MP Dany Morin says he always wanted to be in politics but felt he wouldn’t be accepted as an openly gay man. “When I was a teenager and I wanted to get into politics eventually one day . . . I was really insecure about my sexual orientation and the effect it could have on me being elected by my constituents,” he says.
It was only when he became aware of other out MPs, like Svend Robinson, Scott Brison and Libby Davies, that he says he began to feel there could be a place for him on the Hill someday. “They managed to be reelected again and again and again,” he says. “Those three MPs were very good, positive role models to me.”
Now that the dream has become a reality for him, Morin says it’s time to pay it forward and show other young people they can have a future in politics. In 2012, he started Rainbow Day on the Hill in partnership with Jer’s Vision to allow LGBT-identified high school students to experience a day in the political life. On May 27, a group of six young people shadowed six openly gay MPs, attending meetings, panels and question period.
The day began with the youth meeting MPs Morin, Phil Toone, Craig Scott, Randall Garrison, Libby Davies and Scott Brison, who shared their experiences. New Democrat Garrison said that while homophobia and transphobia are still very present in politics, things have come a long way. Liberal Brison pointed out that for the youth, theirs is the first generation of LGBT people in Canada to be living with widespread freedom and acceptance.
After getting acquainted, it was down to business. Students Kaylea Moreau and Zack Ward, both 18, shadowed Morin as he attended a health committee meeting on the effects of cannabis. “I was surprised,” Ward says. “They were disagreeing on a lot of stuff, but it was a lot more cordial, I thought.”
Seventeen-year-old Madeleine Soroczan-Wright was shadowing MP Craig Scott and sat in on a meeting of the standing committee on national defence. “I’ve had an interest in politics for a very long time, but it hasn’t really been this much in the forefront of my brain,” she says. “It’s really become a passion just in the last like, five hours. I just think that this is really where I want to be.”
“If our leaders are supposed to represent Canada’s population as a whole, it seems silly to just have one gender, one age, one race, one socioeconomic background, one sexual orientation and so on representing Canada,” she adds.
Ward and Moreau also observed a need for more diversity among Canada’s politicians. “Most of the room [at the health committee meeting] was older white men, and I think it is a problem that we’re on our way there and we have a bit of representation, but we’re still lacking in a huge way,” Ward says, noting that there are currently no trans-identified MPs.
“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have that representation there, especially when so many of the issues facing trans people today are going through Parliament, like the transgender bill,” he says.
The lack of trans representation in Parliament is something that hits home especially hard for student Lyra Evans. “I would like to go into politics, but right now I don’t feel that the environment is trans-woman friendly enough to see myself ever getting elected somewhere,” she says. “I don’t think it would be possible for me to run an office, and I feel like I have higher aspirations than office assistant or background adviser . . . I don’t know if the social structure is there to elect a trans woman to office.”
The issue of trans inclusion is one that Morin says Parliament still has a way to go with. He stresses the need for trans-identified people to be politically involved and for the government to let go of some of its more strictly gendered ideas. It’s the responsibility of all political parties, he says.
“For me it was a no-brainer to make [Rainbow Day] a non-partisan day because we need to give more positive role models to kids, and it is not a task or a responsibility for only one party.” Despite this, five of the six participating MPs were from the NDP, with Brison as the lone Liberal. Morin says Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth, the first openly gay senator in Canada, has consistently been invited by both his office and Jer’s Vision but hasn’t been able to attend. In a recent interview with Global News, Nancy Ruth said she would prefer to see LGBT politicians hold a seminar for youth.
Still, for many students, the day served as an eye-opening experience, helping them see a future in politics for themselves. “It just really inspires me to think that I, too, can be here and this is an open place that I’m able to be accepted and respected,” Soroczan-Wright says. “It’s really powerful.”