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LETTER: Mr. Poilievre, defending Jordan Peterson harms LGBTQ2IA+

'Jordan Peterson’s rhetoric as a professional psychologist is simply dangerous and he willingly yields the power of his life’s work to not only invalidate queer and two spirit people, but willingly harm their lives,' writes Pflag president to Conservative leader
Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre. Conservative Party of Canada website photo

Newmarket Today welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected]. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). This is a copy of a letter sent to federal Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre from Tristan Coolman, president of Pflag Canada York Region.

Hello Mr. Poilievre, 

This is my first time writing to you, so here is a brief introduction to our organization and myself. We’re a support, education and resource network serving all of York Region’s nine municipalities since 1996. We offer support meetings for family, friends and members of the LGBTQ2IA+ community, competency-based workshops for public and private sector organizations, and advocate for causes that impact our community. Everyone working at Pflag York Region, myself included, does so as a volunteer. 

I’ve volunteered at Pflag York Region for nearly five years, having been connected with the organization through my employers’ efforts to better engage us with volunteer opportunities in our community. It’s been a truly rewarding experience to see individuals and families discover how they can better support their queer loved ones. It hasn’t been without its challenges. 

Through my time I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the issues folks in our queer and two-spirit community continue to encounter. As an example, at a recent board meeting of the York Catholic District School Board, a delegation of parents used their time to say “Safe Space” stickers should really read “danger zone”, and called homosexuality a sin. At Aurora Public Library, they regularly receive calls and emails threatening to intervene in Drag Queen Story Time events and use rhetoric similar to what we see happening south of the border. 

For the first time in our history we’re not only focused on communicating and securing access to incredible and inclusive community events like Drag Queen Story Time, but consider the possibility of protecting attendees from the presence of protesters seeking to disrupt a such events. Events that individuals have chosen to attend, have allowed their children to attend, and that do not harm children, their families, or expose them to inappropriate behaviours. 

Where do you fit into all of this? We wish to impress upon you the importance of language and the individuals you have supported recently who don’t respect our community. I firmly believe that respect, dignity, and affirming the lived experiences of marginalized communities isn’t something that is a left vs right political issue. It’s a moral issue rooted in humanity, not in politics or faith. I’ve been following your rise for quite some time and now that you are the leader of the Official Opposition, I hope to encourage you to consider how your words and actions are perceived by our community. There is a path to win an election in Canada without resorting to supporting individuals and using language that diminishes the value and worth of queer and two-spirit people and I ask that you consider the points I raise in this letter. 

A few weeks ago you very publicly supported a Jordan Peterson event set for the Ottawa area. I agree a statement you made about the need to protect free speech. It’s free speech after all that allows me to write to you and engage with you in a respectful manner absent of fear. Respectful discourse and dialogue must be protected. Much of which Jordan Peterson has shared in the past is not only absent of this respect, it's harmful. It invalidates the lived experiences of queer and two-spirit people and inflames hate speech and actions against our community. 

Despite an accomplished career as a professor at the University of Toronto and psychologist that exposed him to the realities of gender constructs in our society, Peterson first gained notoriety six years ago for refusing to use a student’s personal pronouns. In one of the first interviews after the incident with the CBC he said “I’m against the use of legislation to determine the use of what words are that myself and other people are required to utter.” When asked if he would use alternate pronouns if asked to by a student, absent of any “legislation,” he answered no. This behaviour and rhetoric has continued over the years, which has garnered a large following.

Jordan Peterson’s experience as a psychologist allowed him to access countless studies that show how the high rates of negative mental health outcomes for queer, non-binary and trans folk are significantly reduced when they are surrounded by affirming individuals in their daily life. Jordan Peterson’s rhetoric as a professional psychologist is simply dangerous and he willingly yields the power of his life’s work to not only invalidate queer and two spirit people, but willingly harm their lives. He takes advantage of his accreditations to veil what I consider to be hate speech. It is harmful, he is harmful and his actions and words cause harm. 

Free speech is a powerful right, but there is no right in Canada to share hate speech and this, frankly, is hate speech. This is why we are deeply concerned with your defence of Peterson’s words. Reducing them to an expression of free speech does not rightfully hold him accountable to the impact his words are having on queer and two-spirit people in our country and across the world. Your position as opposition leader and maybe even our future prime minister validates his reasoning regardless of whether you agree with his position or not. Providing a space for hate speech can be viewed by those who support it as validating. 

I know you’re incredibly busy, but I do hope to receive your feedback. We’ve published this letter on our website for our community to see transparently how we work to bring their concerns forward. 

Tristan Coolman
President, Pflag Canada York Region