Gay, Hispanic and Jewish: Alberta cabinet minister feels 'bullseyes' on his back

When Arts and Culture Minister Ricardo Miranda rose in the house to deliver a ministerial statement last week, his mind took him back to his visit to Israel.

Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda read an emotional Jewish prayer in the legislature last week

"It is personal," Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda said after the killing of 11 worshippers inside a Pittsburgh synagogue. (Alberta Legislative Assembly)

When Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda rose in the house last week to deliver a ministerial statement, his mind took him back to his visit to Israel.

There at a children's memorial, he saw stunted trees never allowed to grow to maturity, in memory of the estimated 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust.

"It is personal, you know," Miranda said. "It is my family, it's myself, it's my religion, it's my community."

That's who and what he was thinking about while reciting the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead.

Members of the legislature then paused for a moment of silence.

"It's hard to watch, especially when we think we've made progress," Miranda said. "All of a sudden, somebody brings us back to very dark times and very dark days."

Miranda's ministerial statement came two days after 11 people were gunned down in a Pittsburgh synagogue on what would have normally been a peaceful Saturday morning gathering of worshippers.

The killings in Pittsburgh were another reminder of the prejudice and hatred felt by Jews and others over the centuries, Miranda said.

'Bullseyes around me'

As Alberta's first openly gay cabinet minister, Miranda knows what it's like to be the target of discrimination on multiple fronts.

"Being gay, being Hispanic, being Jewish. Let me tell you — there's a few bullseyes around me," he said in an interview with CBC News.

"And I felt it, and I've seen it, and I've heard it."

He said politicians who think Alberta is far removed from extremist views are mistaken. He's had to set the record straight for those who don't think discrimination happens here.

"I tell them — come and sit by me, and I'll tell you all about it, because it does happen."

Born in war-torn Nicaragua, Miranda's Jewish faith wasn't a priority as he lived through civil war "when bombs were being dropped around you," he said.

It wasn't until he came to Canada in 1988 when his faith took hold. 

Now, he often talks to his two adult children about their faith, and why it seems to be constantly under attack.

Since being elected in 2015, Miranda has fended off many threats or acts of hatred, he said.

People "who have hatred in their hearts" don't hold back, he said. "I get pretty much everything from all sides."

Miranda said when he was first elected, someone in his Calgary-Cross constituency took the trouble to send a "calendar of my first seven days in hell", and the horrible things that would happen to him for being gay.

The newly elected MLA responded to the handwritten letter by writing back with an invitation to meet for coffee and to see "that I'm not this horrible monster."

But Miranda said he never received a reply.

'Punch in the gut'

"It was disheartening and it was like this punch in the gut," said Miranda, who knows the staff in his office try to to shield him from hateful messages, but some end up getting through.

Miranda is hopeful the Pittsburgh shooting will keep people talking about what they share, instead of what divides them.

A service at an Edmonton synagogue this week did just that, Miranda said. He watched Jews, Muslims and Christians share grief and hope.

"We need to do something. And what that is, is having a community-wide dialogue."