Content warning: discussion of assault, sexual assault.
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ue-Ann Levy is a columnist at the Toronto Sun that is well known for staunch conservative views and unapologetic ways of conveying them. Her column and other means of commentary have drawn some ire, particularly among leftists she has covered, who accuse her of being abrasive and closed-minded.
I was 10 when I first heard Levy on AM640. Before this point, I had never heard a Canadian media person speak so openly against the status quo or provide an opening for alternative discourse by challenging listeners and pushing conversation.
Although I did not agree with all her views, at a young age I realized her voice was important.
She recently released her book Underdog: Confessions of a Right-Wing Gay Jewish Muckraker late last month. For those who don’t know her, it acts as an introduction to the Toronto journalist, but for those who do, it provides insight into her world.
I caught up with her before her book signing event at Hart House on September 14.
As someone deemed ‘controversial’, her image in the Canadian media can be polarizing. As I sat down with Levy on a sunny afternoon, my aim was to see her as she saw herself — not as how others perceived her.
Levy’s path to journalism was not direct. As a child, she had another passion. “I wanted to be an actress, so I used to take Broadway musicals, rewrite them, write poetry, and then perform,” she said. “I conscripted my brother to be involved and I would perform them for the family.”
It was her grandmother who pushed towards her current profession, because she “[thought] that a nice Jewish girl doesn’t go to acting school [and] that I should become a journalist because I like to write. So she really pushed me and inspired me to be a journalist,” stated Levy.
Her political views developed at an early age: “I also discovered politics really early thanks to an uncle that was very involved with the Conservative Party. So, I have… very happily been able to mix all of my loves: writing, politics, and a little bit of acting — because I go on the radio all the time.”
As we spoke, my curiosity about Levy’s unique career path grew. Her explanation of her motivation to speak out was sobering: “I had several things happen to me over the years. First of all, growing up in Hamilton I was bullied and made fun of and labelled as an outsider, and then in my last year of journalism [school], I was beaten and assaulted and left for dead. I was at Carleton University, I was at my last year, and I discovered that the system wasn’t actually there for me in many ways.”
The assault had altered the course of her life. Levy explained, “I had always been outspoken, I always had a sense of social justice, and then when all of these things happened — coupled with living in the closet and questioning my sexuality — I said that even though I have been traumatized, I got to speak up for others… Those who I call the underdog, because I was the underdog.”
I wondered if Levy’s proclivity for dissent came naturally to her, or if it was the result of a personal evolution. She responded, “It was an evolution. It built over time. Unfortunately, I was outspoken for others but not so much about myself.”
As she avoided her own trauma and grappled with her identity, Levy was driven to bring attention to other types of injustice. “I started to really hone in on people who I felt were betrayed by the system. And I was naturally attracted to people who had stories to tell. When I started covering education in the early 90s, I covered the injustices in the system — the waste and mismanagement,” she said.
Against the grain
One of the focuses of Levy’s book is her conviction that she has been sidelined for her divergent political views. “The left — who I write about — have ignored me and tried to silence me or tried to pretend it’s not out there… CBC have, to this point, refused to interview me, although I used to be on way back when. CP24 has banned me because the general manager there doesn’t like my outspoken views,” she commented.
Levy then explained the bullying she has been experiencing online: “You’re fat, you’re a dyke, you’re an idiot. I have had that happen in the last week or so and definitely since the book came out.”
As a woman that switched professions later in life, was sexually abused twice, and struggled with her sexuality, I realized that Levy was more multi-dimensional than many perceive her to be.
When asked what advice she has for students who are struggling to speak up, Levy said: “Don’t be afraid to put yourself into the discourse. I always say that it only takes one or two people and then others will follow. There [is] strength in numbers. People should be entitled to say [what they believe]. My editor… said to me always stay calm. Always state the facts, always stay calm, and don’t lower yourself to the name calling. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, you’ll see that it gets easier and easier as time goes on.”