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7 min

Toronto Centre candidates on the stump

Who you gonna pick?

If there’s one riding in Ontario where queer issues carry a huge amount of weight it’s Toronto Centre. The Church-Wellesley neighbourhood happens to be in the heart of Toronto Centre, so queer businesses and residents in the area carry considerable political clout. The candidates for the four major parties were eager to show off their pink credentials to Xtra. We asked them about trans issues, education, HIV, seniors and public sex in Queen’s Park.

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Sandra González, NDP

Sandra González was raised in Mexico and works in social housing and community development. She says she’s running out of a sense of outrage.

“It’s an issue of social justice and equality,” she says. “Social housing is in shambles. I see highly qualified people who can’t get a job. Healthcare is also in a shambles. I don’t believe in working for people, I believe in working with people.”

González says the NDP will lead the fight for trans rights in Ontario, including adding sex reassignment surgery (SRS) back to the list of services paid for by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).

“I had a conversation circle with the Trans Health Coalition,” says González. “Surgery is top of their list. The NDP is pushing for relisting surgery and for adding trans to the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC). Trans people face discrimination but if they can’t name it in the code how can they deal with it?”

González says she would al so like to see more queer-positive changes to the school curriculum.

“We live in 2007. There are still situations of homophobia,” she says. “More situations of raising homophobia would be appropriate in terms of curriculum. In Mexico we had a class of civics and social sciences, maybe something like that. Maybe an interesting curriculum, alongside statistics, but also bringing in people to share their stories in order for people to be more aware that certain aspects of harassment are not acceptable.”

González says the NDP would push for more compassionate treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS.

“Our message is that we want to support increasing the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to reflect the real cost of living,” she says. “Sometimes people with HIV have to leave work and ODSP doesn’t cover that.”

González says that she will also push for better care for queer seniors but will first fight for better care for all seniors.

“The unique needs of individuals need to be met but we have to face the first problem, which is getting to that stage,” she says. “Some seniors, their ration of fruit each day is half a banana. I am in this because I am a bit fed up with things like this.”

González says the NDP is the party for queers who want to be heard in the riding.

“Our greatest assets are people. If people want for their voices to be heard, the NDP is their choice,” she says.

González says that if she wins she’ll tell visitors that the park around her new place of work was recently named the best place in Toronto to have public sex in the Xtra Best 2007 readers’ survey.

“It’s a unique description of Queen’s Park,” she says. “It’s an interesting story to tell if you have people in from out-of-town and then maybe we can get into LGBT issues.”

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Mike McLean, Green

Mike McLean is a 25-year-old graphic designer who previously ran for the Green Party in British Columbia.

He says the Greens support relisting SRS and adding trans rights to the OHRC.

“The thing I feel particularly strongly about is putting gender identity in the human rights code,” he says. “We’ve been talking about how we can change the attitude within the ministry.”

McLean says that the curriculum in Ontario schools needs to be addressed.

“We need to somehow alter the curriculum. We want to see more environmental education in our curriculum,” he says. “We need to teach our children how to live without intolerance.”

He says the Greens will also push for housing for people with HIV/AIDS.

“We’ll review some of the housing policy, remove any barriers to people living with HIV getting housing,” he says. “We want to provide 200 units of housing a year specifically to those with HIV or AIDS. We want to end poverty, improve Ontario Works, raise aid rates and work toward an annual guaranteed income.”

McLean says he’s not informed on issues around queer senior citizens but that the Green Party is the party best equipped to help queer voters.

“We want to achieve a sustainable province,” he says. “It’s not only the environment but the economy and a sustainable society. We believe in a strong social security net. It’s morally corrupt to let poverty persist but it’s also economically unsustainable. I love seeing people who haven’t been inspired by politics getting excited by our party.”

McLean wouldn’t comment on public sex in Queen’s Park but did say that his campaign might be easier if he were a gay man.

“I wish I was because it seems the way to get elected here.”

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George Smitherman, Liberal

George Smitherman, the openly gay and recently married minister of health and long-term care in the Liberal government, says he wants to continue to represent Toronto Centre because the riding can have a tremendous impact on policies affecting queers.

“I think here in downtown we have to continue to make sure that gays and lesbians continue to lend their influence to the kinds of health service programs we need,” he says. “We have a strong foundation where we are concentrated.”

Smitherman would not commit to relisting SRS under OHIP or to including gender identity in the OHRC but he says he is pushing for greater ease in changing gender on provincial identity documents. Smitherman says he is committed to increasing health access for trans people.

“The trans community should expect from me that their services, whether it be downtown or elsewhere, should improve,” he says.

