C/O Yoohyun Park, Multimedia Coordinator
The 2SLGBTQIA+ community is celebrated in June but come July, rainbow flags are often quickly shed by their “allies”
By Fatima Sarfraz, Staff Writer
June starts off colourful, with rainbows plastered over company merchandise and Instagram feeds. Upon opening Subway Surfers, many are pleased to find they are now running through the streets of San Francisco, which have been adorned with Pride flags. Rainbows are the only thing on gamers’ minds as they do their best to collect them on their run to unlock a new prize.
However, the game now displays the streets of Iceland, without a single pride flag in sight.
Performative and insincere activism, called “slacktivism”, can be harmful as it gives individuals the impression they are supporting a cause and a community when, in actuality, their efforts do little to support the targeted community and can even perpetuate harm against them.
Arguably, the worst slacktivists are larger corporations. They appear to be advocating for communities, such as the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, but they are also pushing their own agenda, using seemingly supportive initiatives to bring in a larger, more diverse audience and, in turn, a greater revenue.
Rainbow washing, a form of slacktivism, has become an annual marketing scheme often utilized by large corporations, including American telecommunications company AT&T. AT&T appeared supportive of the Pride movement by adding a rainbow to their logo. However, under their rainbow get-up, that they had so publicly donned, lay the ugly truth: AT&T had donated more than $63,000 to anti-2SLGBTQIA+ state legislation.
Other forms of rainbow washing could include if a corporation starts slapping the pride flag onto their regular merchandise, temporarily change their logos or launch Pride intiatives during June month without showing sustained support throughout the year.
While they continue to advocate for companies to actually take action, Dylan Horner and Kendall Gender, members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, voiced their appreciation for the visibility these marketing strategies provide. Horner believes this kind of visibility is especially helpful for individuals who are not completely comfortable with their identity or live in rural areas. Gender says sponsorships from big companies for queer creators are also beneficial as they provide financial backing that can open up new avenues for them.
As I write this article, I also can’t help but wonder what happens if a child notices their Subway Surfers character only must collect rainbows in June and maybe forms connections with the Pride flags they see around their neighbourhood. Perhaps they even will begin to wonder what these rainbows signify and who they represent.
The celebrations of this community and their rights should not be seasonal though. This community wants to see a genuine effort being made to include them. Small changes can be implemented within a company to make their operations more inclusive while also simultaneously educating and encourage the rest of team to be strong allies.
CEO and co-founder of Feminuity, Sarah Saska, proposes several solutions such as setting up data collection tools that are not limited to gender or sexuality. Saska says this helps understand a person’s identity and what they need.
Rainbow washing corporations only have their best interest in mind. They view Pride month as the perfect opportunity to promote either themselves or their merchandise. Corporations have exploited this community for too long with some even going as far as “donating” thousands, if not millions, to legislations and movements against this community. As true allies, we need to push for genuine actions that support members of the 2SLGBTQIA+.
C/O Christian Braun
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Wil Fujarczuk: My name is Wil Fujarczuk. I use he/him pronouns. I currently manage the sexual violence prevention education program and the sexual violence prevention and response office, which are under the equity and inclusion office. My alter-ego is Miss Unita Assk and she's a consent-educating drag queen. I use Unita to open the doors into what can be a really tough conversation around sexual violence and to provide some queer representation.
What inspired you to enter this role?
Fujarczuk: I had a big moment in grad school that flipped my thinking . . . I took a course on gender, peace-building and human security . . . After the course ended, some classmates invited me to San Jose, the capital city, to write anti-street harassment messages. I noticed all the men who came to speak to us came to speak to me. Not any of my women classmates. It was a moment of recognizing what it means to use your privilege for others. I started to learn more about sexual harassment and sexual violence more broadly and these experiences really gave me the opportunity to think about: "What's my role as a cis, queer man in this work? What does it mean to use the social location I occupy, the privileges I have, the oppression I face, all these pieces?" It's also allowed me to reflect on my own sense of self, my relationship to my gender. I think I've become a better human and a better man because of doing this work, grounding myself in feminism and learning from people who have been doing this work for so long.
What inspired you to start doing drag, particularly at McMaster?
