3 min

Libby liberation

The first out female same-sexer in Parliament speaks up

WARM SWEATER? New Democrat MP Libby Davies says her relationship with her female partner is a most amazing connection. Credit: Robin Perelle

Libby Davies snagged a spot in Canadian history books Oct 29 when she came out in the House Of Commons, becoming the first female MP to do so in this country.

Thirteen years ago, fellow NDP-er Svend Robinson also made history when he came out with a well-timed, though not all that well-received, roar; but Davies’ coming out was a much quieter affair. In fact, she says, she wasn’t planning to come out that day at all.

Davies divulged her same-sex relationship when she rose in the House to speak in support of Robinson’s bill on same-sex marriage. The bill later died on the table but interest in Davies’ declaration was just getting started.

Davies is the member of Parliament for Vancouver East. She and her late common-law partner of 24 years, Bruce Eriksen (who died of cancer four years ago) served on Vancouver’s city council for many years.

XTRA WEST: What went through your mind after you sat down in the House?

LIBBY DAVIES: Well, I kind of took a gulp and sat down and thought, well, I did that [Laughs]. I had a few nervous moments but really, overall, it felt absolutely okay. It felt like the right thing to do and I’m glad I did it.

XW: Now, I’ve read that you’re reluctant to take the label of lesbian. Why is that?

DAVIES: Well, first of all, I totally respect everyone’s right to define themselves and I also recognize that other people will define me, and I don’t really have any control over that, so that’s okay. But I don’t feel that I define myself in any particular way. I’m still Libby Davies. My partner’s a woman.

XW: Should readers be at all concerned that you may pull an Anne Heche and fall in love with a man again at some point?

DAVIES: Why should I be concerned if other people are concerned? I’m talking about my personal life, and I don’t make decisions about who I fall in love with based on other people’s opinions. I’m very committed to my partner. I’m not planning on having another relationship with a man or a woman. But I’ve always been a very open-minded person. I mean, I just don’t think you know what life presents you. I think the issue is publicly standing up for equality, defending human rights and gays and lesbians, and never letting that go. And being very comfortable with the fact that I am in a relationship with a woman and I’m proud to say that.

XW: Counting yourself, there are three openly queer MPs. Why aren’t there any more?

DAVIES: Well, I don’t know how many others there are. I mean one can speculate about these things but… I think we still live in an environment of intimidation and discrimination and it’s difficult for some people to come out in public. I hope that because of what I did, I’ve been able to play a small role in encouraging people who want to make that decision [to come out].

XW: You stood in the House to support Svend’s same-sex marriage bill but you personally have rejected marriage; why is that?

DAVIES: Never felt it was necessary.

XW: Why?

DAVIES: For me, personally, I don’t feel that I need the sanction of the state to affirm my relationship with someone that I love. However, I want to be absolutely clear and unequivocal that I uphold the right of any couple, whether they’re heterosexual or same-sex, to make a choice.

XW: Rather than pushing for access to a union which may be unequal, why not push for a whole new framework that moves away from the state sanctioning some types of unions?

DAVIES: Maybe we will arrive at that point. I mean, I think that’s one of the empowering things about this debate, is that it does force us to confront the traditions that we have, the norms that we have, and to question how we define things. At this point, the debate is focussed on gaining equality under the law as it exists and I think that’s a very important struggle.

XW: Some would argue that if the government sanctions those same-sex relationships that match up more closely with heterosexual relationships, then it will set up a two-tier system, where some couples will be seen as more acceptable and others will be pushed to the fringes of the gay community.

DAVIES: If the pressure of the norm becomes so powerful that people feel like they don’t have other choices, then I think that’s a problem. I don’t know that I see it that way, though. I think, if anything, we’re moving slowly towards a society where these questions are more open and more possibilities do exist.

XW: Now I have to ask: Would you characterize your relationship now as a warm, loving, comfortable sweater or as more of the hot and sweaty variety – or both?

DAVIES: I’ll use my own words. I think I’d describe it as the most amazing connection and commitment on many different levels – that I feel very fortunate to be able to experience – that is exciting, secure, sometimes challenging, very open, but most of all very loving.