08.19.2013 07:18 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: is “gay conservative” conjunctive or disjunctive?

Circa 1977 at my Calgary Catholic high school, most of my friends ­— charter members of the drama/music/poetry/punk rock subculture — were gay.

So, even in arch-conservative Calgary, being gay wasn’t a big deal to us. We went to gay clubs like the Parkside Continental, and we wrote and sang songs that were sexually ambiguous. My band’s biggest hit, in fact, featured Yours Truly hollering about making “sweet passionate love” to another guy.

(That song is now covered by Britain’s hottest band, the Palma Violets, by the by. Their decision to do so has unleashed neither critical acclaim nor a torrent of homophobia.)

Arriving in supposedly progressive Ottawa to study journalism in 1980, then, was a bit of a shock. Nobody, in those days, was out of the closet. I had surmised that NDP MP Svend Robinson was in one, so I went to see him to do a story about being gay in public life.

It was 1982, and Robinson was plainly nervous when I met with him. He even brought along an assistant to tape record the exchange. I wasn’t interested in outing Robinson — he would do that all by himself not so long afterwards — but in understanding gayness and public life.

That was then, this is now. These days, being gay and a politician isn’t such a big deal anymore. New Democrats, then Liberals, came around to the view that gays and lesbians are (a) electable and (b) not qualitatively different than straight politicians.

So, Robinson blazed a proud trail for many others. Mario Silva, Libby Davies, Bill Siksay, Real Menard and Scott Brison got elected federally. Provincially, Kathleen Wynne is Canada’s first openly gay premier and no one has said they care (apart from Wynne’s leadership team, that is, who regarded every criticism as homophobia, but that’s a story for another day).

And municipally, there have been not a few openly gay mayors and councillors, too, mostly of the New Democrat and Liberal variety.

But what of Conservatives and conservatives? Well, I can verily attest to the fact that there are as many — if not more — gay folks nestled in the bosom of conservativism. Gay men, in particular, seem to be disproportionately inclined towards fiscal conservatism.

But a thin blue line of homophobia persists in conservative politics, at least in respect of social policy. Conservatives held out against gay marriage, gay adoption and gay pension rights longer than any other party. Gay and conservative isn’t as incompatible as it once was — but a tension remains, nonetheless.

Conservatives will point out at this point that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has recently criticized the plainly gay-hating dictatorship of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. But Baird doesn’t deserve credit for doing so — opposing bigotry should be part of his job description.

The reaction of Conservatives to Baird’s stance on Russian homophobia is telling. By hailing what Baird said in year 2013 AD, they are implicitly acknowledging their party still has a way to go.

They are headed in the right direction, but they need to go faster. When human rights are at issue, delay is almost as bad as denial.

And, to those Conservatives who worry they will alienate their base, I say worry not. If a bunch of Calgary misfits could openly celebrate gay causes in the 70s — and live — well, arch-conservatives can, too.


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    m5slib says:

    All I can say is that you’re a nice guy, Warren. With gay and conservative, you could have ruffled some feathers. This way is better.

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    james Smith says:

    A footnote to your article. In the 1980’s I worked in Calgary but I lived in the little town of Black Diamond. Our MP was a Tory (natch) a very stern fellow, a former SoCred Cabinet minister by the name of Gordon Taylor. I remember Mr Taylor was attempting to have Fairies and Queers (his words) kicked out of the RCMP. I think by this time Mr Robinson was out of the closet. I shall never forget listening to the interview between the two on CBC radio as we made the long drive home one night. After both men made their points, Mr Robinson basically took over the interview, & in a very calm way started asking very polite questions. Mr Taylor’s answers basically destroyed his own position.

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      Ottawa Civil Servant says:

      The guy retired in 1988, for the love of God. Who cares what a former SoCred Minister of Telephones said over 30 years ago?
      I remember Paul Martin refusing to legalize same-sex marriages. Who cares?

      The reason Tories don’t come out isn’t because of fear or self-loathing, it’s because a core belief of Conservatism is the right to be private, especially about your own sexuality. The party, the people, the media, the lobby groups have no right to define you or your public image based upon your religion or sexuality. It does not matter.

