REAL Women's Gwen Landolt criticized Canada's Foreign Minister for pursuing a personal agenda.

REAL Women’s Gwen Landolt criticized Canada’s Foreign Minister for pursuing a personal agenda.

On August 7, REAL Women of Canada issued a press release condemning John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, for imposing what it said was “his own perspective on homosexuality” in foreign countries such as Uganda, Kenya, and Russia when they have considered or passed laws opposed to homosexual activity and the gay agenda.

REAL Women, a pro-life and pro-family group that does not accept government subsidies, also chastised Baird for “using taxpayers money to promote his own personal agenda and endeavouring to set standards of the laws of foreign countries.” They criticized the Foreign Minister for giving $200,000 to pro-gay rights groups in Uganda and Kenya to promote the gay agenda in those African countries. Gwen Landolt, vice president of REAL Women, asked, “just who does John Baird think he is?”

Baird, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, has in the past two years been outspoken about the rights of homosexuals, admitting to attempting to repeatedly pressure the Russian government not to pass a law outlawing promotion of homosexuality earlier this year. Baird responded to REAL Women by saying: “We have put a great deal of emphasis promoting Canadian values … With respect to sexual minorities, we’ve focused on three things. One, against the criminalization of sexual minorities, two against violence, and three, against the death penalty.” Baird told the Canadian Press, “I think 99.9 of Canadians support us on those three issues.”

Landolt disagrees. In her press release, she said Baird’s support of gay rights and funding of homosexual activists groups betrays “conservative values and that of grassroots Canadians, who after all, pay the bulk of taxes.”

Landolt also said the government should not impose its values on sovereign countries.

The media immediately pounced on the criticism, saying that REAL Women supports violence against homosexuals, including murder. The CBC reported that during an interview with Landolt they noted Uganda considered the death penalty as punishment for having homosexual relations and that she replied, “it may be unwise by Western standards, but who are we to interfere in a sovereign country?”

Landolt told that she was misquoted, that she was talking about Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws, not African laws that target homosexual behaviour for punishment that includes imprisonment. She clarified to LSN that she did not consider Russia’s laws, which prohibits homosexual indoctrination of minors and bans gay pride parades, to “necessarily (be) a human rights violation,” but that they still might be “unwise by Western Standards,” adding as an aside, “who are we to interfere in a sovereign country?” She accused the state broadcaster of possibly intentionally misrepresenting her views.

REAL Women also faced criticism from erstwhile supporters and allies. National Post columnist Barbara Kay said that while REAL Women had “commanded my intellectual respect and not infrequently my approval” because of their stance on abortion and men’s rights, she deplored their “stand on gay rights.” Kay charged REAL Women with violating Christian values by supporting violence against homosexuals. She apparently believed the CBC characterization of Landolt’s views, calling her misquotes a “stunning moral gaffe.”

In response to the reaction against them, mostly based on misunderstanding, REAL Women issued a second press release on August 15 clarifying their position. It said, “REAL Women deplores the persecution of homosexuals and the jailing of individuals because of their orientation.” This is not a new position. In its November/December 2012 REALity newsletter, the group said, “reasonable people would agree that homosexuals should not be tortured, jailed or killed because of their sexual orientation.” Landolt also charged the media with conflating the issues facing homosexuals in Africa and Russia’s laws restricting promoting homosexuality.

Lost in the outrage are legitimate issues of Canadian foreign policy, and whether Foreign Affairs should be used to promote the gay agenda abroad. In its REALity article, entitled “Foreign Affairs, Religion, and Homosexuality,” Landolt pointed out that Baird used several addresses to promote gay rights at the international level. In January 2012, he spoke to the Royal Commonwealth Society in London, England and called “laws criminalizing homosexuality” a “hangover” from a bygone era as he urged Commonwealth countries to do away with such laws. In September 2012, Baird spoke at the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations where he stated protecting gay rights was part of pursuing a “principled, values-based foreign policy.” REAL Women also noted that Canadian ambassadors in Romania and Bulgaria “endorsed a broad spectrum of homosexual rights including same-sex marriage” and that “this could only be done with the permission of the Foreign Affairs Department.”

Yet, they note that gay activists do not think the government has gone far enough by highlighting Embassy magazine articles quoting activists who call for inclusion of homosexual issues in their advocacy at the United Nations and all program funding.

After the controversy, two representatives of REAL Women met with officials from the Foreign Affairs Department and the new Office for Religious Freedom. Diane Watts, a researcher for REAL Women who attended the meeting, told the CBC that she was “quite happy” with the tone of the meeting and was “very pleased to explain our position,” but did not offer specifics of what was discussed.

As for the political fallout, the Hill Times predicted that speaking out on Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws will not lose the Tories support because the Conservatives have realized that “suburban moderates, and not social conservatives, are the key to their future electoral success.” Libertarian pundit Gerry Nicholls said, “the social conservative view is dwindling in Canada.” Professor David Rayside, a retired professor at the centre for sexual diversity at the University of Toronto, told the paper, “commenting on international developments potentially increases support among centrist voters.” Rayside added that even social conservatives have to recognize that “a Conservative government, that may be broadly sympathetic to their interests, has to make compromises and has to do things that not completely in line with their policy preferences.”

Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not socially conservative and that even “occasional symbolic victories” are becoming rare. He said that while pundits and politicians are writing off socially conservative voters, “this is nothing new – we have been told we don’t matter for as long as I can remember.”

Even if the socially conservative vote is 10 per cent, as Carleton University political scientist Jonathan Malloy estimates, Hughes said that is a significant percentage of the vote. “If most of that 10 per cent is part of the Conservative Party base, the Tories can’t win without it,” Hughes warns.