A controversial photo of Premier Danielle Smith posing with a man in a “Straight Pride” T-shirt at the Calgary Stampede this weekend is causing a stir.
Smith’s office released a statement Monday saying: “The premier didn’t read his shirt and obviously doesn’t agree with its message.
“She has always been clear that she supports the LGBTQ+ community and will continue our work to make sure they feel safe in our province.”
The front of the man’s shirt reads: “Thank a straight person today for your existence” above the classic male/female stick figures — below: “Straight Pride.” The back of the shirt says “Good people disobey bad laws.”
It is “unconscionable” that the premier’s staff would let her take a photo with someone representing such views, said Dr. Kristopher Wells, an associate professor at McEwan University.
“I think it’s very concerning, it’s disturbing,” said the Canada Research chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth. “What you’re seeing here is people trying to legitimate these views as though they were the dominant views in society.”
It sends the wrong message to people, especially kids in the queer community, he said.
Wells is glad the premier denounced the sentiment and does not support the message, but there was clearly a “staff breakdown” for someone wearing a shirt like that to be able to get, not only so close to the premier, but to take a photo with her.
Political scientist Duane Bratt said politicians are meeting lots of people during Stampede week and it’s possible to take photos or be seen with some people they shouldn’t be with.
“It’s another thing,” he added, “when they’re advertising their views on their shirts.”
He questioned where Smith’s handlers and staffers were at the time.
“The premier’s got an entire group of people — someone should not have allowed that person to get so close to the premier,” he said.
Pierre Poilievre was also seen on his old stomping grounds this weekend posing with the man. His office also released a statement saying the national Conservative Party leader did not read the man’s shirt before the photo and the shirt’s sentiment is not one he supports.
Bratt said that even though Smith has been supportive of gay rights in the past — something that has caused issues with the old Wildrose Party — it’s unclear how the trans issue is playing out.
“I think she does need an explanation,” he said. “If you were a member of the trans community — which is already feeling ostracized, which is already feeling demonized — how safe do you feel right now? If you’re the premier of all Albertans, does that include sexual minorities?”
Some people may see this as an issue with a “silly” T-shirt, said Bratt, but he adds it’s what that T-shirt represents.
“Do her staffers support that or don’t they?
“As an experienced politician, that’s something she should have known and the people around her should have known.”
“I think it speaks to the times we’re in and where people will look at any opportunity to share this kind of hateful narrative and feel that that’s OK and that’s appropriate — even to be wearing something like that in the public, never mind trying to pose beside the premier or other leading figures in our society,” said Wells.
The reason for rainbow flags, crosswalks and the like, he said, is “to signal our values that we want to be an inclusive community but unfortunately (are) not there yet.”
“When we are there, there’s not going to be the need for these signs of visible support.”
The Alberta NDP’s anti-racism, diversity and LGBTQ2S+ critic, Lizette Tejada, called on Smith to make a “real” apology and stand up for the queer community.
“In this one action, she is allowing use of the Premier’s Office to promote hate. To make matters worse, she refuses to take responsibility for her own views, past statements and visible symbols of hate,” reads Tejada’s statement.
“It’s impossible to believe that neither she nor anyone in her staff read the T-shirt worn by her supporter. Danielle Smith clearly had no problem with the hateful message she posed with.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press
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