Fujarczuk: I know folks in the corporate world who are my age who are not open about their sexuality at work. We know the stats are even higher for trans folks in workplaces. That bring[s] into question: "Is this a safe place for me? Do I have to compromise certain elements of myself to be "professional"?" Part of it is demonstrating to students that — no, you don't.
For me, it's also about queer representation on campus. I think of myself as an awkward, queer, scrawny first-year: had I known that there was a staff member who was a part-time drag queen on campus [and] how that would impact me. It's about that representation and visibility. It's about making this conversation a little bit more approachable. At Welcome Week, [it’s about] having Unita present and that level of visibility. And I'll actually be hosting Mac Welcome this year, which is very exciting.
Part of the idea with Unita was also to focus on strengths. At grad school, we learned about negative peace and positive peace. Negative peace is the absence of war, the absence of violence. Positive peace is the presence of reconciliation, all these other beautiful things. I think about that in terms of sexual violence. Yes, it's important to talk about what we don't want: a world without sexual violence. But, yes, it's important to talk about what we do want . . . healthy sexuality, healthy relationships, queer representation and people being comfortable with who they are. So Unita's taking it out of this first peace into this peace around: What do we want? What is the world we want to build?
What advice would you give to your younger self or incoming 2SLGBTQIA+ students at McMaster?
Fujarczuk: The first thing that comes to mind is stealing Priyanka's words — winner of Canada's Drag Race season one — just be gay. But I also know that journey of coming to where I am was [a] part of it. I couldn't just be gay because we grow up in, not just heteronormative, but homophobic families, cultures, societies and schools. It's also self-compassion, not "just be gay". It doesn't mean letting myself off the hook for everything. It means acknowledging what's going on in my life. I'm doing what I can and that I don't have to always give it my all.
Also, find people who embrace you for who you are. I know that this isn't new but there's a truth to it. Sometimes we bend ourselves into a different shape to accommodate what we think people expect of us. Then the folks who might be drawn to us in our full, true, authentic selves might not be drawn to us. We miss that connection. By having that self-compassion, by being yourself as much as we're able, I think we can draw folks in who celebrate us. That's key.
C/O Daniel James, Unsplash
Pride Hamilton was back in person, though with mixed responses from the community
After two years of virtual Pride celebrations, Pride Hamilton is officially back in person. According to the Pride Hamilton website, Pride celebrations have been happening in the city since 1991. However, the Pride Hamilton organization was only officially formed in 2018, hosting their first official Pride in Gage Park in 2019.
After this initial celebration in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Hamilton Pride online for the next two years. The digital Pride events of 2020 and 2021, featured a variety of 2SLGBTQIA+ speakers, musical performers, dance performers and drag artists.
In 2022, Pride Hamilton was in-person once again. The weekend featured numerous vendors, as well as performances by Nicky Doll, host of Drag Race France.
However, Pride Hamilton 2022 also saw some changes from the 2019 experience. Traditionally held in June, Canada's pride month, Pride Hamilton was instead held indoors at the Hamilton Convention Centre on the second weekend of July.
These changes were announced in an Instagram post by Pride Hamilton on April 23, 2022.
“Planning Pride is not easy. There are so many moving parts and so many groups within the community that have voices and ideas that need to be acknowledged. When the government announced the lifting of restrictions, it gave us the chance to go back to the drawing board and create something fresh that could finally reunite us,” said the letter, which was signed by Kiel Hughes, the chair of Pride Hamilton.
Many community members have left comments expressing feelings of confusion or loss, regarding the changes of date and venue to Pride 2022. However, many others have expressed excitement about a return to in-person celebrations on Pride Hamilton’s social media pages.
Norah Frye, director of the McMaster Student Union's Pride Community Centre, expressed excitement at being able to celebrate Pride in person once again.
While virtual events were necessary for Pride 2020 and 2021, Frye noted Pride is particularly difficult to celebrate online because a large part of Pride is existing together as a community in a comfortable and welcoming space.
“That's part of what makes Pride such a novel, exciting, exhilarating, love-filled experience. Because you can feel, in the most physical and literal way, love and acceptance around you. And that's something that's really hard to foster online,” said Frye.
Frye also highlighted the uniquely intimate experience of Pride Hamilton, as compared to larger Pride celebrations such as Pride Toronto.
“You have this level of intimacy that's just not always there when you do anything on a bigger scale; I think that's really exciting to be a part of,” said Frye.
