Bardswich: Why polling stations shouldn’t be inside churches

Ottawa Citizen by Kaitlin Bardswich 29 October 2019


I’m a white, cis lesbian with lots of privilege, and little trauma associated with how I’ve been treated for being gay. But others in the LGBTQ+ community may think twice about voting when they see where they have to cast their ballot.

Full disclosure: I’m a church-going Christian.

I’m also a lesbian.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community and someone who attends and has worked in progressive churches (but grew up in a conservative one), I was very uncomfortable recently voting at a polling station located in a church whose beliefs are homophobic .

Voting can be difficult for different people for a number of reasons: lack of child care, lack of physical accessibility, lack of ID, lack of permanent housing. As a queer person, voting can be hard for a reason many people may not think about: where we’re physically voting.

A lot of polling stations are located in churches of conservative values that have the physical space – and parking – to house them. Last week, my polling station was located in a church that is a member of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC), which believes that marriage is only between one man and one woman. In its official statement of beliefs, it likens homosexuality to adultery and incest as ways that marriage vows can be broken.

PAOC also spoke against the legality of same-sex marriage in Canada. When speaking to the Legislative Assembly on Bill C-38 in 2005, a representative of PAOC said, “Given the homosexual lifestyle … children belong[ing] to same-sex marriages will not have the privilege of a stable environment where parents are loyal to each other.”

I read about all of this after I voted because I knew if I researched beforehand, my voting experience would have been even more negative.

I’ve had to vote in homophobic churches before (one, unlike this time, was in a gym that was used as the worship space itself, complete with belief statements hanging on the walls) and it hurts every time I have to do so. When I go to vote, I do not need to be reminded that, for a number of Canadians, I am still considered “less than” and “intrinsically disordered.”

Studies in the United States have shown that being inside a church can change our attitudes, and may even change the way we vote.

I’m a white, cis lesbian with lots of privilege, and little trauma associated with how I’ve been treated for being gay. But others in the LGBTQ+ community carry much more baggage; some may even think twice about voting after seeing where their polling station is.

It’s not unbelievable; after posting on my personal social media, one gay friend said he hadn’t voted because of the church where his polling station was located.

Of course, LGBTQ+ people have options. We can vote in the advance polls or mail in our votes if we’re that uncomfortable with voting in a particular church. But we shouldn’t have to do that.

Just like it would be inappropriate to expect Indigenous People to vote in former residential schools or people of colour to vote in buildings owned and operated by white supremacist groups, it’s inappropriate to expect LGBTQ+ to vote in spaces that, on any other day, see us as less than equal.

Elections Canada says that it does its best to ensure that polling stations are accessible for people with disabilities. It should also be doing its best to ensure that they are safe spaces for every member of the general public.

I’m not suggesting Elections Canada spend time vetting churches; rather, we shouldn’t be voting in religious buildings at all. After all, there’s a separation of church and state for a reason.

Kaitlin Bardswich is on the board of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity.