Queer Ottawa-area students shadowed openly gay members of Parliament on the second annual Rainbow Day on the Hill, April 16.
The day began with NDP MPs Dany Morin and Craig Scott engaging the youths in a candid discussion about the realities of being an openly gay elected representative.
This day is to show LGBT youth across the country that it’s possible, Morin told the students. It’s possible and feasible to be an out politician and to do great work. Of course, there will always be a certain level of homophobia in the country, but we cannot let them take our light and our passion.
Scott told the youths about the history of openly gay MPs and described Bill Siksay, Svend Robinson and Libby Davies as trailblazers.
Davies and Philip Toone could not participate in Rainbow Day, which is a joint program between youth diversity initiative and Jer’s Vision
and Morin’s office, due to previous engagements.
“There is a history of pioneers who made this party [the NDP] an extremely welcoming place for the community, Scott said.”There’s inclusion and it’s not tokenistic.”
After the early-morning introduction, the youths paired up to follow Scott, Morin, Randall Garrison and Liberal MP Scott Brison for the day, and to observe question period.
Colonel By Secondary School student Zac Johnstone, 17, envisions himself working on the Hill as an MP. Johnstone says he jumped at the chance to shadow Scott, who he says was “interesting, helpful and talkative” throughout the day.
“I learned that while there is still a long way we have to go, being a queer MP on the Hill is not hugely different from being an MP on the Hill,” Johnstone says. “Sexuality and gender don’t play as huge of a role as they once would have in the lives of the MPs.”
Johnstone believes the openly gay MPs are representing queer Canadians well. He hopes to see more out MPs in the future.
Amanda Giraldeau, of Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School, and Derek Meng, of Colonel By Secondary School, both 17, shadowed Morin for the day. Morin says he hopes the day exposed the students to positive queer role models.
“I had those positive role models when I was younger, and I hope that they could also benefit from that,” he says. He also hopes the day will give closeted MPs, MPPs and senators the courage to come out.
There’s no backlash. Maybe they can find the courage to be out to their constituents. My sexual orientation is just a matter of fact. I am not ashamed of it; he says.
Being an openly gay MP is not difficult, Morin says. He credits Brison, Davies and Robinson for breaking through the pink ceiling and says future queer MPs should have an even easier time, as their generation is less homophobic.
Brison agrees, saying he was pleasantly surprised when the youths informed him their high schools are supportive and affirming.
I hope these young Canadians realize what remarkable progress has been made since the 1980s when I was a high school student, Brison says.There’s still bullying, there’s still terrible things that happen, terrible pressure on adolescents, but every now and then we should remind ourselves how far we’ve come.
Question period was the highlight of the day for Meng, who calls it “a real eye-opener to see the day-to-day processes of Parliament.
“It puts into perspective the micro, which is the day-to-day, with the macro, the decisions we see every day on the news and how they are portrayed eventually,”Meng says.
As for the gay MPs, Meng says he now has confidence in government.
“It’s good to know there are at least some people in Parliament with a sense of moral direction,” he says.