Smitherman says the fact that the Liberals have a lesbian education minister in Kathleen Wynne is good news for queer students.

“We need to be very mindful of the barriers to gay and lesbian students,” he says. “There must be strong prohibitions against bullying. It’s great to have a lesbian minister. We can make a lot of progress.” Smitherman also says that as health minister he’s done a lot to address issues around HIV/AIDS in the province.

“We’ve made great progress with the government and the community working together,” he says. “We’ve been adding more money into community-based organizations, a high percentage of it in aboriginal communities. We’ve enhanced access to services and anonymous testing. But there’s still places where access is still tenuous.”

Smitherman says changes in treatment will also require changes in care for HIV.

“I have loved ones who have been living with HIV for 20 years,” he says. “I know people who have been living with it for longer. Casey House, there’s an opportunity to really modify care to reflect the reality of the disease.”

Smitherman says he is also focusing on care for seniors.

“It’s not just gays and lesbians but other ethnocultural groups as well,” he says. “We have to make sure that if you go into a long-term facility you’re not forced back into the closet and aging-at-home programs are providing organized care in neighbourhoods and in apartment buildings. Seniors should be able to live on in the house they know.”

Smitherman says the Liberal government has been extremely supportive of queer issues.

“I think the Dalton McGuinty Liberal government has been the most gay-friendly, perhaps ever, in Canada,” he says. “Progress has occurred without fights. Even before gay marriage we passed omnibus bills. If you look at programs oriented to gay and lesbian communities there’s been nothing but a pattern of government of Ontario involvement. I’ve been out, I’ve been proud, I’ve flown the flag.”

When it comes to sex in Queen’s Park, Smitherman is enough of a politician to pass the buck.

“If you’re talking about Queen’s Park, it’s a city park so we’ll have to defer to [city councillor] Kyle Rae,” he says. “But I’m not sure bragging about it is productive.”

But Smitherman does remember an earlier favourite place for gay men.

“I thought it was very, very fitting that the Alexander Wood statue is located near to the [former] CBC parking garage.”

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Pamela Taylor, PC

Pamela Taylor, a lawyer with an MBA and a consultant for small businesses, says she decided to run for office because a dog can get an MRI quicker than a person in Ontario.

“Friends with brain tumours, what they had to go through to get an MRI was horrible,” she says. “But a couple I know who are particularly devoted to their dogs were able to get an MRI for a dog by driving to London and paying $1,000.”

Taylor says that her previous longtime job as legal counsel for TV Ontario sensitized her to queer issues.

She says she has provided some lobbying advice to the Trans Health Alliance.

“I would like to see the addition of language to the Human Rights Code to protect the trans group,” she says. “As for surgery, everything I have heard suggests it should be supported. The party hasn’t taken a stand but in terms of relisting the cost of each surgery may be high but the numbers are low. You can’t listen to the stories and not feel compassion. There was something inherently unfair about the delisting.”

Taylor says schools should educate students about queer realities.

“We need education within education,” she says. “Most of the behaviour we see that we find regrettable comes from ignorance. We need to have part of curriculum be a place to talk about these issues. Supporting Our Youth will actually provide resources in doing that kind of work.”

As for the party plan to fund religious schools, Taylor says queers should be more worried about not funding them.

“I would worry if these schools continue as they are, beyond the radar, to the extent they may be teaching intolerance,” she says.

Taylor says she also wants to see greater support for those living with HIV/AIDS.

“What I continue to hear is that drug availability and funding for drugs still remain on the agenda,” she says. “There needs to be a more transparent process as to which drugs are funded. In terms of community resources there needs to be more hostels and I know there is currently a floor in the Sherbourne Health Centre that can’t be opened due to a lack of funding.”

When it comes to queer seniors Taylor says the Conservatives would pay attention to their needs.

“I think we should be guided by what they tell us we need,” she says. “One of the hallmarks of a John Tory government is listening. I’ve come and spent a lot of time at Church and Wellesley listening to people. We will need better long-term care, better drug plans. The trans population may need separate facilities.”

Taylor says that the party she belongs to is not the same one it used to be.

“This party has absolutely nothing to do with [former Conservative premier] Mike Harris,” she insists. “I would not have been knocking on doors for Mike Harris. Part of our strategy now is to be inclusive. We don’t play favourites, we don’t fund things for political gain. The hallmark is compassion and inclusiveness.”

When it comes to sex in Queen’s Park Taylor says she’ll look the other way.

“As a lawyer I say, ‘Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know,'” she says. “I started out as a copyright lawyer and my son would tell me I’ve burned a new CD or a movie. I would say, ‘Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.’