Though unable to attend Pride Hamilton this year, Frye looks forward to plenty of Pride-related events at McMaster throughout the upcoming school year.
"Part of my goal for the PCC this academic year is to make up for all the time that we lost when we couldn't do pride in person,” said Frye.
Though Pride 2022 did not take the form everyone in the Hamilton community hoped for, it was still exciting for many to not only be able to celebrate in person and as a community again but also to be able to look forward to future events.
C/O Jessica Yang
What embracing identity and finding community has meant in a year of uncertainty for the queer community
This year has been nothing short of challenges and adjustments as we all continue to adapt to the changing circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. For students who identify with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, these experiences can often look quite different.
Emma Zhang, president of the McMaster Queer and Trans Colour Club, said that being in an online space has made personal connections to the queer community more accessible.
“As everyone is shifting into online spaces, it is more accessible for me to reach out to [queer] places and communities in a way that is on my own terms and in a way that will ensure confidentiality, if need be,” said Zhang.
However, though online spaces are accessible, Emily Liang, promotions coordinator of QTCC, said there are caveats. Resources become more accessible online only if you know about these resources already and this may be more challenging especially for those who hadn’t known or explored their queer identity before the pandemic.
Having online-only club activities can also be troubling for folks who are not living in places where they can feel safe about their queer identity.
Although the queer community can be important for 2SLGBTQIA+ folks, every queer person has their own unique experiences with their sexuality. Understanding that there is diversity in the community and that each individual has their own values and their own way of approaching their sexuality is important.
“When you are part of the same community like this, like we're all part of the queer community, I think some people overextend the extent to which your experiences are the same,” said Liang.
At McMaster, the QTCC provides a unique space for racialized queer folks to find community. The intersectionality of race and sexual orientation plays an important role in shaping the different experiences that queer folks face.
Zhang explained that examples of white privilege within the community include a lack of understanding of the barriers that racialized people may live with.
“[W]hen your white queer friend who says ‘Why don't you just tell your parents? I'm sure they’ll listen if you just like talk to them’ . . . That kind of is ignorant to the familial piety that may be present within racialized communities and the general greater stigma associated with sexuality and sex,” said Zhang.
Language and terminology can also place additional barriers to discussing their sexuality with family.
“[P]ersonally, my parents have made really terrible remarks about people within the queer community and they don't even understand what gender identity is, so how do I even bring it up to them if they don't know what it is . . . Also, my parents are immigrants. They immigrated here [and] they don't really speak English to a fluent degree, so how can I really talk to them using English words that they wouldn't even understand in their native tongue?” said Zhang.
For anyone who is looking for ways to better connect with their queer identity, Liang emphasized that there are many ways to do so and she encourages folks to try exploring connections in the community in whatever way they feel comfortable.
Moving forward, given the pros and cons to hosting events online, Zhang and Liang said that QTCC will most likely have a hybrid of online and in-person events next year. Importantly, the club looks forward to fostering more continuity within their events so that queer folks can build long-lasting friendships at McMaster.
Muka celebrates identities and self-love through accessories, enamel pins and apparel
Muka, a Hamilton-based accessory, enamel pin and apparel brand, strives to help their customers feel confident and be unapologetically themselves. Founded in 2018 by two best friends, Lisa Wang and Alexis Fu, and their partners, Tony Song and Anita Tang respectively, the shop offers inclusive products for people of intersectional queer and racialized identities.
Wang and Fu met in high school and graduated from Sheridan College’s applied arts and animation program together. While working in the media industry creating content for children, they took note of the lack of representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, 2SLGBTQIA+ community and intersectional identities in the media and took it upon themselves to fulfill this gap.
“We thought there wasn’t enough genuine representation in the media as well as in the fashion industry in general . . . We really wanted to have a place where artists like us who have intersectional identities, but also other artists, could showcase their work and products and have them made accessible to people,” said Wang.
As the Creative Director of Muka, Wang curates the shop’s products and paints the broader vision for the brand while Fu is charge of operations and logistics of the business. Wang’s husband Song photographs all the products and Fu’s wife Tang is the designer. Together, they built Muka on a foundation of strong friendship, family, love and teamwork.
