Op-ed: City should pull advertising from newspaper pushing anti-gay views

Motion set to go to council on Wednesday describes attacks on LGBT Youth Line by Italian-Canadian newspaper Corriere Canadese as "homophobic and transphobic"


On Wednesday, Toronto city council is scheduled to debate a motion tabled by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam to cancel the city’s advertising in the Italian-Canadian newspaper Corriere Canadese.

The motion describes recent articles published by the newspaper and its publisher, former Liberal MP Joe Volpe, as “homophobic and transphobic.” The articles took aim at the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) and its listing of the LGBT Youth Line as a resource on its website. The motion argues that the articles are not in keeping with the city’s “human rights and anti-harassment/discrimination policies.”

The LGBT Youth Line is a peer-support network that offers an outlet for young people who are often confused and exploring their sexuality. In January, Volpe categorized the LGBT Youth Line as “a smut site…[that] promotes the purchase and sale of porno paraphernalia for sexual activities.” Volpe has also described the site as a “recruitment site… to attract children.” He has served Councillor Wong-Tam with a libel notice, calling her motion a “direct attack on the reputation and business of Corriere Canadese.”

Pillars of the LGBTQ2S community have always faced backlash by opposition whose loudness is often matched only by their ignorance and hatred. Of course, people can believe what they want to believe, but this must be a dialogue, and there must be a response.

Corriere Canadese was once a paper that kept connected a community that was filled with people who came to Canada with little to their names and in search of new opportunities. It’s a common story. The paper served to speak to them in their own language. It informed and unified.

But I don’t recognize the Corriere of today. It is not the paper that I used to pore over with my dad in coffee shops in and around Toronto. Its current voice is combative and unfriendly and disguised in a sensational faux-populism.

In his writings, Volpe conveniently omits the decades of life-saving and life-affirming services that the organization has provided, attacking anyone who dares to defend it along the way. He paints the LGBT Youth Line with nefarious intention, evidence of its lack of understanding of how someone struggling with their sexuality might bring them to an anonymous network in the first place. This woeful ignorance is alive throughout the pages of Corriere these days and now it’s threatening young people’s access and awareness of a valuable resource.

One person’s voice cannot speak for an entire community, and we cannot allow that voice to define another, especially if this person traffics in stereotypes, mischaracterizations and vicious name-calling.

The Italian-Canadians that I know are welcoming and compassionate; they value family, togetherness and love. What is being espoused in Corriere is divisive, untrue and seeks to dismantle much of what makes our city and our country the place that it is.

LGBTQ2S youth are approximately 14 times at higher risk of suicide and substance misuse. Up to 40 per cent of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ2S. Queer and trans youth face tremendous barriers not just because of their identities but because of a lack of support from institutions that are responsible for their well-being.

Yes, we host one of the biggest Pride parades in the world, but do we look out for the most vulnerable amongst us when the sun isn’t shining? We can, and we have to.

The motion brought forward by Wong-Tam is an opportunity to hold Corriere accountable. Toronto and its council have the chance to put its public money where its mouth is and refuse to direct funds to platforms that amplify dangerous and destructive representations of the LGBTQ2S community, its allies and the organizations that have been pillars of strength in our community.

Our elected officials will be judged by their choice to wield their power to defend those who have much less and are at risk. This is the time to be unwavering and clear about what we will and will not tolerate.

We are all in a tough spot right now with the pandemic. Students and young people who are struggling and feeling isolated under normal circumstances are even further burdened and disconnected. They deserve to know that they don’t have to stew in fear and shame; they can pick up their phones, open their laptops and connect right away with someone who can help. Toronto city council should take the steps to ensure that it does not amplify those who wish to bring affirmation and love down.

Jean-Paul Bevilacqua is a lawyer and professor at Osgoode Hall Law School.

@nowtoronto

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