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Leadership summit sets off concern in Halifax LGBTQ community

Laura Lynn Thompson, a former candidate for the People Party of Canada in Alberta, is slated to speak at an event on the Dalhousie University campus on Nov. 23.
Laura Lynn Thompson, a former candidate for the People Party of Canada in Alberta, is slated to speak at an event at Dalhousie University in Halifax on Nov. 23.

A leadership summit that will be held on the Dalhousie University campus has sparked concern in the Halifax LGBTQ community.

The event, called Advance Summit: A Leadership Development Bootcamp, will be held Nov. 23 at the Dalhousie Collaborative Health Education Building.

The speakers include Laura Lynn Thompson, a former candidate for the People’s Party of Canada in Alberta, as well as summit organizer and publisher Seun Salami, T. J. Thomas, a pastor at the Deep Water Church in Halifax, and Nigerian leadership blogger Japheth Joshua Omojuwa.

Tyler Colbourne, a student at Dalhousie’s school of social work, said he’s particularly worried about Thompson’s participation.

He considers the former Christian TV talk show host's vocal opposition to gender identity protection to be homophobic and transphobic, which are against Dalhousie’s code of ethics. 

"They have a large body of students who are in the queer community and experience harm on a daily basis," Colbourne said. "They’re effectively telling me that they’re OK with that.”

Thompson’s platform as a PPC candidate included opposition to federal legislation, Bill C-16, that added gender identity and gender expression to prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

 As a candidate in a Burnaby, B.C., school board election in 2018, she opposed a provincial school resource program called SOGI 123 that helps educators support gay, lesbian and transgender students.

"They (Dalhousie) have a large body of students who are in the queer community and experience harm on a daily basis, they’re effectively telling me that they’re OK with that."

- Dalhousie student Tyler Colbourne

Colbourne noted that the Advance Summit advertisements don't give details on the issues to be discussed, but “it’s like (Dalhousie) is actively going to allow someone to have a soapbox to stand on and potentially perpetuate harm and talk about things that are damaging to marginal communities,” he said. 

Neither Thompson nor Salami responded to emailed requests for comment from The Chronicle Herald. 

The summit’s Twitter account publicized the event with a tweet that said “Do you have dreams in your heart seeking expression? Join us for Advance Summit Halifax.” 

A Dalhousie spokeswoman said the university "has undertaken a large amount of work to ensure that we are a respectful, diverse and inclusive campus community.

“Any events that we organize within our community are consistent with those values,” Janet Bryson said in an email. “We are not affiliated with this event, nor are we involved in the planning or promotion of it.

“Through our events and conference services division, we rent space to outside groups for a variety of events and conferences. Although we do ask the external organization for a brief description of their conference, we do not censor the type of conference.”

Colbourne, who hosts a podcast called Quirky and Queer, said that’s not acceptable.

“They say, we have no alliance, we’re not supporting this in an intentional way. But by holding that space and not being clear on their values, they are supporting the status quo and allowing for harm to be perpetuated.”

Halifax commenters on social media also criticized Dalhousie for renting the building for the event.

The Twitter account @AtlanticPoliSci said “allowing homophobic and transphobic speakers pay you for a space, allowing them onto your property, and allowing them access to an area part of Dal student's daily lives means you are complicit in the harm to students. Dalhousie can do better.”

Salami responded on his Twitter account to another tweet criticizing Thompson's participation with “I believe @LauraLynnTT is a respected member of society with rights, just like the rest of us, regardless of whether she is on the left, or right. Right?”

In past interviews, Thompson has denied being homophobic or transphobic. When asked in 2018 by the news website Burnaby Now how she as a school board trustee would support transgender students, she replied: “I would love them to pieces, and I would certainly say that that’s a serious issue that should be dealt with by a professional.”

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