CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – For the second time in a decade, the province of P.E.I. is being pressured to protect sexual orientation. A legislative committee considering amendments to the Human Rights Act held hearings from Jan. 21 to March 12.

Midway through the hearings, many Islanders were shocked to learn of the existence of a one-year-old letter from Premier Pat Binns that promised to “move ahead with legislative changes to the Human Rights Act, including prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

It was brandished during his presentation by retired United Church minister Eric Fullerton, who identified himself as local spokesman for the newly-formed P.E.I. branch of the Ottawa-based activist group EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere).

A similar letter on almost any other controversial issue, would have generated major media coverage. Instead, it took a call by an official with REAL Women of Canada to the CBC a few days later, to get any media reaction at all.

REAL Women is a pro-family organization supporting traditional roles for women.

Tory Premier Binns told the CBC that the hearings were not an exercise in futility, as it was never his intent to second guess the decisions of the committee or to impose a decision on them. Fullerton was later identified as a long time major fund raiser for the provincial Tories.

Back in 1988, protecting sexual orientation was not a hot topic in P.E.I.. When proposed by the newly-formed Lesbian Collective, major support came from the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and the only opposition came from REAL Women P.E.I.

The Collective’s spokespersons did not give their names (claiming it might endanger their safety and security). At the time, the group incorrectly claimed the support of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

After the presentation, a committee member watching the contingent’s exuberant and enthusiastic embracing in the hearing chamber, was heard to mutter, “They just blew it. If they think I’m going to vote for that, they have another thing coming.”

The government of the day agreed.

Ten years later, howver, the pro-gay lobby is back and much has changed.

Now there are many on P.E.I. who intensely dislike being out of step with the rest of Canada. Having bought into the media depiction of Alberta as a red-neck province, they are concerned about emulating its example by refusing “protection” to homosexuals.

Today, media reports are more sensationalized and polarized. Many of the legislators are new and younger, with more liberal attitudes. Committee member Dr. Herb Dickieson, the Island’s first elected NDP member, strongly supports his party’s pro-gay position.

The Lesbian Collective has evolved into the Gay and Lesbian Coalition, whose members now proclaim their full names with pride.

Homosexual representatives have become more subtle in their wording, more skilled in handling objections and camouflaging their real intentions, bolder and more effective in attacking opponents.

This year supporting briefs came from the Coalition, the Status of Women, the Rape Crisis Centre, Oxfam, EGALE, the Human Rights Commission itself, and the Institute of Island Studies – some with no conceivable mandate to argue on behalf of homosexuals.

Further support came from former Commission chair, Father Leo Trainor, and former Commission member and professor of sociology Father Allan MacDonald, who made separate presentations, both arguing that sexual orientation should be protected by legislation.

Too much on the go

REAL Women P.E.I. rallied, coached and supported opponents and eventually the Committee received opposing presentations from eight groups and individuals, including REAL Women, P.E.I. Right to life, and the Knights of Columbus state council.

A ministerial fellowship brief was signed by 54 ministers. (The provincial Catholic Women’s League, for which Father MacDonald is chaplain, chose not to submit a brief.)

Opposing presenters drew heavily on information and support from Focus on The Family, Alberta Federation of Women United for Families, REAL Women of Canada, and Americans for Truth about Homosexuality (Lambda Report).

Locally and nationally, many individuals, families, groups and congregations have been providing strong prayer support.

At the time of writing, the legislative committee is preparing its report and recommendations are for tabling during the spring sitting of the House, which opens March 26. Concerned Islanders continue a letter writing and lobbying campaign.