Letters to the editor.

Today’s mailbox: Donna Istchenko, Jennifer Olson and Yukon women’s organizations comment on Yukon Party MLA texts

To Mona Luxion, President of the Queer Yukon Society

I am the wife of Wade Istchenko, and I was extremely distressed after reading your recent letter to Currie Dixon re: Addressing Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in the Yukon Party, in which you state that comments in the MLA text messages are “blatantly transphobic” and “promote a culture of transphobia in the Yukon”. I will not excuse the inappropriateness of the text messages, nor will I assume to know the intended meaning of the comments of the other participants in the group, but I must adamantly denounce any assertion that Wade’s comments were transphobic or promoted transphobia.

Wikipedia dictionary defines transphobia as: irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against transgender people. And you see, Wade and I are the proud parents of a beautiful, brave, brilliant and extraordinary daughter. She, now almost 21 years old, is transgender.

Our journey over the last few years with our daughter’s coming out and transitioning process has not been without challenges. It has been one of acceptance, education, enlightenment through facing our own biases, as well as those of our family and friends and society in general, and tolerance of those who continue to hold different opinions and beliefs. But through it all the easy part has been loving her, and our support has been unwavering and unconditional.

Wade has been consistently open and honest in all his interactions regarding our daughter, be it with friends or colleagues, constituents or acquaintances, and has remained steadfast in his unconditional acceptance and support of her. He has participated in pride parades, made tributes in the Legislative Assembly and supported legislative bills on Transgender issues, met with the Gay Straight Alliance at PCSS to help address bullying issues, and continues to proudly display the Pride flag in his office.

Through all of these things, I believe that he has been helping to change the minds and attitudes of numerous people.

To quote my daughter from a discussion we had earlier today, “Dad has worked really hard to support me and is one of the strongest allies I know, and to have him be accused of being transphobic is hurtful and offensive.” The irony here is that one of those whom you advocate for in your letter, is also being the most hurt and offended by it because you are maligning her strongest ally and supporter.

I am sorry that this happened, I am sorry for my husband’s part in it, and I am sorry that the LGBTQIA2S+ community continues to be victimized and oppressed. And I am sorry for my daughter and others like her, because I believe your need to condemn and criticize this perceived transgression will only serve to alienate and anger some people, rather than draw them to your cause, and may, in fact, further endanger those you seek to protect.

Donna Istchenko

Open letter to Stacey Hassard and Wade Istchenko

I am writing with outrage and horror at the comments made by Stacey Hassard and Wade Istchenko.

These comments were made by white middle class men in positions of power. Men who were unaware of their privilege, yet aware of their desire to silence those who are a threat. Men who were frustrated that their party did not win the election, who felt powerless and lashed out. Men who were angry that two parties decided to work together collaboratively and find common ground. Men who knew that using sexualized violence to denigrate opponents was the most powerful way to attempt to silence, humiliate and dehumanize them.

Dear reader, you may think that my interpretation of their comments are too radical/feminist/left-wing because these honourable elected officials didn’t rape anyone and didn’t victimize anyone directly.

I am a therapist and I work with victims of violence every day. I see the suffering caused by men who abuse their power, men who rape, men who abuse, and men who victimize. Do you know how hard it is for women, for Indigenous people, and for people who are queer, to feel safe when they live in a culture where elected officials participate in toxic masculinity and rape culture? Because this is what happened. Elected officials perpetuated rape culture and gendered violence by making comments about their opponents’ genitalia, lewd references to a female politician, and references to penis size.

I am a mother of three children. They know the value of a human life. They know that it is wrong to treat someone differently if they have a different colour skin, a different gender, or a different opinion. Mr. Hassard and Mr. Istchenko, do you know how hard it is to explain violence against women or trans folk to a young child? To tell them that some people think it’s OK to hurt people because of their gender/skin colour/political beliefs? Mr. Hassard and Mr. Istchenko, how would I teach my kids to handle frustration if they lose at a board game or a soccer match? Do I teach them that it’s OK to pull down each other’s pants, compare sizes of genitals and then humiliate whoever won the game? Would you encourage my sons to make vulgar comments about their female peers’ genitals?

Mr. Hassard and Mr. Istchenko, your apologies are useless because you offer no accountability, no sincerity and no responsibility. It is clear that Currie Dixon and the Yukon Party are willing to make promises about everything under the sun before an election but afterwards, will continue to perpetuate inequality, injustice and sexualized violence by excusing and minimizing abhorrent behaviour.

Mr. Hassard and Mr. Istchenko, thank you for confirming that I will never in my life vote for the Yukon Party. And thank you for never volunteering at my kids’ school when it’s time for them to play soccer or games of any kind.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Olson, MSW RSW

Yukon Women’s Organizations Call Upon Yukon Party to Address Gender-Based Violence

On May 3, 2021, Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon issued a public apology after two members of his party made sexually explicit comments in a group chat. The messages include inappropriate comments about all three-party leaders, and include references to and comparisons between the sizes of their genitalia. We are writing this open letter to express the Yukon Women’s Coalition’s dissatisfaction with the apology made by the Yukon Party on behalf of MLA’s Stacey Hassard and Wade Istchenko. Furthermore, we are calling upon Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon to take more serious action in addressing misogyny, sexism and harassment within his party, and to let Yukoners know unequivocally that words, behaviours and actions that contribute to gender-based violence are unacceptable within our Government.

The Yukon Women’s Coalition is a network of equality-seeking non-government organizations whose collective focus is to improve the wellbeing of women-identified Yukoners across the territory. We aim to improve institutional and individual responses to gender-based violence here in Yukon. The comments made by Stacey Hassard and Wade Istchenko were inappropriate, unprofessional and underlie a culture where toxic gendered behaviour is accepted and normalized. Discriminatory comments like these, wherever they are written or spoken, contribute to male-entitled environments that increase barriers for women to participate fully. Group chats like these are of serious concern when we question why we don’t have more women running for elected office or represented within our Legislature: because men in positions of power make comments that devalue and debase women in leadership positions. Until we root out language and behaviours that reinforce sexism, we will continue to have communities where women and LGBTQ2S+ individuals are not given the respect and dignity needed to provide their full potential.

Mr. Istchenko, in his statement said that he commits to “learning from these mistakes”, and Mr. Hassard stated he will “advocate for a territory where all Yukoners feel welcome”. Training to address workplace harassment and bullying is a decent starting off point, but we believe that in order for these publicly elected officials to truly understand the harm of their words, they need to engage on learning about how sexism and misogyny perpetuate women’s inequity. Gender-based violence is an incredibly important issue here in Yukon, where rates of domestic violence and sexualized assault are higher than almost anywhere else in the country.

In closing, we urge the Yukon Party to recognize this as an opportunity to engage more deeply with the issue of gender-based violence. We challenge Mr. Dixon to hold his party members to the high standard of accountability befitting their roles as elected members of the Yukon Legislature. This is an opportunity to take a stand against gender inequality in this territory, by setting an example to all men and boys watching that they all have a role to play in ending gender-based violence and to show all women and girls in this Territory that you are a leader in upholding our safety and our right to be included fully within our communities. As a Coalition, we are committed to doing this, and invite all Yukoners, including Mr. Dixon, Mr. Istchenko and Mr. Hassard, to join us in this important work through action.

Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council

Yukon Women’s Transition Home

Yukon Status of Women Council

Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre

Les EssentiElles

Letter to the Editor

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