      As P.E.T. said, the government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.

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        GFMD says:

        It’s because they are worried about losing donation cash from the rubes they fleece to fund their campaigns. John Baird probably cares about gay kids in rural prairie towns getting bullied, but he cares about the cheques from the bully’s parents MORE.

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        frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

        Ahem, Ottawa Civil Servant…..to Real Women Canada(who claim to have core conservative values)……it does seem to matter……

        REAL Women of Canada Media Release: John Baird’s Abuse of Office

        Posted on 07 August 2013. Tags: Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, russia, Uganadn Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga

        by C. Gwendolyn Landolt. August 7, 2013.

        Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, has abused his position as a cabinet minister to impose his own special interests in the foreign countries of Uganda, Kenya and Russia.

        He awarded $200,000 of Canadian taxpayers’ money by way of the Department of Foreign Affairs to special interest groups in Uganda and Kenya to further his own perspective on homosexuality. He also insulted the speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, at a meeting of the International Parliamentary Union in Quebec City when he criticized Uganda for its position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In response, Ms. Kadaga stated that Uganda was a sovereign nation and not a colony of Canada, and no one could tell Ugandans what to do.

        Last week, Baird admitted working extensively behind the scenes to prevent Russia from passing legislation designated to protect Russian minors from homosexual propaganda. Baird blasted these laws as hateful, anti-gay and intolerant. Russia has also restricted foreign adoption of Russian children after incidents of horrendous child abuse; for example, adoptive “fathers” in Australia together with other men, sexually abused a 6 year old boy, starting at 22 months of age, born of a Russian surrogate mother.

        It is a fact, that homosexual activists in Canada are intolerant of any resistance to their demands, and, as such have become a tyrannical minority.

        Conscientious objections based on religion and traditional values have led, in Canada, to public officials, educators and business owners facing heavy fines and lengthy court battles for rejecting the homosexual lifestyle. This is not democracy. It is not equality.

        This is the strange, intolerant world Mr. Baird wishes to impose on sovereign countries, despite their own cultures and religion which find this unreasonable and unacceptable.

        Gwendolyn Landolt, National Vice-President, stated, “Just who does John Baird think he is, using taxpayers’ money to promote his own personal agenda and endeavouring to set standards of the laws of foreign countries? He argues that homosexual rights are a ‘Canadian value’, but this applies only to himself and his fellow activists and the left-wing elitists. These are not conservative values and that of grass roots Canadians, who after all, pay the bulk of the taxes”.

        Mr. Baird’s actions are highly offensive to conservative taxpayers. He cannot and must not undermine other countries’ sovereignty and dignity, rooted in stable family structures and religious faith, in order to impose his own value system on them.

        Mr. Baird’s actions are destructive to the conservative base in Canada and causing collateral damage to his party.

        Source: REAL Women of Canada

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        Shepsil says:

        “…a core belief of Conservatism is the right to be private…” A core trait (value) of conservatives is ‘resistance to change’ (George Lakoff), including to progressive ideas like treating Gays equally. Not just in your own life, but in society as a whole.

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    doris says:

    Why is it that nobody will go record to name the gay tories, surely in this day and age being gay in the tory party would be a badge of honour to the rest of the world?

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      Warren says:

      I don’t think you’d want to know.

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      Mike H says:

      Doris: . Since there is so much more bearing on the decision than public opinion, to come out or not to come out is, and always should be a personal decision For me, sexual orientation would have no bearing on my vote unless s/he he made it an issue.

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    Brad Young says:

    Well I have heard one rumour that’s been floating around, the person is not a a conservative MP, but knows one quite well.

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    Elisabeth Lindsay says:

    What the heck is an “arch conservative” any way?

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    kitt says:

    Gay Tories – rumour has it….. Laureen, Steve’s current chief of staff, and maybe Steve himself. There are more but who cares? Just Gwen from (supposed) REAL women

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      The Other Jim says:

      How did a crap comment like this get approved? Spreading gossip about someone’s private life does nothing to help the LGBT community and only coarsens the political discourse in this country.

