Opinion: Vision Vancouver lost star by booting out Trish Kelly

It is a damned shame what has happened to Trish Kelly. It should give us all pause to wonder what this says about the future of electoral politics and how it is affected by social media.

Until last week, Kelly was a much celebrated Vision park board candidate; she’s a sex-positive queer community activist, a veteran member of the city’s Food Policy committee, and worked on the Greenest City Action Plan. The group she brought with her, the members she signed up for Vision as part of her campaign, as Vision

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Coun. Andrea Reimer observed “was a constituency that would not otherwise be reached.”

And she wasn’t just a rising star in the queer community; she was seen as a bright spark by a wide variety of folks. In her run to top the polls in the Vision membership vote, she had endorsements from — get this — three Vision Vancouver city councillors, four NDP MLAs, two current park commissioners and a senior union leader with CUPE B.C.

But in spite of all that, she was convinced to call it quits. That constituency she attracted may decide to do the same thing when it comes to voting for Vision.

Kelly’s victory came in no small part with the help of all the tools available on social media from Nation Builder to Facebook and Twitter. Yet if it was social media that set her up, it was that same uncontrolled, easily accessible, rapidly changing combination of blogs and tweets and Facebook and YouTube that brought her down.

It began with a posting on a relatively obscure blog of Kelly’s eight-year-old YouTube video. It was a humourous monologue on the joys of masturbation in the face of loneliness. It was drawn from a successful play she wrote for The Fringe Festival while still in theatre school many years ago.

While social media is not uncommonly used as a bullying tool, it is also seen increasingly by a younger generation as a place to record intimate aspects of their lives; an older generation would have found this unthinkable and even appalling.

It is this generational shift in terms of what is considered private and what can be public that caused Kelly’s monologue to gain such notoriety.  But if you think that Kelly failed to disclose the full range of her work to the Vision folks who vetted her, you would be wrong.

Vision co-chair Maria Dobrinskaya confirmed that she and the other two people who interviewed Kelly were well aware of her whole body of work including an anthology of erotica she put together with former sex-trade worker turned award-winning poet Amber Dawn.

And if you think it was a horrified Kelly who, on seeing her monologue’s intention being distorted by the blogosphere, asked Vision to allow her to step down and slip back into a more private world, you would be wrong there, too. Kelly was clear on that point: “I did not initiate this.”  

The very same Vision people, Dobrinskaya et al., who a few months earlier approved Kelly’s run to become a candidate and revelled in her victory, were the same ones who spent two days convincing her it would be in everyone’s best interest for her to quit the race.

What caused the Vision leadership’s neck-snapping reversal? Well, for one thing, between the time they vetted Kelly and their little two-day arm-twisting session, they saw social media at work tearing away at Vision Mayor Gregor Robertson and his separation from his wife.

Led by the NPA’s chief rumour monger Rob Macdonald, social media channels were overflowing with smears and innuendo.Vision’s backroom types could see a second round coming with Kelly. While they say they didn’t want her to endure that — she said bring it on. But they were also concerned that their election platform built on affordable housing, ending street homelessness and tankers in the harbour would be buried by a tsunami of social media digging through Kelly’s work. A younger generation may have remained indifferent, but guess who votes.

You know what choice Vision made. Call it cowardice or self-interest or just plain “politics.” But it has meant a great loss; one that will be felt most profoundly in the queer community.


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