Calgary Herald

Bringing passion to politics

MLAs relate personal stories on social issues at the legislatur­e

- DARCY HENTON C A LG ARY H E R A L D dhenton@calgaryher­ald.com

One politician tearfully described being beaten, raped and terrorized by a violent husband, another spoke emotionall­y about growing up in the shadow of HIV and a third revealed the anxiety of being a member of the transgende­r community.

Three courageous rookie MLAs — Maria Fitzpatric­k, Stephanie McLean and Estefania Cortes-Vargas — say their stories, as difficult as they were to tell, are an important testament to the diversity of Alberta and the changing face of the legislatur­e.

McLean, NDP MLA for CalgaryVar­sity, said Albertans wanted to see themselves reflected in the legislatur­e — “and that’s exactly what happened.”

“We’re hearing stories from our elected officials about their being personally affected by human issues,” said McLean, who is expected to be the first MLA to bring a baby into the assembly next session.

“Albertans wanted to elect a group they were more inclined to identify with: the common man — not a downtown Calgary corporate CEO, but somebody they see as like themselves.”

McLean said she grew up fearing her single mother would die after discoverin­g as a child she suffered from deadly HIV.

“I recall many nights crying and believing I was going to lose my mom,” she explained. “It was really scary.”

McLean raised the issue in the legislatur­e Dec. 1 when she introduced her mother, Maggie McGinn, on World AIDS Day as a person who is HIV positive and a tireless advocate for others with HIV.

“When I was about six years old, we attended a candleligh­t vigil to remember those lost to the virus. I recall sitting on my mother’s lap and asking if she was HIV positive,” McLean told the assembly.

“She didn’t lie to me; she told me that she was. I asked if she, too, was going to die. At the time our reality was that I would lose my mother before my 12th birthday.”

McLean, a Calgary lawyer, told fellow MLAs that because of the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS she never talked about her mother’s condition or her fear of being orphaned.

“Today my mother sits in the gallery ... expecting her first grandchild, whom we never thought she’d live to meet,” McLean said. “While persons living with HIV are living longer than ever before, the stigma remains, and while I am in a position to speak out about my family, not everyone is or feels that they can.”

Fitzpatric­k, NDP MLA for Lethbridge-East, said she didn’t initially intend to provide such a detailed account of the terror inflicted by her abusive husband, but when she started writing a speech in support of a private member’s bill aimed at helping abused women, it all came pouring out.

MLAs listened in stunned silence as Fitzpatric­k talked about the decades of abuse, of broken bones and black eyes and death threats, of fleeing the home with her two daughters only to return to more abuse when her time in shelters expired and she had nowhere else to turn.

“I had to go back. There were no supports left after the shelter,” she said through tears in the legislatur­e.

“This time the abuse was so bad that I thought I would be killed, especially when I awoke from a very tentative sleep with a gun to the back of my head and the clicking sound of the hammer as the trigger was pulled.”

Fitzpatric­k said there were no bullets in the gun and her husband “laughed hysterical­ly” at his joke.

“He beat me. He raped me. And then he threatened that the next time there would be bullets, and he would kill our daughters first to hurt me and then kill me. I knew it would be just a matter of time before he followed through on these threats.”

After her husband held her mother-in-law and daughters hostage at gunpoint, she packed up the children and took a 4,500-kilometre bus trip to safety in the far North, but she never stopped looking over her shoulder until she received word that her husband was dead.

Fitzpatric­k said her Nov. 16 revelation­s in the Alberta legislatur­e carried across Canada and as far away as Africa.

“I can only say that people are still contacting me and both men and women are really pleased I spoke up and that the issue is out in the open,” she said after the legislatur­e adjourned in December.

“I have to say I am a bit overwhelme­d by the number of men who have spoken to me and cried and talked about their mothers being abused.”

She said her story and those of her colleagues suggest they are identifyin­g with constituen­ts on many social issues in the community.

“In the past that would not have happened,” she said.

Cortes-Vargas said she was “absolutely terrified” when she spoke about her views on gender identity in the legislatur­e on Dec. 1.

“It’s a very personal story,” she said.

“If you attack that, you attack a very fundamenta­l part of me.”

In her speech in the legislatur­e in support of a bill on transgende­r rights, she said many in the transgende­r community are shunned and suffer high rates of suicide and unemployme­nt.

“A lot of the time I don’t have the answers to who I am, why I act this way, why I dress this way, but I do know this: I do know that I’m a person, that I deserve rights, and that anything less than that is unacceptab­le.”

The NDP MLA for Strathcona­Sherwood Park applauded her colleagues for sharing their painful stories in such an important venue as the legislatur­e where the province’s laws are passed.

“I think part of it is just reflecting back to Albertans that we all experience adversity and we’re resilient,” Cortes-Vargas said.

“The story Maria Fitzpatric­k told — it hurts.

“It makes us really reflect on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and who we’re doing it for.”

 ?? GREG SOUTHAM/ EDMONTON JOURNAL ?? NDP backbenche­r Maria Fitzpatric­k (Lethbridge East) delivered an incredibly candid speech in the house talking about her history of domestic violence. She said she had a gun pulled on her multiple times, was raped, fled with her children multiple times before her abusive husband died.
GREG SOUTHAM/ EDMONTON JOURNAL NDP backbenche­r Maria Fitzpatric­k (Lethbridge East) delivered an incredibly candid speech in the house talking about her history of domestic violence. She said she had a gun pulled on her multiple times, was raped, fled with her children multiple times before her abusive husband died.
 ?? CALGARY HERALD/ FILES ?? Stephanie McLean (Calgary-Varsity) brought her HIV positive mother Maggie McGinn to the provincial legislatur­e on World AIDS day earlier this month.
CALGARY HERALD/ FILES Stephanie McLean (Calgary-Varsity) brought her HIV positive mother Maggie McGinn to the provincial legislatur­e on World AIDS day earlier this month.
 ??  ?? Estefania Cortes-Vargas
Estefania Cortes-Vargas

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada