Credit: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick; Francesca Roh/Xtra
Politics
7 min

Elizabeth May talks LGBTQ2 issues on the campaign trail

The Green leader on access to queer and trans healthcare services, ending the blood ban and the effect of climate change on marginalized communities

Elizabeth May is steadfast. As the leader of the Green Party of Canada since 2006 and a member of Parliament since 2011, May has been relentless in advocating for a more environmentally conscious country. That’s never been more pertinent than in this federal election, at a time when Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and the effects of climate change have become tangible—from forest fires in the west to floods in the east.

More Canadians seem to be on board with May’s mission, too: For the first time in the country’s history, a second Green MP—B.C.’s Paul Manly—was elected this spring. And with promises to act quickly on issues surrounding climate change—arguably the greatest ballot-box issue this election—the party has rallied more popular support than ever; some pollsters anticipate that the Greens could so much as double its two seats in the House after Monday’s election.

Among those candidates are 18 LGBTQ2 people—many of whom, May told Xtra in an interview last week, were specifically recruited to increase the party’s representation of queer and trans people. And when it comes to LGBTQ2 issues, the Green Party promises to ban conversion therapy, improve social services and repeal discriminatory federal laws.

What does the Green Party say it will do to support queer and trans Canadians over the next four years? Xtra’s editorial director Rachel Giese spoke to May about access to LGBTQ2 healthcare services, Two-Spirit and LGBTQ Indigenous rights and political representation—all while the leader and her team drove (in a Tesla, she made a point to note) from Gatineau, Quebec, to Montreal.

Your party is among the most representative of our LGBTQ2 communities this election. Can you speak about why it was important for you to have that representation? 

We are always seeking greater diversity among our candidates. We did make a point of encouraging LGBTQ2 Canadians to be recruited and asked if they would consider running with us. So there was definitely some effort in that, because it’s a critical issue and we want to be representative and it’s reflected in our platform. As a cisgender woman, I recognize we have to walk the talk and actually be there in solidarity with the community, and that when they ask for help, we’re there.

Many of your candidates are running in particularly tough ridings to win. What is the value in running, even when it’s a longshot to actually get into the office? 

I think the fact that the platform is so strongly inclusive is an accomplishment in and of itself. But let’s face it: The Green Party of Canada doesn’t have safety; every riding is a struggle.

But I’m really pleased right now in terms of putting candidates in places that are winnable. We actually are grassroots in the way candidates are selected and elected; they’re from the areas where they’re running. Two Indigenous women candidates in B.C.—Racelle Kooy (Victoria) and Lydia Hwitsum (Cowichan–Malahat–Langford)—are very, very much in winnable ridings. We also have Jesse Brown, who is a gay man, in Vancouver Centre. I know it would be a huge upset for him to win over [Liberal incumbent] Hedy Fry, but the reaction we’re getting at the doorstep makes me think it’s possible.

There are winnable seats for Greens that were never winnable before, and we just keep on trying because you never know where a breakthrough is possible until you’re knocking on doors and meeting people and talking about our issues. And the important thing, I think, is to reflect an inclusive society, to model in our behaviour what we want to see in Parliament and what we want to see in the world.

On a more personal note: For many queer and trans Canadians, religion can be a fraught topic. Many people have felt excluded from the religion they grew up in, or felt persecuted by people of faith. You are religious yourself. How have your views on our LGBTQ2 communities evolved over time?

There are vast misunderstandings about what it means to be a person of faith and particularly what it means to be a Christian. Not to give a university lecture on Christianity, but there are 2,000 different “brands” of Christianity, if you will. I happen to be a practising Anglican. If I wasn’t an Anglican I probably would be a Unitarian because I absolutely reject the notion that religion should exclude anybody. People assume that if you’re a Christian you’re intolerant, judgmental and rigid, and that’s not been my faith, ever. I’ve always supported a woman’s right to a safe legal abortion. I’ve always supported the rights of LGBTQ2 folks.

But you do understand that for many folks you are an outlier, given how much faith has been used as a cudgel.

Well, yes. I’m open about my beliefs. You know, the Anglican faith has women priests. The Anglican faith has gay women priests. They have gay male priests. The Anglican faith is one I’m very comfortable with. It’s a religious practice that involves questioning and doubting, and it’s inclusive and loving. I find faith helps me practise in a day-to-day world that is not permeated with loving and kindness.

