According to former Vision Vancouver park board candidate Trish Kelly, an upcoming public forum tackling sexism in politics is about “holding a hope”.
“I want to show that it can be better, that just because it didn’t work for me to run in this election doesn’t mean that women should feel that they can’t try,” she told the Straight by phone.
Kelly stepped down as a Vision Vancouver candidate in July after a video surfaced of her reciting a sex-positive monologue. The performance was an excerpt from a play she wrote for the 1999 Vancouver Fringe Festival and was what she described as the funniest part of a “pretty dramatic” theatrical work.
“When I found myself in a position where I was being told that my history as a sex-positive activist and artist was going to become part of a smear campaign, and that I wasn’t going to be electable and I was going to harm the chances of others on my slate getting elected, my impulse was to see how, as an activist, I could use this moment to further the systemic issues,” she said.
“It seemed to me the most powerful thing that I could do with that attention was to get us talking about these bigger issues, which is: why is it difficult for a woman to be sex-positive and run for public office or have sexual agency and be nonapologetic about that?”
Kelly is among the speakers planned for a sold-out forum on Friday (October 3) at SFU Harbour Centre. The event will also feature Lyndsay Poaps, former park commissioner and founder of the young women’s campaign school Frontrunner; the Museum of Vancouver’s Hanna Cho; trans filmmaker Gwen Haworth; and Oxfam Canada global gender-justice campaigner Kelly Bowden.
Kelly sees her experience as a clear example of some of the challenges that female candidates face.
“There’s quite a dichotomy of, on the one hand, you’re expected to be completely transparent and yet there’s a very low tolerance for anything that falls outside of the normal range,” she said. “And I think that that’s just elevated by being a woman, because there’s still so many stereotypes about what ladylike behaviour is in our society.”
She noted it can also be challenging for women with families to enter politics.
“I think we see less women at the city-council level, partly because of the demands on time, and we as women are still expected to shoulder the majority of the work as caregivers in our families, so that makes it very difficult for women to seek public office,” she said.
As part of her activism, Kelly wants to bring attention to the barriers faced by women, queer people, and candidates from marginalized backgrounds in running for office.
Other potential topics she has in mind for future forums include addressing accessibility for people with disabilities in entering politics and the potential challenges that an “online footprint” can pose for young candidates.
“If it means that more people are talking about and affirming that we want female candidates and we want candidates from marginalized backgrounds to take the risk and come forward and seek public office or other forms of leadership, then some good has come of this,” Kelly said.
“That’s what I hope.”