In two weeks, British Columbians decide who will represent them in the provincial legislature, and among those angling for a seat in Victoria are more LGBT candidates than ever before.
Between the province’s three main political parties, 15 openly LGBT candidates are running, up from eight main-party LGBT candidates in the last BC election. (The last election also saw one gay candidate running for the BC Conservatives and one independent, for a total of 10 openly queer candidates in 2013 — five of whom got elected.)
This year, the BC Green Party is running Nicola Spurling (Coquitlam-Maillardville), Ian Soutar (Coquitlam-Burke Mountain), Veronica Greer (Surrey-Panorama), and Jennifer Holmes (Abbotsford-Mission).
The BC Liberals are running Nigel Elliott (Vancouver-West End) and Stacey Piercey (Victoria-Swan Lake).
The BC NDP is running the largest slate of LGBT candidates: newcomers Morgane Oger (Vancouver-False Creek), Sue Powell (Parksville-Qualicum), Stephanie Goudie (Peace River South) and Gerry Taft (Columbia River-Revelstoke), and incumbents Mable Elmore (Vancouver-Kensington), Mike Farnworth (Port Coquitlam), Jennifer Rice (North Coast), Nicholas Simons (Powell River–Sunshine Coast) and Spencer Chandra Herbert (Vancouver-West End).
Xtra interviewed a cross-section of the parties’ LGBT candidates for this story. While they represent parties and platforms from across the political spectrum, everyone Xtra spoke to agreed on the importance of having queer voices represented in BC’s government.
“I think often LGBTQ2+ people are forgotten by a lot of people in the legislature, if [they’re] not involved in the community,” says Green candidate Nicola Spurling. “It’s important we have people in the legislature that understand the struggles of marginalized groups.”
A project coordinator at SNC-Lavalin, Spurling also sits on the Vancouver Pride Society’s board of directors, chairing the outreach committee.
Nigel Elliott, of the BC Liberals, agrees. “I think through the BC legislature, through elected office, [that’s] one of the strongest ways you can have a good impact on your community. So every community does need to be represented,” he says.
An independent public affairs consultant, this may be Elliot’s first time running for office but he’s no stranger to the workings of government, having previously been a researcher at the BC legislature and a ministerial aide. He volunteers with a gay men’s health organization that provides counselling for at-risk youth, and is a visual artist whose work typically focuses on themes of sexuality and personal identity.
Elliot is facing off against another gay candidate in Vancouver-West End — incumbent Spencer Chandra Herbert of the BC NDP. Chandra Herbert, who recently became a father for the first time, is seeking his fourth term in office.
Chandra Herbert agrees that having LGBT representatives in government is as important today as ever.
“You can’t understand how a system discriminates against you completely or not unless you’ve lived it,” he says.
One subject on which Chandra Herbert and Elliott differ is what should be done about independent schools that have anti-LGBT admissions policies yet receive funding from the provincial government.
Chandra Herbert says unequivocally that no school should receive public tax dollars if it discriminates against LGBT families.
Elliot admits that news of such discrimination makes him angry and his first impulse is to say their funding should be cut. But, he says, upon reflection he’s come to question that reaction.
“Is immediately eliminating their funding the best approach? I don’t think so,” he says. “We need to explore other things we can do to bring those schools into compliance in a way that we don’t push people to the margins.”
Ian Soutar, one of the BC Green Party’s youngest candidates, says it’s important for constituents to have access to a variety of choice in schools. “But when it comes to government funding to anyone that has any line of discrimination . . . I think that’s absolutely outrageous,” he says.
Soutar is the communications chair for the Young Greens of Canada and youth representative for the Green Party of Canada. He says while he’s not a one-issue candidate he tries to campaign with a focus on how issues will impact youth.
NDP incumbent Mable Elmore says anyone who experiences discrimination should be able to seek assistance to make sure their human rights are protected. “My expectation is all institutions obey the law. We have a Human Rights Code that prohibits discrimination so it’s my expectation that be upheld throughout the province.”
She would like to see the BC Human Rights Commission reinstated to help more people bring their cases to the tribunal.
One subject of particular interest to many gay men in BC is easier access to Truvada for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) which, taken daily has been found to significantly prevent HIV transmission. On this topic, Elliott and Chandra Herbert seem to agree: both say British Columbians need better coverage for PrEP.
Last fall, Vancouver’s Health Initiative for Men called on the BC Liberals’ health minister, Terry Lake, to fund Truvada as PrEP by adding it to the list of drugs covered provincially through Pharmacare.
In an emailed statement last September, Lake told Xtra that BC will work with other provinces to negotiate a lower price for PrEP. But nothing has been announced, even though Health Canada approved Truvada for PrEP more than a year ago.
PrEP is one of the subjects Elliot says he hears about most from queer constituents in the West End, and he believes it’s an important next step in one day seeing HIV eradicated.
“I do, as a candidate, support expanded access to and funding for PrEP. And if elected as an MLA of course I’ll continue to advocate for that,” Elliot says, adding that it’s important to remember PrEP is not right for everyone. “It only prevents against HIV, not other STIs [sexually transmitted infections], so it’s just one tool in the tool kit.”
Chandra Herbert says the government needs to examine the health care costs for people living with HIV versus the cost of prevention through an effective tool like Truvada.
“The answer will be pretty clear,” he says. “I can’t tell our pill regulator exactly what to do, because we try to keep the politics out of ‘is this particular prescription approved’ but . . . This looks like it works, so why isn’t the government taking steps to make it widely available?”
Spurling agrees and urges the government to research PrEP.
“My stance is that we need to do some research on Truvada and we need to look at if that’s the best option,” she says. “And if that’s the best option — which it seems to be — then we should be funding it.”
All the LGBT candidates Xtra spoke to for this piece pointed out that many of the issues that concern their queer constituents are the same as their straight neighbours.
Affordability in BC was mentioned by all the candidates. Spurling says she’s also been hearing about a need to protect the province’s water; Soutar, about the need for mental health services; Elliot’s younger constituents in the West End want ride-sharing services like Uber, while older residents, according to Chandra Herbert, are fearful they will lose their housing. Elmore says she’s been hearing about the need for childcare for families, and Nicholas Simons says in his Powell River riding, which is ferry dependent, transportation is always a concern.
“Our issues are the same as others,” says Simons. “We’re concerned about child care, we’re concerned about minimum wage, we’re concerned about the environment and jobs. We want to have a vibrant community that’s a good place to live, a safe place to live.