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Cheri DiNovo drops out of NDP leadership race

LGBT advocate withdraws, citing health reasons

Ontario MPP Cheri DiNovo speaks about the Accepting Schools Act in 2012. Credit: Andrea Houston/Daily Xtra

Cheri DiNovo, an Ontario MPP and one of the most high-profile LGBT legislators in the country, has dropped out of the federal NDP leadership race after suffering two small strokes.

DiNovo, an ordained United Church minister who has represented Parkdale-High Park in the Ontario legislature since 2006, shared the news via Facebook.

“My staff and family have been amazing through this experience and it is in consultation with them – to whom I owe so much – that I have to announce I’m withdrawing from the leadership race,” she wrote. “For at least the next month or so my focus will be on my health, so that I’ll be able to return to Queen’s Park in the fall.”

DiNovo has pitched herself as representing the progressive wing of the NDP, in contrast to current leader Tom Mulcair. DiNovo was one of the first elected NDP representatives to call for Mulcair’s resignation after the party’s disappointing third-place finish in the 2015 federal election.

“Those who represent the grass roots of the NDP and those progressives who want the NDP to represent them from across the country will not be silenced,” she wrote. “I am confident a candidate will step forward who will be up to the task.”

Despite announcing her intention to seek the leadership, DiNovo was never an official candidate because she declined to pay the $30,000 entrance fee. However in June she announced she would fundraise the fee from her supporters.

In a subsequent Facebook post, DiNovo thanked her supporters.

“Thank you everyone for your love and greetings! I feel so blessed. I’m fine,” she wrote. “The challenge is prevention from here on in and I have every confidence and hope to have a lot of activism left.”

DiNovo would not have been the first LGBT person to seek the leadership of a major federal party. In 1995, Svend Robinson, the first openly gay member of Parliament, lost the NDP leadership to Alexa McDonough after a fiercely contested convention in which he won a plurality of delegates.

Scott Brison, now the longest-serving gay MP in Ottawa, came out in 2002 during his failed leadership bid for the federal Progressive Conservatives. Brison also ran an unsuccessful bid for the federal Liberal leadership in 2006.

LGBT champion

An openly bisexual woman, DiNovo has been an LGBT activist for decades. In 1971, she was one of the only women to sign the “We Demand” manifesto, which pressed the federal government to fully legalize homosexuality.

In 2001, DiNovo arguably performed the first legal same-sex marriage in North America, when the marriage of Paulo Barrero and Blanca Mejias, two women, was accepted by the marriage registry in Thunder Bay. The marriage was later officially recognized when the Ontario courts ruled in favour of equal marriage two years later.

Since becoming an MPP in 2006, DiNovo has shepherded a number of LGBT-rights bills through Queen’s Park, including laws that ban conversion therapy and add gender identity and expression to the Ontario Human Rights Code.

In 2015, she introduced Cy and Ruby’s Act, which sought to address inequities faced by LGBT couples when they have children. Though the bill died on the floor, Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised to bring forward similar legislation in the fall.