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PC party running three gay candidates in Ontario election

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PC party running three gay candidates in Ontario election

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Brant candidate Phil Gillies says his party has embraced gay rights as attitudes shift across province

In a move that comes as something of a surprise for a party that has long been associated with a hostile attitude toward the queer community, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives are running three out gay men on their slate in this election — and at least one of them stands a serious chance of being elected.

Only two out LGBT candidates have run for the PC Party in its history: Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy ran and lost in a 2009 by-election, and former cabinet minister Keith Norton ran and lost after coming out in 1990. But now Norton’s former cabinet colleague Phil Gillies — who came out after leaving politics in 1987 — is seeking a return to Queen’s Park in the southwestern Ontario riding of Brant. And as the PCs lost Brant in 2011 by fewer than 1,000 votes, they think it’s one of their strongest chances for a pick-up.

Since leaving office, Gillies has continued to be involved in politics, serving as an advisor to the PCs in a number of campaigns, working on environmental and endangered-species issues, and sitting on the advisory council of ProudPolitics, a non-partisan organization that encourages LGBT people to run for office in Canada.

Although he was still in the closet, Gillies is best remembered in the queer community as being one of just four members of the PC caucus to vote in favour of Bill 7 in 1986, which expanded human rights law in the province to cover sexual orientation. He describes the experience as “bruising.”

“I campaigned quite aggressively for the first gay-rights bill. It was a very acrimonious and contentious debate,” he says. “It was really quite remarkable that when the trans rights bill went to the house, it passed unanimously. I thought that was great, the contrast with the first gay-rights bill.”

He says there’s been a strong change in attitude across the province, which is being reflected in the PC Party.

“For a lot of us who were from ridings particularly outside of the big urban centres, [coming out] just wasn’t an option if you wanted to go anywhere in politics,” he says. “What a difference the last 20-odd years has made.

“[PC leader Tim Hudak] was well aware of my role in working with MPPs that brought gay rights to Ontario in the ’80s. He’s actually told me this is one of the reasons he wanted me on the team. The more of us who are working at the very centre of Queen’s Park, the further it goes to improving attitudes,” he says. And in the wake of a 2011 election that ended on a sour note when a number of PC candidates distributed homophobic campaign flyers and were backed up by Hudak, Gillies says the party is actively reaching out to the LGBT community.

“I was running the campaign in Brant, and I was very upset and concerned, and I certainly made my displeasure known,” he says of the 2011 campaign flyers. “But in terms of my involvement in the last couple of years, I accompanied Tim Hudak and his wife, Debbie, and a number of other gay conservatives, both two years ago and last year, to the Starry Night Gala [at Pride]. I was delighted to see how well Tim was received by the community.”

One of the issues Gillies says he’d like to push for is improved health and mental-health services for LGBT people outside the province’s major urban centres, citing the Rainbow Program at CAMH as an example.

“A lot of people may not realize how important this is . . . When you face discrimination or tension in the family, all of these things that can arise out of a young person coming out as gay, it can put pressures on people that lead to any number of problems,” he says. “I’m not saying for a minute that there should be brick-and-mortar facilities in all the smaller communities. That’s not feasible. But there should be people in the field who are trained in these issues.”

Meanwhile, hoping to establish a toehold for the PCs in downtown Toronto is Jamie Ellerton, who’s running in the west-end riding of Parkdale–High Park. It’s a constituency the PCs have never won, but Ellerton wants to bring the party’s message to the riding.

“LGBT people, like the rest of Ontarians, are tired of getting a bad deal from their government. Young LGBTs are looking for job opportunities; they want to get ahead, but they can’t get into this job market,” he says. “Just because you happen to be gay or lesbian doesn’t mean you have to be a tax-and-spend socialist who wants government to manage your life.”

Ellerton lives in the Junction neighbourhood, runs his own communications business and has served as an executive assistant to PC Leader Tim Hudak and Jason Kenney, the federal minister of employment and minister for multiculturalism. He is also a spokesperson for the lobby group Ethical Oil, which advocates for increased production of the Alberta oil sands, and sits on the board of the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees.

