Many people my age equate “conservative” with “homophobic.”
That’s a big problem for Conservative parties across Canada — especially at the federal level.
It’s a big problem for our Party’s future. Twenty years from now, it’s entirely possible that we’ll have a generation of voters who have never been able to shake their first impression of the Conservative Party.
It’s also a big problem for our Party today. Many of the first-time voters in the last federal election were driven by the idea of “Real Change.” That’s not because of what the Liberals offered — it’s because of what Conservatives offered.
To be fair, the Conservative record on LGBTQ rights wasn’t all bad. In fact, I’d say Conservatives had a lot to be proud of when it came to defending LGBTQ rights. From openly criticizing Ugandan and Russian anti-gay laws, to defending LGBTQ minorities in the Middle East from ISIS brutality, our government got some of the big stuff right.
And from a Party standpoint, the doors have largely been opened to the gay community. The Fabulous Blue Tent — an event hosted by gay Conservatives — was a massive success at our last convention, featured Laureen Harper, and promises to be an even bigger and better event this weekend in Vancouver. It’s no longer a secret to the general public — a large contingent of senior Conservative staffers while we were in government were gay. One media outlet even asked the question: is Canada run by a gay mafia?
But on other issues — some of which really mattered in the eyes of the public — we absolutely failed.
Many Conservatives seemed afraid to speak publicly about LGBTQ rights, fearing retribution from social conservatives. Our MPs rarely spoke passionately in favour of LGBTQ rights, declined invitations to Pride parades for no clear reason, and routinely opposed gay rights and trans rights bills put forward by the opposition. All this despite the fact that in my years on the Hill, I don’t think I ever met someone who was actually opposed to gay marriage, or to equality for gay people.
Worst of all, the Conservative Party inexplicably still has an official Policy Declaration opposing same-sex marriage.
This is both morally and politically reprehensible. Morally, we are on the wrong side of history — it is indefensible to treat LGBTQ members of society as lesser human beings for political gain.
Politically, while we’ve pandered to small groups of outspoken donors and members, we’ve alienated an entire generation of voters, and its going to be very difficult for our next leader to bring them back on board.
And on a personal level, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life explaining that I’m not a bigot every time I mention my political affiliation.
The Conservative Party must repeal its anti-same sex marriage policy declaration this weekend — and leadership candidates should line up to condemn this chapter of our past, before our Party can move forward.