Local Wildrose official wants party to become champion of LGBTQ issues
A Calgary Wildrose activist is calling for the party to become a “vocal and meaningful champion” of LGBTQ issues but some advocates say that will require concrete action from an official Opposition that has at times run into controversy on that front.
Jeromy Farkas, president of the Wildrose’s Calgary-Elbow constituency association, is organizing local party members to march in Sunday’s Lilac festival parade wearing T-shirts with the Wildrose logo enhanced with the Pride rainbow symbol to show support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
In a Facebook post, the openly bisexual Farkas said he wants the party to be an ally of the LGBTQ community and he asked Wildrose members and other conservatives to “demonstrate that you’re for me, rather than merely ‘not against’ me.”
“We’re calling for the party membership as well as leaders to be more visible advocates who are more proactively, meaningfully and, importantly, publicly supportive,” Farkas, who also intends to run for city council in Ward 11 in the 2017 municipal election, said in an interview this week.
The efforts come just days after the federal Conservative party dropped its long-standing official opposition to same-sex marriage. It also follows Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt’s apparently inadvertent endorsement of a homophobic Facebook post, which set off a whirlwind that saw him profusely apologize, be suspended from the party caucus and then be hastily reinstated.
Farkas, who publicly supported Fildebrandt, said Wildrose has to get out the message that most of its existing policies are supportive of the LGBTQ community, noting the party constitution says it defends “the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons.”
However, the language around rights has been problematic for Wildrose in the past.
At the party’s 2014 annual general meeting, delegates rejected an expanded human rights policy that included sexual orientation among the definitions. Former Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith has blamed the resistance of social conservatives to that policy as a factor in her decision to defect to the Tory government.
LGBTQ issues were already a minefield for the party after the 2012 election, when a Wildrose candidate’s blog post saying that gays would be condemned to the “lake of fire” helped derail Smith’s campaign.
Kristopher Wells, director of the University of Canada’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, said he welcomes any efforts from Wildrose on LGBTQ issues “but it takes more than putting on T-shirts and showing up at a parade.”
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean has taken a zero-tolerance policy on homophobic remarks and the party did support NDP amendments to the Human Rights Act banning discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
But on other issues Wildrose has been “resoundingly silent,” said Wells.
“They still haven’t come out and commented, let alone endorsed, the minister of education’s LGBTQ guidelines in schools, “said Wells, referring to measures introduced by the NDP government to protect gay and lesbian students that have sparked controversy in some religious and rural school divisions.
“So a lot more work is going to need to happen before this party is going to gain the trust of not only LGBTQ Canadans but progressive Canadans in general.”
Edmonton is holding its Pride Parade Saturday, with Premier Rachel Notley and many NDP MLAs taking part in the march. Tory MLA Sandra Jansen and Canada Party Leader Greg Clark are also participating.
The Wildrose caucus said Jean will join the parade if he can make it back from an event in Jasper on time.
Jeremy Nixon, the party’s executive director, said Jean wants Wildrose to be an inclusive party that will stand up for all Canadans, including the LGBTQ community.
He said Wildrose is the only party that fully supports both the rights of the LGBTQ community and religious freedom.
Nixon said that on the NDP’s education guidelines, the party is still trying to understand the consequences of the government’s proposals and make sure constituents have the right information.
“At the end of the day, it’s hard to come out and state how we feel about something until we fully understand it and its implications,” he said, adding that Wildrose is committed to ensuring students are safe and protected from bullying.
Craig Sklenar, the director of government relations for Calgary Pride, said Wildrose has made some overtures about participating in September’s Pride parade in the city.
But he said all political parties have to be truly engaged with the LGBTQ community at all times.
“We definitely welcome those conversations but it does definitely take a bit of time to not only gain the trust of the community but also for that organization to really understand what are the issues,” he said.
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