Muka is also a story of allyship. As a cis, heterosexual couple, Wang and Song learned a lot about allyship through running the business with Fu and Tang. Through open dialogue with each other and the community about what it means to be an ally, they were able to learn, grow and explore complex topics of intersectionality and queer experiences together.
“It’s a journey of constant learning. . .The point [of allyship] is that everybody comes to the table with love for each other,” said Wang.
Wang understands the value of listening in cultivating allyship and community.
“For me, growing up as a straight person, there are a lot of things I take for granted. I grew up in an Asian household and so did Alexis and Anita but their experiences as queer people in an Asian household are very different, so it’s always good to listen to the stories because everyone’s got a different path—everyone’s different. Queer people aren’t monoliths just as how Asian people aren’t monoliths,” explained Wang.
It comes with no surprise their messages of inclusivity, love and community have resonated with many folks. The positive response from the community fuels their motivation to work harder.
“The number one thing that encourages us to keeping going is people’s reaction to us—[from] events or messages customers leave online—because, based on what the customers are telling us, there really isn’t a business that’s quite like ours,” said Wang.
Muka’s next collection will feature themes of fruits, a slur the queer community has been reclaiming, and flowers, particularly peony and chrysanthemum which are connected to Asian culture. The collection is still underway; however, Wang hopes it will be ready by spring or summer.
Muka is personal, intersectional and unique. Whether you are part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community or learning to become a better ally, the messages about confidence, self-love and love for others promote by Muka are universal.
“The most important ingredient is love for yourself and love for others. . .The other thing I think is pretty important is always learning and trying to understand because the world is always changing and people are complex and so there’s always more to learn about ourselves and each other,” said Wang.
C/O Travis Nguyen
Learning to love myself through research and reflection
By: Anna Samson, Contributor
During my first year at McMaster University, I came out as non-binary to my close friends and sister. As I grew more comfortable, I began to tell more people. Now, aside from some conservative family members, most people in my life know I’m non-binary. However, it took a long time to embrace myself as non-binary in a world that thinks in binaries and cisnormativity.
I remember talking to my older sister about how I did not feel like a girl or boy and worried there was something wrong with me. I asked her if she ever felt this way. I thought it was a normal part of growing up and something everyone experiences at some point. She asked me if I was transgender. Not knowing much about the gender spectrum and growing up in a conservative Christian household, I believed the negative things I had heard about transgender people and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and immediately replied I was not, quickly changing the topic. But that moment stuck with me. It was one of the first times I acknowledged I do not fit into the gender binary and it was jarring. For many years after, I tried to ignore these feelings.
In first year, I took an introductory gender studies course in which I learned about inequality, intersectionality, 2SLGBTQIA+ identities and more. This course finally gave me names for many of the things I had been experiencing and thinking about my whole life. I learnt about the gender spectrum, which especially piqued my interest because learning about a gender spectrum as a concept told me that others questioned their gender identity like I did. I did some more research and learnt about transgender identities, under which non-binary falls.
I learned there are many gender identities outside the male-female binary. Non-binary is a broad spectrum covering all gender identities that are neither solely male nor female and exist outside the gender binary. While I felt this applied to me, I also felt it was not specific enough. When I first “came out” I identified as agender, meaning I have no gender and used any pronouns. But that did not feel right either. So, I started identifying as genderflux, meaning my gender identity fluctuates, with the base being agender, and used “she/they” pronouns. This identity felt right for me, but I noticed no one ever used “they” pronouns for me, which was frustrating because it felt like the erasure of my gender identity. So, finally, for brevity’s sake, I have now been identifying as non-binary for years, using “they/she” pronouns. And it feels right.
But my journey to self-acceptance in terms of my gender identity did not stop there. I also had to figure out what sort of gender expression felt most comfortable to me. Being AFAB, my gender expression has been mostly feminine but it felt wrong. Within feminine clothing, I preferred baggy clothing, though my family often scolded me, telling me to wear more form-fitting clothes. I liked wearing sports bras and bralettes that were like chest binders and wearing boy short panties or boxers made me feel more comfortable.
I also never got much into makeup other than wearing lipstick, because it felt very gendered and I felt using it meant I accepted being AFAB. While I know clothes and makeup are not inherently gendered, they do hold gendered connotations in society which make it difficult to embrace one’s unique identity. Ultimately, I have opted for unisex or less form-fitting clothing, as they make me feel more like myself.
