuinty of being an "evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet."

After the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the federal Progressive Conservative party, Watt worked on the leadership campaign of Belinda Stronach. Stronach is co-chair of the Egale event. Watt also worked on the Toronto mayoral campaign of Barbara Hall in 2003.

Political affiliations aside, Watt has been involved in a number of queer and gay-positive organizations. He is currently the co-chair of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives endowment campaign. He is a past chair of the board of Casey House and has sat on the board of St Michael's hospital. He was also a founding trustee and co-chair of the Canadian Human Rights Trust and the Canadian Human Rights Campaign and a member of the executive committee of Canadians for Equal Marriage.

Watt runs Navigator, a public relations company that provides office space for Egale in its Toronto office.

A letter seeking to persuade people to buy tickets for the Egale gala states "Jaime has been a key player using his unique combination of insight and influence to promote equality rights for gays and lesbians to politicians across the country at both the federal and provincial levels."

But Bochove says support of same-sex marriage and backroom work doesn't go very far.

"Egale can give its fucking award to anyone they choose," he says, "but I'll be absolutely damned if I would give it to someone like Jaime Watt, no matter what they did to further the right to same-sex marriage. If that's the criteria, give it to Brent Hawkes. He was named to the Order of Canada, he's not good enough for Egale? I can think offhand of more than 100 people better qualified than Watt."

McCaskell, too, says that he would like to see the award go to somebody with a much more prominent history of public activism.

"You'd usually give your first award to someone who has long track record in the community," he says.

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Comments

This is now officially stupid
Casey House flak says - Jaime is a fervent flag-bearer for the rights of gay people in not just this city or this province but this country. No less! And with that, this conversation devolves to trite boilerplate. Holy motherfucking hyperbole, Batman! Where was the fervent flag bearer when trans surgery or Youthline funding (100%)was cut? Quietly in the corner of of the Premier's Wing of the Legislature, that's where, carrying out the Commonsense (so-called) Revolution. In a position to do something or speak out, he was too committed to right-wing radicalism to speak out. He sold glbt communities down the river in pursuit of his right-wing fantasy world. Yeh, that's leadership. Casey House should stick to what they do best and stay out of conversations where they have nothing to contribute but mutual admiration of their resume-padding consultants. Lending board-sitting time to established orgs after they've become safe causes? That's not leadership. Casey House has hundreds of volunteer who don't seek the limelight. This is funding politics, pure and simple. Yuck.
Money talks
I see that Jaime Watt has called in another favour from another organization he is on the board of.
True Leadership
At Casey House we can’t think of too many other people, aside from perhaps our founder June Callwood, who exemplify leadership in caring for those living with HIV/AIDS more than Jaime Watt. His selection for the first Egale Leadership Award is an honour long overdue and well deserved.

Jaime is a fervent flag-bearer for the rights of gay people in not just this city or this province but this country. As a past Board Chair, Jaime’s passion has inspired the Casey House Board, staff, volunteers and stake holders to make bold decisions that are improving the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS in this community. In the past seven years, no one person has volunteered more hours in service to Casey House than Jaime Watt. We are so fortunate to had the benefit of his wise counsel and his passion.

The outcomes from Jaime’s work speak for themselves. Most importantly they have made an positive and lasting difference to the rights and priviledges of all gay people in Ontario. And that is an achievement worthy of Egale’s inaugural Leadership Award.

Sandra Cruickshanks
Chair, Casey House Board of Directors

Stephanie Karapita
CEO, Casey House
clarification
David, I don't think we're saying that anyone having worked for a right-of-centre party is disqualified. I certainly don't believe that. The question is whether Jaime worked AGAINST our interests by bringing Harris to power and keeping him there, considering the record of that government and that party on various issues. When Bill 167 (same-sex spousal benefits) came before the Legislature in 1994, EVERY TORY - EVERY LAST ONE (and all but three Liberals) voted against it. Those are the very people that Watt brought to power. This must factor into his overall record. I'm waiting to hear how what he's done since outweighs this record. So far, nothing substantial has been offered that distinguishes him from dozens of other people who have made contributions without actively organizing against our political interests. Why don't you and other supporters make your case. So far, all you've offered is disgust that people have the temerity to question Jaime's record. That's doesn't move this forward.
Right wing gays can do good too
It's a little rich to suggest that for a gay guy to be recognized for advancing equality they have to be left of centre. What relevance does ones stance on fiscal policy have on their ability to promote gay rights?
Sources
Yeah, god forbid Xtra interview a prominent gay business owner who owned one of the bathhouses raided by the cops in 1981. God forbid Xtra interview one of the organizers of the 1981 protests who was also co-founder of AIDS Action Now. What would they know about the gay community or gay activism?
Sources
As soon as the gay press can stop relying on bathhouse owners for political commentary and start quoting actual people involved in the political scene, whether it be those who officially represent the gay community or have gay rights in their programmes, it would be able to put together a decent argument why someone like Mr. Watt shouldn't be awarded. Evidently, nothing but dogma and political tribalism passes for an argument on why he was a bad choice. Mr. Watt did nothing but good work for the gay community and is rightly being recognized for it. People who help us on the political front should be applauded no matter what party they are affiliated with. We should be happy we have voices like Jamie Watt in the PC Party and the federal Conservative Party who represent us when policy decisions concerning the gay community are being made. Otherwise, we might not have been so lucky.
Double-stqndard Diversity
So according to the self-appointed voices of the gay community, Mr. Watt is an unacceptable choice to receive the Egale Award. I find this a tremendously patronizing and intolerant position to take considering all of Mr. Watt's contributions to the lesbian and gay comunity. Since when does working for right of centre parties automatically disqualify you from representing a segment of the gay community? Or does the gay Left think that the other side should have no gay insight whatsover, especially when those gay voices act as a massive force to counter religiously-backed candidates and policies? This is just as intolerant as the discrimination we've all been fighting against for all these years.
John's Beard
Xtra, could you clarify please: someone named disgusted above says that, and I quote, Tim McCaskell is one of the people trying to destroy the state of Israel - and that very inflammatory and untrue statement remains on this board, but if e.g. I say that a gay man is gay but that gay man hasn't come out yet as a gay homo because he's in a political party (Conservative) that doesn't like gay stuff and would punish him for his gay honesty despite the likelihood that his constituents would not, that is libellous and gets removed. So, standing accused of plotting to destroy the homeland of the Jewish people: not libellous, likes him some willy: libellous. Is that about right?
Anyone can comment
Jessica,

I'm not sure how you'd know that I or anyone else here isn't l, b or t - but even assuming we're all g (I wouldn't presume to elbow my way in and represent other groups I'm not a part of, especially when I know they're capable of doing that for themselves) there's pretty much no impediment to anyone else airing their views here. Even assuming you are correct, though, I don't see how that confirms your earlier point, which was a trite generalization about white middle-class gay men being a bunch of nasty conservative and thus fucking up the world for the rest of you. I know many politically minded l, b and t persons most of whom are articulate and capable of typing. Anyone can participate here - unlike the Dyke March! Badoom boom! Gimme five! - that's the levelling, democratic tendency of the internet. But if you want to use it to do 'research' to buttress assumptions you've already arrived at, knock yerself out.

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