To anyone who identifies as LGBT, coming out of the closet is one of the most significant events of their life. It is the moment when you feel like you can truly be yourself for the first time. However, as many who have already gone through the process know, the experience isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Often, the process of coming out can be incredibly stressful; many fear that their world will be turned upside down the moment they verbalize those two little words, “I’m gay”. This fear may then be exacerbated by their family’s view on the issue, their profession, social group, or perhaps even their political affiliation. At times, these things can make it feel like a choice must be made between being gay and maintaining everything else. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
As a law student, I worried that coming out would harm my legal career, but later learned that diversity in the legal profession is now considered an asset and not a liability. In fact, some of the country’s largest firms now focus on and emphasize their diversity programs; they are viewed as strengths. Clients are becoming increasingly diverse and want lawyers, bankers, and consultants who reflect who they are and better understand their needs. After I realized that being a lawyer and being gay are not mutually exclusive, I became more comfortable with the idea of proudly wearing my sexuality in professional circles.
I have considered myself a conservative for as long as I can remember. I didn’t grow up in a political household, but my parents raised me to understand the value of a dollar and to respect that hard work is the appropriate input if the desired output is success. If I wanted something, I had to work for it, and if I didn’t have the money to buy it, I had to save until I could afford it. These values led me to identify with the Conservative Party of Canada.
I first got involved with the party while completing my undergraduate degree at Wilfrid Laurier University. My experiences with the party since then have changed my life and have helped shape me into the person I am today. I was able to connected with a group of friends who share my values and interests. I gained invaluable experiences while working for candidates in both the federal and provincial elections and while helping to run the last Ontario Progressive Conservative Youth Association convention in Ottawa.
However, as I slowly made a name for myself within the party, my fears about coming out began to resurge. The more involved with the party I became, the more trapped I began to feel. It felt as though I had a lot to lose. I feared losing my conservative friends, the connections I had within the party, and my chances of one day running as a candidate to represent the values I have believed in for my entire life. For this reason, I delayed coming to terms with my sexuality for more than a year. Instead, I made myself busier and busier, becoming even more involved with the party. I believed that denying my own identity was the only way to stay connected with the organization that I had grown to love. In May of 2016, that belief was challenged.
It was during that month that I met someone who I now consider to be one of my best friends. Having come out just months before we met, he was the exact person that I needed to confide in because he knew exactly what I was going through. I soon realized that, beyond identifying as gay, we had a lot more in common, including our politics. He wasn’t involved with the party like I was, but we shared the same values and for the first time I found myself a close friend to someone who was also gay and conservative. Through our interactions, I began to realize that maybe being openly gay and involved with the Conservative Party were not mutually exclusive either. On May 28th 2016, this realization was validated; at its policy convention in Vancouver, the party voted to remove language defining marriage exclusively as “the union of one man and one woman” from its official Policy Declaration.
Immediately after the vote, I saw on social media hundreds of messages penned by my friends and fellow conservatives, all of whom were in support of the decision, many saying that it was “long overdue”. I was shocked. For the first time, support for marriage equality was on the minds of people from all levels of the party. Seeing this level of support from the party I volunteer for — and will hopefully run for one day — was the final push I needed. That night, I came out to my family. The day after, I posted on Facebook and came out to the world.
These days, posting almost anything on Facebook can be contentious. I had expected most people to be supportive, but was also prepared for some negative comments from some conservatives who I knew to be more on the right of the political spectrum. None came. In fact, many of these people called me or sent me messages to personally express their support. For them, my sexuality was a non-issue and didn’t affect how they viewed me or our friendship. This is largely where we are as a party today.
Over the last few years, we have made great strides towards becoming a more inclusive and welcoming party. This can be seen in Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney’s focus on immigration, in Rona Ambrose’s championing of women in politics, or in conservative politicians like Patrick Brown, Lisa Raitt, Michelle Rempel and many others openly supporting the LGBT community. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what your circumstance is – the Conservative Party of Canada is a big blue tent that welcomes all people who share conservative views, regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.
May 28th, 2016 – the day when delegates voted overwhelmingly to remove language opposing same-sex marriage from our policy handbook. That change was fundamental for me; it allowed me to see myself as both gay and conservative, which is something that I never thought I would be able to do. However, while we have made great strides in the last few years to create a more inclusive party, it is true that there are still some who would like to see these changes reversed. That is not a winning strategy.
To win in 2019 and beyond, we must commit to a big tent party that welcomes all those who share our views and our values. Together, we need to continue moving forward, building the party with the big blue tent philosophy in mind. This notion shouldn’t be confused with the term “Liberal Lite”, as many are so eager to interpret. Instead, it should be associated with a belief in equality of opportunity, a key conservative value. It is important to note that the Liberals and the NDP do not have a monopoly on the LGBT community; there are plenty of gay conservatives out there. I’m proud to be living proof of that.
May 28th, 2016. The day when I decided to be myself for the rest of my life.