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    frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

    I left the Conservative Party for a whole host of reasons…….mainly their antediluvian ideas on the environment, but also for their complete hypocrisy in promising “open and accountable” govt….. I realized soon after the merger I had made a dreadful error in supporting the merger of my former party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, and the Canadian Alliance…..I thought, as many others did in my former party that our membership could “punch above our weight” and temper some the Alliance views on such things as homosexuality….How wrong I was…..

    At the founding meeting of the executive of our new Conservative Party Riding Assn….the executive was discussing which bank or credit union to use for the ridings business. VanCity Credit Union was discussed as a possible option as they offered good interest rates, and good services for a modest fee. At this time one of the Alliance members got up and stated at no such time should we be using the services of VanCity, because, he said,”They support the homosexual agenda”…..I looked over at our Conservative MP in disbelief…..at which time he said nothing. I should have stood up and said something, denounced the unholy union, and left the meeting. What I really wanted to say to the man was that “the only homosexual agenda I knew of was to try and get straight men like himself to dress better”….but not wanting to ruffle feathers, I said nothing.

    I remained with the party for a few months longer, but realized too late, that trying to get the Conservative Party to change its attitude towards the LGBT community was akin to putting lipstick on a pig. I applaud Mr. Baird’s recent comments on the Russian Govt’s restrictive legislation, but the fact of the matter is, he is swimming against the tide when it comes to this issue with the ordinary membership of the Conservative Party of Canada…..the negative reaction to Mr. Baird’s comments by Real Women of Canada were telling.
    The only way that attitudes towards the LGBT community by the Conservative Party of Canada will markedly change is when a few front bench Conservative MP’s come out of the closet.
    It is my sincere hope that eventually they will have the courage to do what individuals from all the other parties have done, and believe: “To thine own self be true”.

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      Tiger says:

      Baird’s stance on Russia is in line with Harper’s public stance on Uganda back in ’09, when he publicly lobbied against their proposed law. (Unsuccessfully, alas.)

      Don’t know what the BC folks are like, but in my Toronto-area EDA I haven’t heard a thing about gay people.

      Mind you, people’s attitudes have shifted lots between 2004 and 2013.

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      deb s says:

      Wow that sounds brutal, thanks for sharing. I mean I hate hearing stories that show how much the neanderthals still lead with such antiquated thoughts, but Im not surprised. Good for you for leaving them behind!

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        frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

        To be fair, my Conservative MP(who is a Pastor as well) was always welcoming when I was still part of the fold……cant say the same for the rest of the former Canadian Alliance executive, however…….
        Peoples attitudes have indeed shifted since 2004(Indeed, Vancouver’s Pride Parade has become almost a mainstream event)……unless of course you are in the heart of BC’s bible belt. Fortunately, I reside on the north bank of the Fraser, which tends to be much more tolerant of folks like me.

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    dave says:

    I noticed that when this topic (eg pride days or displays) come up, that my local politicians, federal, provincial and municipal, always preface their remarks by courageously coming out in public to declare that they are heterosexual.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    A federal Progressive Conservative no longer exists. A federal Conservative can never become a federal PC. That is the brutal sad reality.

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    Nasty Bob says:

    I just had a BCHS flashback. Do you remember we had a friend- he played with me on the football team ( well, he actually played I mostly bench-warmed) Anyway, one day he shows up at school with a pierced ear. Back in the day a guy just did not do that unless he was coming out of the closet. As expected he heard the word ” faggot!” more than once that morning. You snipped the heads off a bunch of silver thumb tacks and rounded up some crazy glue. By the end of the day a good chunk of the male population-including many of his jock teammates-were sporting a faux stud stuck to their ears in solidarity. That sure shut the haters up.

    Fortunately, I hope, some 30 + years later, Canada has reached that critical mass of solidarity such that it outweighs the votes and $ that can be gained by being a hater

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    Meany says:

    Psh… The Conservative Caucus is about as straight as a high school glee club. But they also must walk that fine line between skillfully capturing the nutbar vote (and money! oh the delicious delicious donation money!), and not themselves seeming like nutbars. I truly do commend them for making it this far without blowing up.

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    Another Ottawa Civil servant says:

    Was it a coincidence that Harper prorogued parliament the same day this column was published?

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