British Columbia

Pride and prejudice: Gay MLA's family cover photo draws 'hate mail'

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says the backlash shows more work is needed to gain acceptance of sexual and gender diversity.

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert in cover photo with husband and infant son

B.C. MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert (right) said he received hate mail in response to the newspaper image with his husband Romi and son Dev, but most people were supportive. (CBC)

The cover image of a gay B.C. MLA and his family in the Georgia Straight was supposed to illustrate what the newspaper billed as "Vancouver trailblazers putting Canada on the leading edge of LGBT progress."

But the backlash in response to the photo of Vancouver-West End NDP member Spencer Chandra Herbert with his husband and their infant son highlights that acceptance of sexual and gender diversity is far from complete.

After publication, Chandra Herbert and the newspaper received what they described as "hate mail."

When it comes to tolerance, Chandra Herbert told On the Coast host Richard Zussman, "We're not there yet." 

Chandra Herbert said he initially hesitated about posing for the newspaper cover with husband Romi and son Dev because he worried it could be too much exposure for the family. 

However, he said, "We're glad we did it." 

Despite the backlash, he said, "the response was, overall, really great and really kind."

Spencer Chandra Herbert and husband Romi were featured in a recent Georgia Straight newspaper article on Vancouver LGBT trailblazers. (Deborah Wilson/CBC)

Vancouver lawyer barbara findlay, (who doesn't spell her name with capital letters) and who specializes in gay and lesbian issues, said she was not surprised by the angry response by some to the Chandra Herbert family photo. 

Nonetheless she is optimistic about the potential for greater acceptance of sexual and gender diversity in Canada.

Positive role model

"We only have to look south to see the difference in the Canadian zeitgeist," findlay said. "We have a culture that values connection and diversity and treats it as a strength. And that's huge. It offers us the ground on which to develop."

Jen Sungshine, an LGBT activist and educator, said some people may be uncomfortable and fearful about the image of a gay couple with a child because it is unfamiliar.

For others, who never see themselves reflected on the cover of a newspaper, Sungshine said, "it presents a positive role model."

Jen Sungshine, an LGBT activist and educator (left) says the newspaper cover photo of the gay MLA and his family presents positive role models while barbara findlay, a Vancouver lawyer specializing in gay and lesbian rights, was not surprised by the backlash. (Deborah Wilson/CBC)

Chandra Herbert said dramatic progress has been made in changing laws and attitudes, but people are still attacked and beaten because of their sexuality or gender differences.

"That's why it's important we have public leaders demonstrating through things like Pride parade, public declarations through their work in their society," he said. 

'Hate has ruled for a long time and that leads to fear and people hiding," he said. "I don't think people should have to hide anymore."

With files from On The Coast