Ellerton says the PCs are allies of the queer community. “Tim Hudak and the whole caucus voted en masse to have the pride flag fly at Queen’s Park to show solidarity with LGBT people during the Sochi Olympics,” he says.

In the Liberal stronghold of Ottawa Vanier, the PCs are running Martin Forget, who is perhaps best known in political circles as the longtime partner of former Liberal MP Mario Silva. Forget says that he and Silva maintain domestic harmony despite disagreeing on some political issues.

“We live together and we’re happy . . . but there are some concerns we don’t share about the economic agenda in the province of Ontario,” he says. “I think that’s very indicative that I disagree with the Liberal agenda.”

Forget says that agenda will turn Ontario’s economy into one resembling the ruined economies of Spain and Greece. “The bottom line is the way to change this is putting people back to work. We need to stop the waste; we need to bring back the hydro bills at the right level, so that the people from the LGBT community . . . have the power to start small businesses and thrive,” he says.

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Comments

What a relief
you can be gay and pro-gay and NOT be a leftist

calling all gays disguised as leftists - you can come out of the closet now as gay Conservative
Uh-oh! QuAIA is upset with this article.
Uh-oh! It looks like Xtra has upset QuAIA’s Brian De Matos by publishing this story. On May 31, 2014, he tweeted the following comment with a link to this article:

See everyone, Cis-gay men can also be rich white and oppressive... with media like xtra we can see how dominant...

You can always tell that Pride Season is approaching when QuAIA supporters increase the intensity of their attacks on members of the gay community.

QuAIA and credibility
@Brian N

QuAIA will have credibility ONLY when it organizes Gaza's, the West Bank's FIRST gay pride parade
otherwise they should change their name to QuAPA - queers against Palestinain apartheid of gays and jihadists
Gay and Conservative
OK you can be gay and Conservative.
Gay and the left
well said
"Just because you happen to be gay or lesbian doesn’t mean you have to be a tax-and-spend socialist who wants government to manage your life.”
There goes the myth
There goes the myth that Conservatives are all anti-gay
Theres goes the myth that all gay friendly politicians are not Conservatives
Gay Tories
I just finished watching Mr. Ellerton on TVO's the Agenda in a debate on transit. He's definitively a dipped-in-blue fiscal Tory and even though he'll probably lose Parkdale-High Park his future in the party looks promising. I want to believe that modern conservatives have stopped being anti-gay but I continue to see some of them use homophobic language to oppose the Liberals. Example: With this phrase "The idiotic preoccupation with homosexuality lessons for third-graders" that is included in all the anti-Liberal (covert Tory) fliers lambasting the current government. This was taken from the sex ed debate a few years ago. Ontario kids are still using sex ed resources from the 1990's and when the Liberals tried to update it (and include some mention of gay people) the Hudak PC's had a fit. The election and mayoralty of Rob Ford (while not PC specifically) is another example of conservative homophobia today.
Rob Ford's homophobia
is homophobia lite and diluted compared to the real homophobia in PALESTINE and the West Bank and Iran and Saudi Arabia
Hellooo QuAIA (Queers against israeli apartheid)
Homophobic Flyers
Hi Ryan,

I haven't heard any incidents of homophobic flyers in this election. Are you referring to the flyers that went out in 2011 in Brampton? Or have you seen new ones recently? Please feel free to contact me at robert_salerno@hotmail.com
No flyers
Hi Rob, please allow me to clarify my previous comment. I didn't mean to suggest there are homophobic flyers being circulated in this campaign, to my knowledge there are not. I shouldn't have used the word "flyer" (that I misspelled) when I was really referring to online media, not printed mailings. That particular statement - "the idiotic preoccupation with homosexuality lessons for third graders" - a homophobic statement in my opinion, is widely used in online discussion as part of a laundry list of grievances with the Liberal government. It's often copied-and-pasted in the online comments of very mainstream Canadian newspapers.

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