As King defends record on trans rights, Pride P.E.I. says politicians won't be welcome at parade
P.E.I. PC leader, voter are heard discussing transgender rights in clip posted online
P.E.I. PC Leader Dennis King is defending himself and his party's stance on protecting transgender rights after audio was released of him saying "you don't gotta drive everything down everybody's throat" when asked about trans issues.
In a 32-second clip released on social media Friday, King can be heard speaking with an unidentified voter about the trans community on Prince Edward Island. He later confirmed the other person was one of his constituents in District 15: Brackley-Hunter River, where he is seeking re-election in the April 3 election.
Who the constituent was, when it was recorded, and where it took place has not been made public. It was posted to social media by Kevin Arsenault, who ran against King in the 2019 PC leadership campaign. CBC reached out to Arsenault for more information on the audio but did not receive a response.
King said the entire conversation with the voter lasted roughly 30 minutes, and people shouldn't draw conclusions about it based on a short clip.
Here is that clip transcribed in full:
Voter: What else? Oh yeah, the trans situation —
Voter: — that is happening and getting forced down Islanders' throats here. And anybody that raises their hands, especially young women, young mothers, that are trying to protect their kids, and we've got someone like Paul MacNeill [publisher of The Graphic weekly newspaper] basically, you know, calling them crazies.
King: [Inaudible] You can't have a conversation.
Voter: Well, that's it. And it needs to be —
King: In a perfect world, be happy with who you are, go be happy with [inaudible]. You don't gotta drive everything down everybody's throat. And if they disagree, that's fine.
When CBC News asked him about that comment on Monday, King said he wasn't aware that he was being recorded.
"I think that's just indicative of a conversation that you have from time to time at a door, where you try to get to the bottom of where somebody is thinking, and where their thought process has developed from," King said.
"If I recall that conversation, it was more around the situation of [the] individual's thoughts of the book-reading incident that was happening at the King's Playhouse in Georgetown," he said.
A planned drag storytime reading at the theatre was the focus of online protests in February, leading organizers to postpone it until April 15.
It followed on the heels of efforts by some Island parents to have the Public Schools Branch rescind guidelines meant to ensure schools are inclusive.
...We have to be able, in the society that we live in, to have a conversation... Hate and homophobia and discrimination has no place in the world.— Dennis King
"My whole point, I guess, would continue to be that we have to be able, in the society that we live in, to have a conversation," said King.
"Hate and homophobia and discrimination has no place in the world, but we have to be able to have a conversation with everybody about these difficult transitional issues."
He added that in the conversation that was taped, he was trying to understand why that person had that specific opinion.
King said he's been very supportive of the trans community on P.E.I. and that human rights "need to be protected and defended on P.E.I."
At the P.E.I. Coalition of Women in Government forum last week, King said transphobic comments "need to be called out immediately.
"There are people who have lived here for far too long that are afraid of change and don't know how to deal with change," he said Thursday. "I want Prince Edward Island to be a place where you be who you want to be, love who you want to love, wear what you want to wear, and celebrate you and your uniqueness."
On Monday, King said that remains his stance.
"That's what I believe, that we need to have these conversations," he said. "We need to talk to people to get to the basis of understanding of why they come to this belief."
'Extremely disappointing, damaging and harmful'
Lucky Fusca is the executive director of the P.E.I. Transgender Network.
They said they understood the taped exchange as King saying he does believe the transgender community is, in fact, "shoving our existence down people's throats."
Fusca called it "a very disgusting answer" and "spineless" given what King had said at the leaders' forum on Thursday.
"A true ally would have confronted the anti-trans rhetoric that the individual Dennis King was speaking to was putting forward, and ended the conversation or made room for trying to teach this individual."
Fusca characterized giving a public appearance of wanting to call out transphobia while also having private conversations like the one in the released audio clip "extremely disappointing, damaging and harmful."
"Our community has been and is currently under attack by anti-trans movements that are occurring on Prince Edward Island … and to not have direct and strong support from the leader of this province is unsurprising but also extremely disappointing."
PC leader apologizes
Late Monday afternoon, King's office released a statement saying in part:
"I should have more forcefully stood up for the transgender community and I apologize unreservedly to those who are rightly offended by my lack of action.
"I had an opportunity in that moment to be a stronger ally for rights of transgender people and I fell short of the expectations of both myself and Islanders. I can and will do better."
Pride P.E.I. issues release
In another development late Monday, Pride P.E.I. said the organization no longer wants political leaders to participate in the Island's annual Pride Parade. The next one is scheduled for July 29.
"In recent years, Pride P.E.I. has been proud to have representation from all of the Island's major political parties in the parade, but sadly, this symbolic form of allyship has not been followed up with tangible efforts to address the rise in hate speech and acts of violence directed at our community," the statement read.
"We feel there is no other choice but to suspend the entry of all provincial political parties until commitments are made, and followed up on with real meaningful action once the legislature reconvenes following the election."
Pride P.E.I. didn't single out King in the statement; the group said it's time for all political leaders to take a stand and invest in LGBTQ initiatives.
With files from Kerry Campbell