In the News: ProudPolitics aims to put more LGBT in office


ProudPolitics aims to put more LGBT in office

Published Mon, Sep 8, 2014 11:54 am EDT (

Organization offers training, networking and resources to help groom the next generation. By all measures, Canada is a model of acceptance of LGBT people and enjoys an enviable history of openly gay and lesbian people holding elected office. Yet despite our legal equality, LGBT people can still face barriers when running for office, according to a new organization that aims to help queer political candidates overcome obstacles to entering politics.

ProudPolitics, a coalition of queer activists from across the political spectrum, aims to get more LGBT people into office by giving them the tools and training to run a campaign effectively.

The young organization already has a national advisory council made up of current and former politicians from all levels of government and political stripes, including former MP Bill Siksay, former MPP Phil Gillies and school board trustee Paul Marai.

“We believe that LGBT candidates can be the biggest champions of inclusion, regardless of political affiliation, and can be really effective change agents within their parties or political organizations,” says Arthur Kong, executive director of ProudPolitics.

Although gay men and women enjoy legal equality in Canada, LGBT people seeking office may not have access to traditional avenues of power and may face whisper campaigns from opponents hoping to exploit homophobia. Even the simple act of coming out publicly can be fraught with questions of whether, and to what degree, one’s sexual and gender identity should be part of an electoral campaign.

“Homophobia in political life is very real, and it is exploited because homophobia in our society is real,” says Nadia Bello, a former school board trustee who’s also on the national advisory council. “[Being out] might not be a priority for that person. The last thing on their agenda may be to be out or talk about their message in terms of their sexuality.”

Curtis Atkins, deputy executive director of research at ProudPolitics, notes that the 2011 Ontario election featured PC candidates distributing homophobic literature that targeted swing ridings and ethnic minorities, and even Kathleen Wynne’s leadership run featured a whisper campaign about her perceived vulnerability to homophobia. Atkins is working on a research project called the State of the Political Rainbow, which is taking a statistical approach to where out candidates have run in the past and what obstacles remain.

“A lot of the folks we’re working with are running for local office. Your base of voters is small in a lot of places. If you’re facing an unscrupulous opponent who believes they can exploit this as a wedge issue to draw . . . a couple hundred votes, that could be enough to swing an election,” he says. “We want candidates to be aware that you will possibly face this.”

ProudPolitics is consciously modelled on successful organizations like the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign in the US, which raise money for LGBT candidates, but with several key differences related to the Canadian system. ProudPolitics does not give money to LGBT candidates (partly because of laws that ban third-party donations federally and in Toronto). It doesn’t even endorse candidates or policies.

In part, that stems from a political culture in Canada where all major parties support LGBT rights to at least some extent. But it also highlights the differing motivations and goals of queer political power in Canada and the US in 2014.

“In the US, the struggle is still [for] legal equality and employment non-discrimination. When you’re up against that kind of battle, it motivates people to come out and support it financially in a different way than it does in Canada,” says Atkins, who hails from Arkansas.

The goal is simply to give LGBT candidates the tools and training to learn how to manage their own campaigns and to build a support network for LGBT people in politics.

“A goal is also to encourage LGBT people to realize that they can be judged by voters on their merit and to teach them you don’t have to be intimidated to run,” Atkins says.

Bello agrees that the training would be useful for new candidates who want to make a difference but don’t understand how the system really works.

“A lot of times, candidates come because they want to change something; they see the way things are and they don’t like it. Wherever your affiliation lies, you learn quickly that you cannot be a single-issue candidate,” she says. “I got elected when I was 27 years old, and the system is not set up to support young people who want to run for office. It assumes you’re independently wealthy or you have someone to support you, particularly at the trustee level, because you don’t earn a salary or benefits the way other levels do.

“The training really helps ground candidates in where do they stand around their identity, and how do they communicate that message to other people,” Bello says. “It’s also a strategic piece around what is your relationship to the community? Can you speak articulately about the issues around queer youth, housing, any of the issues that LGBT people might be facing?”

ProudPolitics is also working with the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives to collect and archive the stories of LGBT politicians who have run for office, both to preserve the history and to learn from what these people have overcome on their journeys.


Latest posts

ProudPolitics August 2021 Panel Webinars

ProudPolitics is excited to announce that we will be holding a series of webinars for the month of August! There will be three webinars in this series, each webinar are as follows:

  • Running Out: Conversations About Being A 2SLGBTQ+ candidate - Topics of discussion will include identity politics, campaign challenges, and how the political landscape has changed for 2SLGBTQ+ candidates.
  • Student Groups and 2SLGBTQ+ Advocacy - Topics of discussion will centre around how post-secondary institutions have addressed 2SLGBTQ+ concerns. Hear from 2SLGBTQ+ student organizations on how their educational institutions impact their advocacy.
  • Representation in Politics - We will discuss the importance and impacts of 2SLGBTQ+ representation in Canadian politics, whether there have been improvements, and identifying things that Canadian parliament can do better.

