Newfoundlander Jennifer McCreath, the only openly transgender federal election candidate in the country, has long been a trailblazer.
She helped put transgender issues on the map in Newfoundland and Labrador eight years ago when she did a series of interviews on provincial TV station NTV about being an openly transitioning provincial government policy analyst.
“In 2007, trans stories in mainstream media was still kind of a rather taboo subject,” McCreath told Yahoo Canada News. “And so it introduced the topic of transgender and transexual issues. It introduced me as a person who was living here and going through it.”
Her life, she said, was never quite the same again.
She’d just moved to St. John’s from Toronto that year. She’d just recently come out to her friends and family and began transitioning. But suddenly, she was a provincial public personality.
“Instead of getting these funny stares and nasty looks, people all of a sudden recognized who I was,” she said. “Strangers were coming up to me on the streets and saying, ‘Hi Jennifer, how are you? I saw you on TV. Wow, I’m fascinated by your story. You must be very bold and courageous, and I wish you the best of luck.’”
Despite the positive feedback, she lost her government job less than a year after she made her TV debut.
“I was never really given answers as to why, but I think we can all kind of figure it out by reading between the lines,” she said.
It took McCreath more than a year to find another paying job — this time as a filing clerk, a big step down from senior policy analyst. But she told her story to the local newspaper and parlayed her newfound public profile into a prolific career in activism.
“I continued to raise awareness of the issues and challenges trans people face in Newfoundland,” she said. “I took advantage of being a novelty.”
Since her move to Newfoundland, she has co-led the organizing committee for the St. John’s Pride Week, founded the East Coast Trans Alliance and become the first transgender candidate for deputy mayor in St. John’s in 2013.
Even though she ultimately lost to Ron Ellsworth, McCreath made her mark on the political landscape that year.
“Everyone said I didn’t have any chance at all. Initially, I couldn’t get anyone to work with me. Nobody would sign my nomination papers,” she said. “But six weeks later, I walked away with close to 6,000 votes — 17 per cent of the popular vote.”
First trans person on a federal ballot
Now McCreath is setting out to be the first openly transgender person to appear on a Canadian federal election ballot.
Micheline Montreuil, a trans woman, secured the NDP nomination in Quebec in 2007, but was turfed mid-election for not being a “team player.”
McCreath is running in the Avalon riding, where she will be taking on incumbent Scott Andrews, who is running as an independent after being ousted from the Liberal Party over allegations of sexual misconduct.
McCreath, once a card-carrying NDP member, decided none of the big three political parties reflected her values.
Instead, she’s running for the Strength in Democracy, a new party formed by two MPs who defected from the NDP and the Bloc Québécois.
The party centres around the goal of decentralizing power from Ottawa and allowing its members to vote freely on all issues.
In a news release, Leader Jean-François Fortin called McCreath “precisely the type of candidate our party is looking for.”
Struggles to be taken seriously
Despite her achievements, McCreath still worries she won’t be taken seriously as a candidate.
“It’s amazing how many people wanted to talk to me a couple months ago about Caitlyn Jenner. Now that I’m running in federal politics, though, the focus seems to be on all the other candidates,” she said.
“I know part of it is that I’m running for a relatively new and small party, but I can’t help but wonder how much of it is, ‘Ah, we can’t take Jennifer seriously because she’s transgender.’”
Still, she said, she believes she can reach out to young people, rural residents, minority groups and other Newfoundlanders who feel disenfranchised or ignored, and fight for their issues in Ottawa.
“I like to think that I can be a voice not just for the transgender community, but for any group of oppressed minorities,” McCreath said.
“My goal in this election is to reach out to those people who feel that they don’t have a voice, who feel that the main three political parties don’t help them or don’t represent their best interests. I want people who have never voted in their life to get off that couch and come out and vote for Jennifer McCreath.”