Lib­eral MP: ‘Amaz­ing’ how far we have come on LGBTQ2 rights

The Chatham Daily News - - NATIONAL NEWS - JOANNA SMITH

OT­TAWA — Lib­eral MP Randy Bois­son­nault said his time at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford taught him the im­por­tance of stay­ing on top of a busy sched­ule.

There as a Rhodes Scholar study­ing phi­los­o­phy, politics and eco­nomics, Bois­son­nault also took up Ger­man and Span­ish, row­ing and ice hockey — all while mak­ing sure to be far away from his col­lege, Cor­pus Christi, one evening a week.

That was the night a cam­pus pride group held its meet­ings, and Bois­son­nault, who was in the closet at the time, found it too close for com­fort.

“I thought if I came out, I wouldn’t have any ca­reer prospects,” Bois­son­nault, 46, said in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press.

“I wouldn’t be loved. I would lose my fam­ily and my friends and it would be a big, dark, scary hole.”

Com­ing home to Canada in 1996, it was as if the world was shift­ing, he re­called. There were gay role mod­els in politics and pop­u­lar cul­ture. Soon, ben­e­fits were ex­tended to same-sex cou­ples and then, even­tu­ally, mar­riage was too.

“To see all the change that has hap­pened in my life­time and to see how far we’ve come as a coun­try and as a peo­ple is re­ally amaz­ing,” said Bois­son­nault, who was elected to rep­re­sent the rid­ing of Ed­mon­ton Cen­tre in 2015.

There is more work to do, both at home and abroad.

As the spe­cial ad­viser to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau on LGBTQ2 is­sues, Bois­son­nault has been work­ing with ad­vo­cacy groups to pro­mote equal­ity for les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der, queer and two-spir­ited peo­ple — a term used broadly to de­scribe indige­nous peo­ple who iden­tify as part of the com­mu­nity.

Bois­son­nault is a mem­ber of the Lib­eral indige­nous cau­cus and iden­ti­fies as “non-sta­tus adop­tive Cree,” a her­itage traced back to a ma­ter­nal great-grand­mother in the fam­ily that adopted him.

That role of spe­cial ad­viser, which Bois­son­nault took on last Novem­ber, now also has some sup­port.

The 2017 fed­eral bud­get com­mit­ted $3.6 mil­lion over three years to set up and sup­port an LGBTQ2 sec­re­tariat within the Privy Coun­cil Of­fice.

One part of that job is to bet­ter co­or­di­nate the ma­chin­ery of gov­ern­ment so that poli­cies are not blind to sexual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der di­ver­sity.

Bois­son­nault said he saw that hap­pen when Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale an­nounced last year the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had re­vamped a pro­gram that cov­ers up to 50 per cent of the costs for places of wor­ship, schools and com­mu­nity cen­tres to beef up their se­cu­rity in re­sponse to real or an­tic­i­pated threats.

Bois­son­nault said when the leader of a pride cen­tre asked him whether they would be el­i­gi­ble for the fund­ing, he had to go and check with Goodale’s of­fice to find out that yes, they would be.

“Be­cause we didn’t say LGBTQ2 com­mu­ni­ties in there, the com­mu­nity didn’t know,” said Bois­son­nault.

He said view­ing pol­icy through this lens has led to other re­cent de­ci­sions, such as ex­pand­ing a fed­eral tax credit for fertility-re­lated med­i­cal ex­penses to in­clude those who rely on the use of re­pro­duc­tive tech­nol­ogy to have fam­i­lies but are not nec­es­sar­ily con­sid­ered med­i­cally in­fer­tile, such as same-sex cou­ples. As he looks to the fu­ture, Bois­son­nault is also be­ing re­minded of the past: He has also been tasked with ex­plor­ing an apol­ogy to LGBTQ2 peo­ple whose lives and ca­reers were harmed by dis­crim­i­na­tory gov­ern­ment poli­cies over the decades.

That was the top rec­om­men­da­tion in a re­port from the Egale Canada Hu­man Rights Trust last June, and nearly a year later, ad­vo­cates have been ex­press­ing frus­tra­tion with the slow pace. Asked for an up­date, Bois­son­nault said only that he con­tin­ues to lis­ten and learn.

“We have to get this right for the Cana­dian con­text and to make sure that once we do have an apol­ogy, that it is broadly ac­cepted by mem­bers of the com­mu­nity,” he said.

The role also in­volves look­ing to the rest of the world, where in many coun­tries, LGBTQ2 peo­ple are still fight­ing for sur­vival — in­clud­ing in Chech­nya, where there are on­go­ing re­ports of gay and bi­sex­ual men be­ing de­tained and killed.

Canada can play a role, said Bois­son­nault, such as work­ing be­hind the scenes at the Com­mon­wealth, where 36 of 52 mem­ber na­tions still crim­i­nal­ize ho­mo­sex­ual ac­tiv­ity in some way. But he’s urg­ing a cau­tious ap­proach.

“We can’t sim­ply come in wav­ing the rain­bow flag and say, ‘This is how you should do things here,’ ” he said.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Lib­eral MP Randy Bois­son­nault is pic­tured on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ot­tawa.

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