And on that faith question: One area that has been talked about [in this campaign] is conversion therapy, which is often carried out by faith groups.

Oh my god, yes. Our B.C. Greens brought forward a bill to ban conversion therapy. Here’s the line directly from our platform: “Ban and condemn the practice of conversion therapy in all its forms.”

So what’s the first step after this election that you and your party can take in moving that ban forward? 

The question is: How much you can uncouple from provincial jurisdictions? That’s the extent that we can do it at the federal level—as a violation of rights. It may be that we have to pursue it through an initial court. So, I’m not waffling on this: We want to ban and condemn the practice. We can condemn it immediately. To ban it, we have to determine with justice department lawyers if we can pursue a ban, or will we have to negotiate with every province and territory to make sure we have a national ban.

Another provincial responsibility is health care. In its platform, the Green Party commits to improving access to transition-related and gender-affirming health services. What can the Greens do as a federal party to make this happen?

When you look at the health section in the Green platform, this is all in the context of renegotiating the Health Accord. So while the delivery of health services is provincial, the guarantee of universal single-payer healthcare and covering key services is federal. We need to renegotiate the Canada Health Act, we need to bring in universal pharmacare, we need to bring in dental care for low-income Canadians. There’s a lot that needs to be fixed in our healthcare system. But in that context, with a negotiated new Canada Health Accord, with a different level of funding from the federal government, that’s where we can insist that we actually are including services that are needed by LGBTQ2 Canadians.

You’ve promised to end altogether the blood donation ban on men who have sex with men. What steps can you and your party take to make it happen?

As we know, “U=U”: undetectable is untransmittable. Our policies are always based on science, and unless there’s science that tells us there’s a reason for the ban, we will continue to say that it is discriminatory and deprives people of life-giving access to transfusions. We need more blood donors, not less.

You have promised to re-introduce legislation to implement the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation report and also the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). The inquiry highlighted the lives of people who identify as Two-Spirit, trans or LGBTQ. What is, in your opinion, the most pressing issue you want to see addressed when it comes to the safety of Indigenous LGBTQ women and girls, and Two-Spirit folks?

It’s multifaceted. Two of the recommendations that come to mind immediately are ending the “man camps” [worker camps along development sites, which have been the sites of violence against Indigenous women]—or just cancel the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.

In addition, a lot of the people who were rendered so vulnerable were made so by a complete failure of our transportation system. Marginalized and poor people of colour—particularly Indigenous women and Two-Spirit people—are incredibly vulnerable on the street. They’re out on remote highways because there’s no transit system. So our our goals around climate change merge with our goals around security and safety: We have to have a transit system of electric buses. We need to make sure Via Rail runs every day and not just within the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor but out west, too.

We also know that one of the core findings from the MMIWG inquiry was that we are in a system of structural violence because of the legislative framework. We know the Indian Act is racist, and we know you can’t repeal it overnight because many communities see the Indian Act as their access to rights, even if their access to rights is inherent in Section 35 of the Constitution and in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. We need to work through all of that, but with the goal of true nation-to-nation respect and true relationships built on self-government and self-identity.

Many human rights issues are also intimately connected to climate change. We know that many communities are already experiencing the catastrophic effects of the planet warming and those impacts have their disproportionate on marginalized communities. What do you think is the biggest concern for LGBTQ2 people when it comes to climate change?

You can’t generalize, because there are some people of privilege who happen to be gay. But when you’re looking at people who are marginalized economically because they’re also in a community that is stigmatized, any marginalized community has a harder time in the face of extreme weather events. If you just don’t have enough money, you’re not insured properly and you lose everything in a flood, you’ve really lost everything.

For the first time ever, millennials make up the largest voting bloc in Canada. This cohort and the one coming up on their heels is also the most diverse when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation. What do you think you can do to ensure that LGBTQ2 youth have a safe future?

We have to stop using fossil fuel as quickly as possible. There’s no way around it. I’m incredibly heartened that this election has climate content, but I’m disheartened that the vast majority of journalists covering this election still don’t understand climate science and neither do the other leaders on stage with me. Really understanding the climate crisis means understanding that the strongest voice right now is Greta Thunberg. She’s absolutely right when she says, “You are stealing my childhood, you are stealing my future.” We don’t have a handle on it.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.