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New head of human rights museum sparks controversy

Long-time Tory has voted against gay rights

Stephen Harper’s pick for CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a long-time Conservative politician with a history of voting against gay and lesbian rights.

This week’s announcement that Stuart Murray, former leader of Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative Party, will head up Canada’s newest national museum has sparked cries of protest across the country.

“I’m outraged,” says Daniel Voth, a political science student at the University of British Columbia. Voth sent an email to academics, politicians and friends urging them to take action against Murray’s appointment. “I hope people make a stink.”

“His voting record concerns me,” says Jennifer Breakspear, the executive director of Vancouver’s queer resource centre, Qmunity. She is also a member of the museum’s content advisory committee, which is conducting public roundtables across Canada. “I look forward to meeting him and asking him about his record and where he stands now.”

Murray was leader of Manitoba’s official opposition from 2000 to 2006, when the NDP government introduced legislation to extend pension and adoption rights to same-sex couples. He opposed both measures.

Murray answered questions about his political record during an interview with a CBC Radio show in Winnipeg. When asked about his party’s stand against same-sex adoption, he said, “That was a caucus decision that we made. I don’t have an issue with that personally.” But he refused to say whether, if given a second chance, he would vote the same way.

Asked whether he agrees that same-sex couples should be entitled to equal pension rights, he answered, “As a private citizen, I do.”

Murray recently served as CEO of a hospital foundation in Winnipeg. Prior to entering politics, he was CEO of Domo Gas.

The $265-million Canadian Museum for Human Rights is being built in Winnipeg, where it is slated to open in 2012. Following the outburst over Murray’s appointment, the museum issued a statement declaring that he would “welcome the opportunity to meet with representatives from the LGBT community to a meeting at their earliest convenience.”

Helen Kennedy, executive director of queer lobby group Egale Canada, says she has already been in touch with the museum to schedule an appointment. Egale is part of a group called Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, along with several other rights organizations across Canada.

Kennedy says Murray’s appointment “came as a big shock” and says she’s “very disappointed” to hear of his voting record. But she looks forward to meeting him.

“We have some serious questions that need to be addressed,” she says. “We agree with the concept and the initiative [of the museum] but only if LGBT rights are going to be included.”

Lorri Millan, one of the lesbian mothers who fought for same-sex adoption rights in Manitoba, says she’s “baffled” by Murray’s appointment.

“There’s no merit,” she says. “He was a marginal leader during his time and he doesn’t reflect any diversity. He’s not a curator and he’s not a director. I can’t see it as anything other than a cushy appointment for a long-time Tory.”

Millan points out that Manitoba’s NDP government doesn’t deserve much praise for its role in the same-sex adoption debate, either. She and several other couples had to sue the government before it introduced a bill in the Legislature.

“No one came out smelling rosy in that situation,” she says. “Everyone played hot potato with the issue.”

Breakspear believes that Murray’s political past is a concern. However, she adds, “we all grow and change and learn and that is why I’m holding back on being more critical.”

She is convinced that the history of queer rights will be represented in the museum, and doesn’t feel that Murray’s appointment will do anything to change that. “It does nothing to shake my conviction and passion in this museum and what we’re working for,” she says.

This weekend, the museum’s second-in-command, chief operating officer Patrick O’Reilly, will be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for the Vancouver resource centre run by Breakspear.

During his interview with CBC Radio, Murray also said, “I want to introduce myself to the LGBT community. I want them to get to know me. I want to get to know them.” He and O’Reilly have agreed to sit down for an interview with Xtra.ca next week. (READ THAT INTERVIEW HERE)

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is holding a series of public consultations across Canada. For a schedule, visit humanrightsmuseum.ca.

At a press conference announcing Stuart Murray’s appointment, the Winnipeg Free Press asked the former PC leader about his gay rights record. Watch the video below: