Trudeau Liberals hope to retain LGBT support in October election in face of challenges from NDP and Greens

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      Back in 2015, the Conservative prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, called an election on the same day as the Vancouver Pride parade.

      As the march was about to begin, a huge number of New Democrats were gathered along Thurlow Street waiting for their leader, Tom Mulcair.

      He was supposed to walk with them down Robson, Denman, and Pacific streets.

      Mulcair, however, never made it because he switched his schedule to attend the funeral of former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Flora MacDonald.

      The leader of the Liberals, Justin Trudeau, was in Vancouver for that parade, milling about with a large number of candidates and party members.

      And after the event began, he made a huge impression by min­gling with the crowds.

      “Proud to be a vocal supporter of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer Canadians!” Trudeau tweeted that day, setting himself apart from the stodgier leaders of the two other major parties, who skipped the event.

      The Liberals went on to win an unprecedented number of seats in the Lower Mainland in the general election that October.

      Four years later, Trudeau is carrying a lot more political baggage into the upcoming federal election in October, including the government’s controversial purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline system.

      But he still remains a beloved figure to many LGBT voters. That stands in sharp contrast to his chief opponent, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who has declared that he will not march in any Pride parades this year.

      Trudeau was the first sitting prime minister to march in a Pride parade, in 2016, and to raise the Pride flag on Parliament Hill.

      He was the first to appoint an MP, Randy Boissonnault, as a special adviser to the prime minister on LGBTQ2 issues.

      Trudeau issued a formal apology on behalf of the Canadian government to queer Canadians who have been wronged by federal legislation.

      Moreover, the Liberal government passed a law to permanently destroy criminal records linked to consensual sexual activity with same-sex partners if this activity is legal today.

      Actions like these won him a leadership award in 2018 from the LGBT advocacy group Egale Canada.

      Video: One of Justin Trudeau's most memorable moments as prime minister came when he delivered a heartfelt apology to LGBT Canadians.

      This year, the Trudeau government committed $20 million to LGBT community-service groups.

      That’s not all.

      Under the Liberals, the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination.

      The Criminal Code of Canada was amended to increase protection from hate propaganda targeting a person’s gender identity or gender expression. Judges were given leeway to impose tougher sentences for people convicted of offences targeting a person’s gender identity or gender expression.

      People can now place an X on their passports rather than an M or an F, thanks to the Liberals. And the Trudeau government is working with the provinces to outlaw so-called conversion therapy across the country.

      One would think that with all of these accomplishments, Trudeau wouldn’t face a lot of competition for the LGBT vote in Vancouver. But this year, the Liberals face a new threat.

      For the first time, the Greens will be running a candidate in Vancouver Centre with very deep connections and a long record of service to the LGBT community.

      Jesse Brown is the executive director of Vancouver Friends for Life Society, which offers support to people living with HIV, cancer, hepatitis C, and other chronic illnesses. Before that, he was executive director of YouthCO, which offers peer education to young people about HIV and hepatitis C.

      The NDP is holding its Vancouver Centre nomination meeting on Sunday (July 28), pitting high-profile trans and education activist Morgane Oger against well-known gay actor and producer David C. Jones and Métis lawyer Breen Ouellette.

      In late June, Hedy Fry visited St. Paul's Hospital to announce nearly $23 million in federal funding for HIV/AIDS research.

      Hedy Fry has never lost

      Should Oger or Jones win the nomination, long-time Liberal MP Hedy Fry will be facing an opponent who is perhaps just as famous as her to LGBT voters in the riding.

      Fry, of course, has defeated all NDP challengers in eight elections, and won in 2015 by more than 20,000 votes.

      Among those she's beaten include the first openly gay parliamentarian, Svend Robinson, and a future Vancouver mayor, Kennedy Stewart.

      Fry likes saying that when she was approached by Jean Chrétien to run for the Liberals in the early 1990s, she only agreed if the party would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add sexual orientation to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination.

      That occurred in Chrétien’s first term as prime minister.

      Since then, she has been a constant advocate for the LGBT community locally and internationally, most recently when she introduced an amendment to a motion at the Organization for Security and Economic Co-operation Parliamentary Assembly.

      It called for sanctioning Chechnya for its treatment of the LGBT community. 

      In late June at St. Paul's Hospital, Fry also announced nearly $23 million in federal funding for HIV/AIDS research.

      Before the 2014 Pride parade, New Democrats Libby Davies, Randall Garrison, Mable Elmore, and Spencer Chandra Herbert announced their party's "gay agenda".
      Craig Takeuchi

      NDP takes Pride in its history

      This year, the NDP is trying to position itself as the party most forcefully advocating for the LGBT community by promising “a clear and permanent path” for queer refugees to come to Canada.

      It is also pledging to end discrimination for the community under federal employment-equity legislation.

      And Robinson is back, running in Burnaby North–Seymour. As an MP many years ago, Robinson persuaded Parliament to add sexual orientation to hate-crime legislation.

      Robinson was the only federal candidate to show up at the recent Red Umbrella march in the West End to support sex workers seeking legal changes to enhance their personal safety.

      The NDP can also claim an impressive history of LGBT advocacy, both at the provincial and federal levels.

      It long argued for equal rights for transgender and gender-variant Canadians, dating back to when Bill Siksay was an MP representing Burnaby.

      The NDP's Tim Stevenson was the first openly gay provincial cabinet minister.

      The first two out lesbians elected to the B.C. legislature, Jenn McGinn and Mable Elmore, were both with the NDP.

      Vancouver–West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert was the first LGBT provincial legislator in a same-sex couple who became a parent through adoption.

      Long-time Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies was the first openly queer female parliamentarian.

      And measures adopted by the Trudeau government—such as suspending criminal records for gay offences that are no longer illegal and delivering an apology to LGBT Canadians—were championed by Davies and another NDP MP, Randall Garrison, before the 2015 election.

      Svend Robinson and Libby Davies—and not then leader Tom Mulcair—were among the many New Democrats who walked in the 2015 Vancouver Pride parade.
      Charlie Smith

      "There were many civil servants, going back to the '60s, the '70s, and earlier who were fired, who faced terrible discrimination, some people who took their own life because of what they faced," Davies told the Straight before the 2014 Pride parade. "There has never been an official apology and we think there needs to be recognition for what people faced in that era and it calls upon the Canadian government to issue an official apology."

      Unlike former party leader Mulcair, Davies and Robinson attended the Pride parade the following year on the same day the election was called.

      That's when Robinson recalled to the Straight the type of harassment he faced when he became the first MP to come out as gay in 1988.

      “My office was destroyed,” he said.

      This occurred at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when he was frequently attending funerals.

      “People were dying of AIDS,” Robinson noted. “So to be part of a liberation movement to make this world a better place was very special.”