Manitoba politicians, past and present, honour Roland Penner at Pride

Many people at Pride today acknowledged the contributions of Roland Penner, the former NDP MLA, credited with helping introduce protections for LGBT people, who died Thursday.

A former MP, former mayor and current leader of the NDP remember the man who stood up for LGBT rights

Past and present Manitoba politicians including Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Glen Murray and Wab Kinew, honoured Roland Penner, who fought to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Politicians from Manitoba's past and present were thinking about Roland Penner while marching in today's Pride parade. 

Roland Penner died on Thursday, May 31, 2018, said his daughter. (Gordon Goldsborough/Manitoba Historical Society)

Penner, who died late Thursday at the age of 93 due to complications after he broke his ankle, represented the Winnipeg riding of Fort Rouge from 1981 through 1988 under premier Howard Pawley. He was the Attorney General in the late '80s when he successfully amended the Manitoba Human Rights code to introduce protections for LGBT people

Judy Wasylycia-Leis said fighting for LGBT rights in the late 1980s took "incredible courage." (Warren Kay/CBC)

Judy Wasylycia-Leis, former MP, MLA and mayoral candidate, worked alongside Penner. She called him "a friend, a mentor [and] a colleague." She said his actions took an "incredible amount of courage." 

"There was still a lot of taboos then, there still is, but it was much more difficult back then. We got a lot of hate mail, a lot of ugly things happened." 

It's fitting to honour Penner at Pride, Wasylycia-Leis said. 

"We wouldn't be here with this kind of freedom, this kind of numbers without those actions by Roland Penner."

Glen Murray said Penner was an "incredibly kind and generous man and a mentor and a friend." (Warren Kay/CBC)

Former Winnipeg Mayor and Ontario MPP Glen Murray was in the leadership group which represent Manitoba's LGBT community while Penner was trying to amend the human rights act. 

That work was "the foundation of everything that came after, and Roland stared down a lot of opposition to make that happen, he was an incredibly principled man," he said.

"He was one of the first straight mainstream politicians to stand up with the gay and lesbian communities and other minorities and, [he was] not just a politician but a gentleman and an incredibly kind and generous man and a mentor and a friend."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Penner was a "remarkable Manitoban who led a life that made us all live in a better province." (Warren Kay/CBC)

Wab Kinew, the leader of the Manitoba NDP who now holds Penner's former seat, called him "one of the giants in the NDP." 

Penner was "a passionate warrior for social justice, and now that he's made his journey to the spirit world, I've been thinking about his life," said Kinew.

He credited Penner for paving "the road for a leader today, like me, to be able to march in the Pride parade.

"So we all owe him a tremendous debt."

With files from Erin Brohman and Elisha Dacey