Where Vancouver leads in LGBT progress: Local politicians make history in Canada

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      Lower Mainland politicians have scored several national firsts for the LGBT community.

      It’s well known that the first openly gay Canadian MP was the NDP’s Svend Robinson. The long-time Burnaby-Douglas parliamentarian was first elected in 1979 and came out in 1988. The first female LGBT MP was the NDP’s Libby Davies, who represented Vancouver East from 1997 to 2015. She came out in 2001 and remains a close friend of Robinson’s.

      But did you know that a long-time Vancouver resident was the first gay senator? This occurred when former Vancouver show cohost and writer Laurier LaPierre was appointed to the red chamber in 2001.

      The first already-out candidate to be elected to Parliament was Robinson’s long-time constituency aide, Bill Siksay, who succeeded him in Burnaby-Douglas in 2004.

      Vancouver councillor Tim Stevenson was the first gay or lesbian cabinet minister in Canadian history.
      Craig Takeuchi

      Vancouver also elected the first openly gay politician, Tim Stevenson, to become a cabinet minister in Canada. In 2000, then NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh appointed him as the minister of employment and investment. Dosanjh, who represented Vancouver-Kensington at the time, was the first Canadian premier to walk in a Pride parade.

      In 1996, Stevenson and B.C. Liberal Ted Nebbeling were elected to the B.C. legislature as the first openly gay MLAs. They weren’t the first loud-and-proud gays to be elected provincially in Canada—that distinction goes to Quebec’s Maurice Richard—but they were the first in English-speaking Canada.

      It’s worth noting that gay NDP solicitor general Mike Farnworth was first elected provincially five years earlier, in 1991, but his sexual orientation wasn’t reported in the media until many years later.

      Nebbeling was the first B.C. MLA to marry his same-sex partner, Jan Holmberg, while in office. The day after this was revealed in the media, Nebbeling lost his cabinet position.

      The first out lesbian to be elected in Vancouver was Sue Harris, who made it onto the park board in 1984 with the Coalition of Progressive Electors. Vancouver’s first openly gay city councillor was Gordon Price, who was elected with the NPA in 1986. He served six terms on council. A decade later, he was joined by one of the LGBT community’s most influential activists, Alan Herbert, who was also on the NPA slate.

      The 1996 civic election also marked the first time a transgender candidate ran for council. The Coalition of Progressive Electors’ Jamie Lee Hamilton ended up in 14th place in the race for 10 seats. A prominent lesbian of that era, Frances Wasserlein, also ran for COPE that year, finishing up in 18th place.

      The same year, three gay or lesbian park commissioners also got elected: Laura McDiarmid, Duncan Wilson, and Alan Fetherstonhaugh. The latter two first made it onto the park board in 1993.

      The first female member of the LGBT community to make it onto council was Ellen Woodsworth, who was first elected with COPE in 2002. She lost in 2005 but returned to council in 2008.

      Spencer Chandra Herbert was the first openly gay B.C. MLA to become a parent in office when he and his husband Romi welcomed Dev into their family this past February.
      Farah Nosh

      One of the LGBT community’s current champions is Spencer Chandra Herbert, who is the NDP MLA for Vancouver–West End. Chandra Herbert and his husband Romi were the first gay couple with one partner in the B.C. legislature to become parents when they welcomed Dev Juno Chandra Herbert into their family on February 14.

      Another LGBT champion in provincial politics is Vancouver-Kensington NDP MLA Mable Elmore, who became the second out lesbian to be elected to the B.C. legislature, in 2009. She was preceded by Jenn McGinn, who won a byelection in Vancouver-Fairview in 2008 but lost her seat in the 2009 general election.

      The Vancouver Pride parade takes place next Sunday (August 6).