Are the Harper Conservatives becoming gay-friendly?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Whether it's true or not, there's a perception out there — shared by some — that the Conservative party is 'anti-gay rights.'

It probably stems to back to the party's Reform roots: you'll recall  MP Randy White who, just before the 2004 election, said the Conservatives would overrule the courts on same sex marriage.

And who can forget the always quotable Bob Ringma who once opined that he would "fire" or "move to the back of the shop" a homosexual or member of an ethnic minority whose presence turned off bigoted customers.

But apparently that is all in the past — at least according to journalist Tristin Hopper.

Citing the Harper government's advocacy for gay rights abroad, the immigration department's fast-tracking of 100 gay Iranians into Canada; Stephen Harper's defence of same-sex marriages and a recent 'gay Conservative' party that drew 800 people, the National Post writer says the Tories are now "unlikely LGBT supporters."

In his article, Hopper quotes Jamie Ellerton, an openly gay former staffer for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney:

"It's no secret that the Conservative Party hasn't always been the biggest champion of gay rights, but public pressure, and quite frankly, society evolving has changed their views," Ellerton said.

"The Conservative Party, like the rest of society, has moved to be more supportive of gay rights in recent years, and I see that trend continuing."

[ Related: Same-sex couples tied the knot in droves, says 2011 census ]

But not everybody is buying it.

In his blog called Routine Proceedings, journalist Dale Smith argues that the Post article overstates the Tory 'conversion.'

"Sure, they haven't attacked same-sex marriage in Canada, and sure, they don't want gays to be killed in other countries, but that's the bare minimum test that is hardly resounding support, especially within the broader caucus. Yes, they have some very supportive caucus members, but they're in the minority so far," Smith wrote

"One of those supportive members was told by other conservatives that she "left her right flank vulnerable" when she voted in favour of the trans bill last spring, which was a thinly veiled threat as to her future nomination prospects. The party has made baby steps, I will grant them — but it's not the kind of conversion that the Post seems to think so."

Certainly, Canada is no longer the country it was in 1970's, when police across the country used to raid gay bathhouses and arrest patrons.  Thankfully, we are far removed from 1975, when a special joint committee on Immigration Policy had to actually recommend "homosexuals no longer be prohibited from entering Canada."  And, the Conservative caucus doesn't seem to have MPs like Randy White and Bob Ringma anymore.

Unfortunately, it sounds like there's still work to do.

Openly gay and lesbian people get "creepy" email from the Tories:

The Ottawa Citizen is reporting that an email from Jason Kenney's parliamentary email account, trumpeting the Tories' gay-rights initiatives, was sent to several openly gay and lesbian people on Friday afternoon.

While shameless self-promotion is nothing new in politics, some are wondering how and why they got on to Kenney's email list.

"I thought it was really creepy, out of the blue," Meredith Richmond, who identifies herself as queer, told the Citizen.

"It felt really targeted at me. I'm not a supporter of the Conservatives."

The Citizen also notes that this isn't the first time the Conservatives' have somehow acquired targeted lists:

"The Conservatives have targeted written messages at minority communities in the past, most notably using direct mail lists to send out greetings specifically to Jewish voters on religious holidays.

Some Jews were perplexed to receive Rosh Hashanah greeting cards from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007. They were not Conservative voters or donors and, like the gay and lesbian recipients of Kenney's email, wondered how the party got their addresses."

Update: Alexis Pavlich, spokesperson for Jason Kenney's office, told Yahoo! Canada News that the latest email "was sent in response to individuals who have communicated with our office about gay refugee issues."

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