While I have come a long way in learning to love myself by embracing my non-binary identity, there is still a lot of work for me to do. I still need to find a hairstyle I feel comfortable with. I also need to accept menstruating is a bodily function outside of the gender binary. There are several other things as well.
Along with accepting and embracing myself, I also must forgive myself and others for getting it wrong sometimes. This is my lifelong journey of embracing myself and my non-binary identity.
C/O Mike Highfield
Nim Agalawatte introduces Sounds Gay!, a new queer-dedicated musical space
It is no secret the city of Hamilton lacks dedicated queer spaces. The 2018 assessment of Hamilton’s 2SLGBTQIA+ community, Mapping the Void, found many did not feel a strong sense of queer belongingness in the city and wanted to see more initiatives.
In the early 2000s and mid-2010s, the Hamilton core was home to several gay bars: The Embassy, The Werx, Rainbow Lounge, M Bar, The Windsor and The Steel Lounge. However, all of them have since closed their doors.
Sounds Gay! aims to fill a gap in the current queer space landscape. There is no denying gay bars and nightclubs play an integral role in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Historically, these places served as safe havens for queer individuals. However, it is also important to recognize the need for more low-pressure inclusive spaces.
Agalawatte is a Hamilton-based musician, bassist and synth player for the Basement Revolver, 2SLGBTQIA+ advocate and member of the Hamilton Music Advisory Team. They became more aware of the gap after performing as part of Hamilton Pride last year and being one of two non-drag performances.
The positive response to both events of Sounds Gay! reaffirmed the need for diverse queer spaces. Attendees appreciated the friendliness and how welcoming the space was. Tickets were made more accessible as well by using a sliding scale ticket system. Upcoming Sounds Gay! dates have not been planned yet due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, however, Agalawatte is looking forward to continuing them this year.
For Agalawatte, not only was their opportunity to perform affected by the pandemic, but they also lost an important part of their support system.
“A lot of months, I’ve been out of work which kind of does two things: one, not having my regular schedule and things I’m often working on and two, not being able to be around people who often gives you drive and support. I’ve definitely felt down periods and found it hard to motivate myself to work on music,” said Agalawatte.
However, they noted interesting opportunities and new forms of community also arose out of the lockdowns and the pandemic. Agalawatte was able to work on new music remotely with Shanika Maria, queer Black singer-songwriter, for her new recording project Shn Shn. Digital spaces have also become a new place of community gathering.
“I find there has been a light within the pandemic where people, because they’ve been extra lonely or maybe feel more isolated, have found newer forms of community. There [are] a lot of people reaching out on social media or finding each other through the internet and musicians from different parts of the country are also quite connected,” said Agalawatte.
While continuing to create more safe queer events in Hamilton through Sounds Gay!, Agalawatte hopes to support new musicians in Hamilton and open opportunities for those who have not had access to a comfortable and safe stage. Currently, they are promoting their band’s latest album, Embody, and continuing to work on their solo music as well.
C/O Nick Fewings, Unsplash
YWCA Hamilton workshops address unique mental health experiences among 2SLGBTQIA+ newcomers
Just a few months ago, Canada was experiencing a steady decline in COVID-19 cases and life was finally beginning to feel normal again. More Canadians were becoming fully vaccinated against the virus, further restrictions were loosening and McMaster University students were expecting an in-person start of the winter semester.
However, case counts, reopening plans and holiday trips all took a sharp turn with the emergence of the new SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant and concerns around mental health in the pandemic were again exacerbated.
In response to the ongoing mental health challenges, YWCA Hamilton’s Join program, Speqtrum and the RISE Collective hosted a three-part workshop with guest speaker Abrar Mechmechia, a mental health counsellor based in Hamilton, on navigating mental health for 2SLGBTQIA+ newcomers from November to January.
The Join program is a settlement program for women, youth and 2SLGBTQIA+ immigrants; Speqtrum is a skill-sharing and community building program for 2SLGBTQIA+ youths; and the RISE Collective is a youth-led collective for women, non-binary and gender fluid youths.
The first workshop of the series on Nov. 17 discussed pandemic exhaustion and its impact on mental health.