Please RSVP for all three webinars here, and spread the word! By amplifying the stories and experiences of 2SLGBTQ candidates, we can identify ways to achieve greater representation for our communities in office.

ProudPolitics is hiring | for Summer 2021!

Attention university students, ProudPolitics is hiring for Summer 2021!

Are you looking for meaningful and exciting projects to take on in the summer?  ProudPolitics is looking for three talented summer interns to join our team.

For more details, check-out the opportunities in our Careers section.

By CURTIS ATKINS, Ph.D., Deputy Executive Director, ProudPolitics

The posting of a 14-year-old video of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer declaring that same-
sex unions were unequal to the “natural” marriages of heterosexual couples by Liberal MP Ralph
Goodale was, of course, a well-timed political move. With a federal election now just a couple of
months away, it’s no surprise that politicians are digging up their opponents’ dirty laundry and
hanging it out for voters to see. Whatever the Liberals’ political motivations may be, though, the
fact remains that Scheer has done little to prove his views have evolved from the anti-LGBTQ
sentiments he expressed in the House of Commons in 2005.

The content of what was said in the video is itself no great revelation. It’s a matter of public
record that Scheer, like most members of Stephen Harper’s Conservative caucus, voted against
the Civil Marriage Act when it was proposed by the Paul Martin government. The queer
constituency group in Scheer’s own party, LGBTory, was cool to him when he was running for
Conservative leader for this very reason, among others.

In the clip circulated by Goodale, Scheer says that marriage equality can never be seen as a right
under the Charter and that the procreation and raising of children is the “essence” and “primary
focus” of marriage. If two women or two men cannot produce children on their own, then their
unions are “contradictory” to nature and therefore do not qualify as a marriage. In his rather
bizarre analogy, a dog’s tail cannot be seen as a fifth leg just because someone wants to call it

Scheer went even further, though, characterizing marriage equality as a threat to religious liberty. In a forerunner of the bigoted baker wedding cake controversies of recent years, Scheer told the supposedly sad tale of a Knights of Columbus group in British Columbia that was sued after refusing to rent out an events hall for a same-sex wedding reception. In the Conservative MP’s mind, requiring people to treat others with dignity and equality amounted to persecution. Freedom of religion apparently must mean freedom to discriminate.

The things Scheer said were standard fare for social conservatives at the time in Canada; they still are among Christian fundamentalists south of our border. What made his video so jarring to our ears this week is the fact that such talk has (mostly) passed from the realm of acceptable public debate in this country.

The official response from the Conservative Party’s campaign communications team to the video’s resurfacing was to repeat the by now worn-out line that their leader would defend the law as prime minister and has no desire to re-open the debate around marriage equality. Essentially, that’s like saying: We lost that fight and don’t want to have it again. Scheer’s quiet backing for dropping the “one man, one woman” marriage plank from the Conservative platform in 2016 amounted to the same. 

By no means does simply avoiding the issue signal that Scheer’s views have changed in any significant way over the last decade and a half. His opposition to extending civil rights and criminal code protections to transgender Canadians—Bill C16—as recently as 2016 suggests quite the opposite. His personal boycott of pride parades only seems to further confirm a continuing commitment to the belief that, even if the law says so, LGBTQ Canadians are not really equal to other Canadians.

Every individual is entitled to their personal beliefs, but when an individual seeks to hold the highest elected office in the country, their beliefs have policy ramifications—they take on public importance. 

Of course, it is true that people and parties change. The viewpoints and positions taken in the past don’t necessarily mean they’re still adhered to in the present. But another part of the Conservative response to the release of this old video gives LGBTQ Canadians ample reason to question whether they would be viewed as equal citizens under the government of a Prime Minister Andrew Scheer.

As the Conservative Party was at pains to point out this week, a lot of Liberal MPs also opposed marriage equality in the past, including Goodale, the circulator of the video. The fact that the opposition party rather foolishly answered the Liberals’ charge by attempting to redirect attention to the latter’s past mistakes, however, rather than apologizing for Scheer’s own bigotry just screamed to Canadians: We’re not the only homophobic ones!

This is not a debate about who was most eager to discriminate against and demonize LGBTQ Canadians in the past. This a question of who has evolved politically and come to appreciate all Canadians as equal and valuable parts of our country’s social fabric. 

Has Andrew Scheer evolved? Has the Conservative Party? 

Only the Tories and their leader can answer that question.

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