Friday, July 28, 2006

Singer k.d. accuses Harper of supporting intolerance by skipping Outgames

By Jonathan Montpetit

MONTREAL (CP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper has chosen to "support intolerance" by refusing to attend an international gathering of gay athletes, singer k.d. lang said Friday.

lang was critical of her fellow Albertan for failing to support the World Outgames, which is expected to attract up to 13,000 gay, bisexual and transgendered athletes when it begins Saturday.

"It's a sad statement that the national leader of a country that's one of the most progressive countries in the world chooses to support intolerance," she told a news conference at the Olympic Stadium.

But lang added that the gay community shouldn't take Harper's absence personally.

"It's our job to see that as an unfortunate ignorance, rather than as a statement against us," she said. "It's just that he hasn't got there in his heart."

Given that Quebec Premier Jean Charest, interim Liberal leader Bill Graham and the Bloc Quebecois' Gilles Duceppe will all make appearances at the games, Harper's absence is likely to be noticed.

But a spokesman for the prime minister said there in nothing political in Harper's decision to skip the Outgames.

"The prime minister receives hundred of invitations to attend several events at the same time," Dimitri Soudas said in a telephone interview. "He simply can't be everywhere at the same time."

Soudas said Public Works Minister Michael Fortier will represent the government at the games along with several Conservative MPs, although he didn't specify which ones.

Soudas also wouldn't respond to lang's criticisms, pointing out "she's not the first celebrity to comment on the activities of the prime minister."

The gay community isn't exactly a hotbed of Conservative support and the party probably won't win any new fans with plans to revisit the gay-marriage debate in the fall.

Without going into details, lang said she expects the gay community will experience setbacks under the current government.

"They will probably make it (homosexuality) a political issues," she said. "It's not a political issue. It's a human rights issue."

But lang said the setbacks likely wouldn't be permanent and could be positive in the end.

"It's a good indication and a good reminder that our struggle continues as human beings."

lang will perform Saturday at the Olympic Stadium as part of the Outgames' opening ceremonies.

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