April 2 2017
On March 31, Tabatha Southey wrote an op-ed in the Globe and Mail titled The Conservatives’ unease about the ‘whole gay thing’, which was a reference to a recent statement by Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership candidate and MP Brad Trost (see here). Scott Gilmore, writing on March 29 in Maclean’s in an op-ed titled Confessions of a self-loathing Tory, suggested that it was time to start a new right-of-centre party that “genuinely believes in liberty, equality and facts over ideology”, since the make-up of the current CPC forces voters like him to “make the ridiculous choice between Trudeau or Trost”. I know this is the narrative that left-leaning members of the media in Canada are pushing, but it does not reflect our experience at LGBTory.
Tabatha Southey didn’t title her article “Brad Trost’s unease”, but rather “the Conservatives”, which suggests that she assumes that Trost’s pronouncements on the “gay lifestyle” can be attributed to all Conservatives. This is a taste of what Ms Southey had to say about Trost:
This week Brad Trost, one of the large and motley crew – I can’t help but worry that somewhere in the world some small and highly dysfunctional country has lost its entire navy – of Conservative Party leadership hopefuls and delusionists opted to inject some sex-talk into the competition. He did this in the form of a heap of the démodé homophobia that is his brand.
There’s more, but you get the idea. Southey posits that Trost’s comments are not surprising coming from the “motley crew” that makes up the fourteen candidates in the CPC’s leadership race, and implies that Trost is preaching to the CPC choir by voicing in public the bigotry that dares not speak its name.
For his part, Scott Gilmore makes the claim that only a new right-of-centre party can give him an option “that genuinely believes in individual liberty, that the state has no right to tell us who we can love, what we can smoke or what we can say”, since the CPC has failed to accept that Canada “has become far more cosmopolitan, multicultural, tolerant and socially liberal than it was a generation ago”.
I have been a Conservative for most of my adult life. I was a Young Progressive Conservative in university when Joe Clark was Prime Minister. I am also gay. I would like to tell Tabatha Southey, Scott Gilmore, and the rest of their cheering section in the media who are pushing the “Conservatives hate gays” line that this has not been my experience in the CPC, and I wouldn’t continue to be a member of the party if I felt that most of its members were homophobes.
Let me provide a few examples to counter this prevailing wisdom. I joined LGBTory a few years ago to meet like-minded LGBT people. All of us felt at home in the CPC, but at that time we were troubled by the fact that the party’s Policy Declaration contained a clause that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. This was clearly problematic for us, but instead of abandoning the party in which we felt most at home and joining the Liberals, we decided to work inside the CPC to change its policy. We quickly allied with like-minded CPC members across the country, both gay and straight, and worked to support riding associations who also wanted this archaic policy changed. Together we spent months of hard work marshalling support leading up to the CPC’s Policy Convention in Vancouver in May 2016. (You can read our account of that campaign here.)
At the convention a motion was introduced to remove the marriage clause. We were strongly opposed by a small number of social conservatives aggressively led by Brad Trost and former MP and fellow leadership candidate Pierre Lemieux. After tense debate, the motion went to the floor of the plenary session for a final vote, where it passed by a margin of 1036 to 462, and in all of the provincial delegations save Trost’s home province of Saskatchewan.
The numbers are important. The convention delegates voted by a sizeable majority of 70% to 30%, and in all provinces save one, to remove opposition to same-sex marriage from the party’s policies. Ms Southey points out in her Globe & Mail column that:
a sizable number Canadians are downright cozy with the “whole gay thing,” and the vast majority of our citizens (70 per cent, according to a 2015 Forum Research poll) support same-sex marriage, with that number ever rising.
Wait a minute – 70% of Canadians support same-sex marriage, and 70% of the delegates at the party convention, hard-core Conservatives all, voted to remove an anti-same-sex marriage policy? Does that mean that CPC party members are broadly representative of Canadians in general on this issue; that they are, in Gilmore’s words, more tolerant and socially liberal than they were a generation ago? Does this suggest that Trost and Lemieux represent a dwindling minority both in the country and the CPC? Say it isn’t so!
And speaking of the “motley crew” that makes up the crowded field of the CPC leadership race, candidates Maxime Bernier, Kellie Leitch, Michael Chong and Lisa Raitt proudly marched with us in the Toronto Pride parade in June 2016, alongside interim CPC leader Rona Ambrose, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown, CPC MP and former cabinet minister Peter Kent, and Ontario PC MPPs Lisa McLeod, Gila Martow and Lorne Coe. To imply that these prominent Conservative politicians are homophobic is laughable.
There is undeniably a homophobic element in the social conservative wing of the CPC, but it is a minority in the party and in the leadership race. In fact, of the fourteen CPC leadership candidates, only Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux arguably have a problem with “the whole gay thing”, and they are so far back in the pack that their candidacies can essentially be ignored. They aren’t shy about pandering to these social conservatives when they advertise themselves, as they frequently do, as “100% conservative”, but they are essentially fringe candidates trying to be heard above the noise.
Andrew Scheer, on the other hand, is in the top tier of candidates. However, although he is also a social conservative, he has stated numerous times that he considers the issue of same-sex marriage settled in Canada (see here for example). He has promised not to revisit social conservative issues if elected leader. For this he has earned the opprobrium of the Christian activists at the Campaign Life Coalition, who have declined to endorse him.
Based on the performance of the three social conservatives in the race, I find it hard to come to the same conclusion as Southey, who thinks these candidates represent Conservatives’ “unease with the gay thing”. Brad Trost, with his retrograde homophobic outbursts, clearly does not speak for the typical Conservative.
Many political commentators have written lately about the dark spectres of bigotry and homophobia stalking the leaderless CPC and the dreaded forces of intolerance that Stephen Harper supposedly kept in check all these years suddenly being unleashed during the leadership race. We are LGBT Conservatives and card-carrying members of the party. Many of us are active in our local riding associations and sit on their Boards of Directors. Several of us attended the CPC convention as delegates and a number of us are working as volunteers for various leadership candidates. If anyone should be bearing the brunt of the homophobia supposedly running rampant through the party it should be us, but the only times we’ve had problems with the “gay thing” were during our encounters with Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux.
Trost and Lemieux are outliers in the party, and their antiquated ideas about the LGBT community do not represent those of the majority of conservatives in Canada. Nevertheless, reporters like Tabatha Southey are committed to dragging the Liberal Party across the finish line, and tarring the CPC with the brush of bigotry and homophobia helps achieve that goal. We are working constantly with the grass-roots members of the party and we can confidently say that we have been welcomed by Conservatives across the country, from the leader’s office down to individual ridings, who recognize that we all want the same thing – a safe, prosperous Canada where everyone is treated equally.
As for Scott Gilmore, who is hosting a series of dinners across the country to “talk about whether Canada needs a new conservative party, and if so, how would we build it?”, here’s a suggestion. Instead of ostentatiously holding public salons to display your supposed disgust with the party, try joining your riding association’s Board of Directors, getting involved in the CPC’s policy process, supporting like-minded members and candidates, and volunteering to help a leadership candidate you can support get elected. That’s what we’re doing at LGBTory, and it works.
If any of these reporters had bothered to contact us to hear about our perspective, we would have told them that Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux represent a small reactionary minority in the party whose influence is diminishing daily, and we resent that they are held up in the media as exemplars of the Canadian conservative movement. The reckoning will come on May 27, when the rank and file of the CPC vote for a new leader regardless of what Tabatha Southey and Scott Gilmore think.
Hastings County, Ontario