For Bryn Hendricks, starting Liberal Pride was a way of bringing together his activism and his politics.
“I felt that there was a real opportunity in our party to talk about gay and lesbian issues,” Hendricks says. “I think that in some instances, there has been a tendency for the NDP to try to claim that they’ve made a lot of headway for the gay community, and I sometimes felt that the Liberal Party maybe wasn’t given the credit that it was due.”
Working within a party to create change for the queer community was something that appealed to Hendricks — a staffer with MP Carolyn Bennett — and those he approached to start up the organization.
“I looked at the model that we’re using of working within a party to create change within a group,” says Justine Villeneuve, a staffer with MP Mark Holland and Liberal Pride’s vice-president. “Looking at the American model of what they’ve done with the women’s movement there, organizations like Emily’s List that use the Democratic Party as a vehicle through which to effect change for women, has been really successful and in Canada, we don’t have groups like that.”
“Being a queer woman, when Bryn approached me about forming a Liberal organization to affect change for the queer community, I thought that was a great idea and I definitely think that there is a place for us within the party,” Villeneuve adds. “We can’t stop with marriage. There’s a long ways still to go, and we need an active voice on those subjects.”
With the Vancouver convention looming, the group decided the best way to gain support was to tell the story of the Liberal Party and the queer community in Canada. They produced a short video that uses Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 declaration that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation as a touchstone of the change that was to come.
Using Facebook as their initial vehicle for signing up members across the country, the convention will be their first real opportunity to reach out to the party.
“Our intention with the Ottawa group was to form a model,” Villeneuve says. “When different cities want to start their own regional group, that they have a model from which to base their local chapters. The thought was that we would have an overarching national group that would bring people from all across the country together.”
“We’ve had interest right from Vancouver to Halifax,” Hendricks adds. “People have already talked about creating their own local chapters.”
Caucus support for the group has also been strong, beginning with the party leader, Michael Ignatieff, and carrying on to those such as Marlene Jennings, Scott Brison, Mario Silva, Justin Trudeau, Senator Art Eggleton, Bob Rae, Hedy Fry, Mark Holland and Carolyn Bennett.
“It’s more a question of who didn’t support this,” Villeneuve enthuses.
“We’ve not encountered opposition to us whatsoever,” Hendricks says. “That’s not to say that there might not be a few people behind our backs saying things, but they’ve certainly not felt comfortable piping up. I would say that if there was that big of a concern, we would have heard about it by now.”
Hendricks also says that any opposition to queer issues within the party has drastically dwindled, and that while extreme views may still occasionally be heard, it has become a definite minority view within the party.
Hendricks says that the plan for the convention is for the group to distribute DVDs of their video to attendees to build support. There are already indications that the response will be positive enough that they’ll quickly run out of all 1,000 copies.
The other aim of the DVD handouts is to send people to the Liberal Pride website, which launched this week.
“Our website has a page for resources and documents, and the different things that have happened in Parliament,” Hendricks says. “All the things that you might want to learn about gay rights in Canada. We drive people to the website so they can get that information, and that’s really our way of reaching out to the party at this convention.”