“[We] talked about noticing our bodies and . . . skills and reflections we could be doing to better understand our inner self,” said Noura Afify, 2SLGBTQIA+ Newcomer Youth Support Worker.
The second workshop on Dec. 1 addressed the effects of trauma and triggers on mental health. For many 2SLGBTQIA+ newcomers and other marginalized folks, pandemic fatigue compounded with pre-existing trauma results in unique mental health challenges.
The third workshop on Jan. 5 focused on self-coping tools and how to navigate the mental health system.
At the workshops, Mechmechia also shared some of her findings from a survey of youths between the ages 15-29 in Canada to measure the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and well-being of marginalized youth and identify accessibility barriers to mental health services.
The preliminary findings from the survey highlighted key issues in accessibility of mental health services, financial barriers, lack of cultural competency, ineffective treatment, stigma and academic support.
For instance, 98% of respondents reported receiving long-term affordable care was a challenge. Cultural incompetency also led to folks being unable to access or not seeking help again. Those in school or post-secondary education reported increases in workload and the need for peer support programs.
The survey was a part of Mechmechia’s In This Together campaign, which launched in February 2021, to call on the federal and provincial governments to establish a post-pandemic mental health recovery plan for youths, especially for those who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of colour, newcomers, disabled or 2SLGBTQIA+.
Based on the research, Mechmechia and team highlighted the importance of increasing affordability and accessibility of mental health services, investing in ethnocultural services and providers and offering holistic support. They have also written an open letter to the government outlining recommendations to improve the current mental health support for youth, including the implementation of the post-pandemic mental health recovery plan. The letter has been endorsed by over 300 folks.
Despite the low turnout to the newcomer workshop series which took place on Zoom and challenges using interpreters for group sessions, Afify says it was well-received by the folks who participated.
“Folks were sharing and opening up. They were also understanding each other and compassionate towards each other sharing. I really enjoyed that part and that to me is a success in itself — that folks felt safe enough in this space to share and explore ideas and exchange information about how we cope differently and accept,” said Afify.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental health are leading to a global mental health crisis. Particularly for marginalized folks who are already healing from or dealing with existing traumas, the added stress and complexity of the pandemic has created further burden and barriers. The past workshops are one of the many programs and services offered by the YWCA, Speqtrum, RISE Collective and the In This Together campaign to address this challenge.
There are workshops and events lined up for newcomers, youth, women and folks in marginalized communities every day at the YMCA. Speqtrum will also have a session on navigating gender affirming healthcare with live interpretations for newcomers and an at-home treasure hunt coming up.
C/O Robert Bye, Unsplash
Check out these advocacy and social justice groups on and off campus to start finding your community
Community is a crucial piece of any university experience. It will be even more important this year as we return to campus, particularly for the many students for whom it is not only their first time in Hamilton but also their first time away from home entirely.
Finding and building community can be difficult enough after a move, nevermind during a pandemic. It can be difficult to know where to start. One place might be the issues in the world you’re passionate about. Groups or organizations dedicated to these issues are wonderful places where both community and social justice advocacy can thrive. Furthermore, having a strong sense of community, while also tackling these issues you care about can help you cultivate support systems not only as you navigate university but also in the face of larger issues.
Included below is a list of groups both on and off campus, sorted by the social justice issues they’re concerned with, who are doing some excellent work in the Hamilton community. It should be noted this is not an exhaustive list of all the wonderful groups and organizations in Hamilton; there are many more groups that can be found both on campus and off.
If you identify as 2SLGBTQIA+, are passionate about 2SLGBTQIA+ rights and peer support:
If you’re passionate about anti-racist and anti-oppressive work, check out:
If you’re passionate about climate and environmental justice, check out:
If you’re passionate about food security and nutrition, check out:
If you’re passionate about healthcare and public health, check out:
If you’re passionate about housing and supporting unhoused individuals, check out
The Integrity Commissioner’s report was unethical and here’s why
By: Lauren O'Donnell, Contributor
Folks, we need to talk. It’s time to take a hard look at what’s going on in this city — our city. More specifically, in the hallowed halls of Hamilton City Hall.
It’s no secret City Hall has a checkered past with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. If you’re not familiar with what happened in 2SLGBTQIA+ politics in Hamilton last year, here’s a comprehensive guide by former Silhouette News Editor, Trisha Gregorio. For a number of reasons, including that a city employee has an alleged history as a neo-nazi leader, the Hamilton LGBTQ advisory committee requested that Hamilton City Hall not fly the Pride and trans flags. City Hall chose to fly the flags anyway.
For a number of reasons, including that a city employee has an alleged history as a neo-nazi leader, the Hamilton LGBTQ advisory committee requested that Hamilton City Hall not fly the Pride and trans flags. City Hall chose to fly the flags anyway.
But why am I talking about this now? Early this year, the Volunteer Chair of the LGBTQ advisory committee, Cameron Kroetsch, made comments disparaging Hamilton City Council. Shortly after, an integrity commissioner investigation was launched against him, at the council’s request. The accusations that were made against him were allegedly incorrect, something which was not mentioned in the final report. Instead, the integrity commissioner issued a report recommending that Kroetsch be reprimanded and should consider stepping down from his role.
Several people and organizations, including former Hamilton Citizen of the Year Graham Crawford and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, have expressed concerns that this process has been misused and that the council’s actions can be read as alienating to the Hamilton 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
I don’t think that I can properly do justice to this issue unless I give you some background on what an integrity commissioner is and what they’re supposed to do. According to every other site I checked, an integrity commissioner exists to investigate ethics violations on the part of elected officials and local boards. The LGBTQ advisory committee does not fall under either of these headings.
Of the websites I consulted, in addition to the ones cited above, only one made any mention of investigating citizen committees: Hamilton. The page with this definition was updated to include citizen committees the day after the complaint against Kroetsch was filed. To reiterate: integrity commissioners exist to hold elected officials accountable on behalf of citizens. In this case, it’s being used by elected officials to penalize citizens that critique them. Changing the definition on the website doesn’t change the job description.
But how can I be sure that the definition update is connected to this case? How do I know when it was updated? The short answer is that I am by no means the first person to write about this topic. Joey Coleman of The Public Record, an independent news site dedicated to providing informed coverage of Hamilton’s communities and civic affairs, has begun a four-part series on the ethics of the integrity commissioner’s report and investigation which I highly recommend reading.
The integrity commissioner’s report on Kroetsch is ethically questionable at best and just plain bullying at worst. I regret to inform you that it gets worse. On Sept. 30, Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead tweeted a message that some community members interpreted as threatening, asking if the Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion was open to an integrity commissioner investigation. Spoiler alert: it’s not.
“The integrity commissioner just investigated a complaint against a volunteer member of an advisory committee after a complaint by Council and on the same day that Council received the report, a Council member is already threatening to sic the Integrity Commissioner on a charity,” said Ryan McGreal, the editor for Raise the Hammer in his article on the subject.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s briefly review the timeline. Here are the facts as I know them:
→ The LGBTQ advisory committee — a volunteer citizen organization — asked that the Pride flags not be flown at City Hall. This request was ignored.
→ Cameron Kroetsch, the chair of the committee, critiqued Hamilton City Council.
→ City Council requested that the integrity commissioner investigate Kroetsch for alleged violations which now appear to be false. In doing so, both Council and the integrity commissioner willfully misused and misinterpreted the mandate of an integrity commissioner.
→ The commissioner’s report reprimanded Kroetsch and advised that he step down as chair. This is not under the purview of either council or the integrity commissioner. In a statement, Kroetsch said that he felt the report was designed to silence his voice.
→ Following this report, a councillor tweeted a potentially threatening message at a charity that helps marginalized communities, suggesting that this same procedure could be used against them.
The integrity commissioner exists to hold politicians responsible for their actions. Instead, this system has been weaponized against volunteer advocates and charities, the very people it should be protecting. This plot wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Black Mirror.
The integrity commissioner exists to hold politicians responsible for their actions. Instead, this system has been weaponized against volunteer advocates and charities, the very people it should be protecting.
If the folks down at City Hall truly want to build bridges and foster trust with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, then they need to walk the walk. Painting a rainbow crosswalk isn’t going to cut it. City council needs to be reminded that they’re supposed to work for the people, not against them.
Update: At the Oct. 14 meeting, Councillor Nrinder Nann made a motion for council to reconsider the reprimand against Kroetsch, which will be debated at Oct. 28's meeting.