The Current

Politicians marching in Pride parades need to back it up with real action, says journalist

Writer and journalist Erica Lenti says the federal Conservative Party leadership candidates will have to do more than march in a Pride parade to win the confidence of Canada's LGBT community.

'What matters to me more is the action that politicians take beyond Pride': Erica Lenti

Erica Lenti is senior editor for the LGBT news and culture website Xtra. (Submitted by Erica Lenti)
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Writer and journalist Erica Lenti says the federal Conservative Party leadership candidates will have to do more than march in a Pride parade to win the confidence of Canada's LGBT community.

"It's a step forward, but there's still more to be done," Lenti, editor for the LGBT news and culture website Xtra, told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"The parade is one day of the year. It's very celebratory. It's a lot of fun. … But what matters to me more is the action that politicians take beyond Pride," she said.

Lenti called on politicians of all stripes to take action on LGBT-related issues such as moving to ban conversion therapy and eliminate the policy that prevents men from donating blood within three months of having sex with a man.

"It's not a matter of them being there [at Pride]. It's a matter of ensuring that's not all they do for a community."

Conservative leadership contenders Peter MacKay and Marilyn Gladu have said they plan to march in Toronto's Pride parade this summer.

Fellow contender Erin O'Toole has said he plans to march in Pride parades, but won't march in the Toronto parade unless police officers are also allowed to march in uniform.

Lenti said that by making these announcements, candidates are likely hoping to differentiate themselves from outgoing leader Andrew Scheer, who did not march in Pride parades as head of the party.

Lenti called Scheer "Canada's last anti-gay political leader" in a November column.

"I think it's just not viable anymore to be a leader who is anti-gay or to a certain extent, anti-trans. I just don't think that Canadians want a leader who is not supportive of these communities," she told Galloway.

Lenti also noted the timeliness of Toronto's Pride parade, which is scheduled to take place the day after the Conservatives' leadership convention.

If the newly crowned leader does march in the parade the next day, that would make them the first permanent federal Conservative leader to march in Pride.

Rona Ambrose marched in support of Pride while she served as interim leader, before Scheer took the Tory reins in 2017.

Marching in Pride 'the bare minimum': Former Liberal MP

Conservative MP Karen Vecchio said that many Canadians she spoke to during the 2019 election felt that Scheer's refusal to march in Pride parades felt like the party was "closing the door" on LGBT issues.

But she asserted that the Conservatives are a "big-tent party" with a variety of viewpoints on the matter.

"Was it disappointing? Of course. I would like him to be there, because I think that we need to show that our party is very, very inclusive," she said.

Conservative MP Karen Vecchio said many Canadians expressed their interest in LGBT issues, including marching in Pride parades, while she was on the campaign trail during the 2019 election. (The Canadian Press)

Vecchio, who has herself marched in Pride parades, says leadership contenders like MacKay and Gladu committing to march helps signal that the party "is evolving" on social issues, "just like Canadians' thoughts are evolving as well."

Former Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault said that Canadians expect a major party's leader, members and supporters to all support causes that promote diversity and equality.

"It's the bare minimum in Canada," he said. "Pride parades are just the tip of the iceberg."

Former Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault says marching in Pride parades should be considered 'the bare minimum' for politicians in Canada. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Boissonnault, who was one of several Alberta Liberals swept out of their seats in 2019, said Scheer's refusal to march in Pride parades "showed a disregard and discrimination for an entire segment of the population."

He called on the Conservative leadership contenders to say more about the policies they would support if they were to lead the party, while touting the Trudeau government's own moves in the portfolio.

Boissonnault pointed specifically to Trudeau's apology to LGBT Canadians for decades of "state-sponsored, systematic oppression and rejection" in 2017, and Bill C-16, which provides new protections for transgender Canadians.

When confronted with Lenti's assertion that the government has dragged on their commitment to ban conversion therapy, Boissonnault told Galloway that Justice Minister David Lametti is leading a group working to fully criminalize the practice.

In March, the government rejected calls from a petition with more than 18,000 signatures calling for a national ban, saying it was largely a provincial and territorial issue.

It made an about-face later that summer, saying it was looking at ways to reform the Criminal Code to block the practice.

"People need to know that if they're trying to change somebody's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, that they're breaking the law," Boissonnault said.

This Happened to Me is a new video series from CBC Radio that explores the turning points in our lives — the moments that changed everything. In this episode, Erica Lenti explains why she's not coming out to her Italian grandmother. 7:36

Written by Jonathan Ore with files from CBC News. Produced by Idella Sturino and Cameron Perrier.

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