The new generation of gay Conservative sellouts

OPINION: Melissa Lantsman’s and Eric Duncan’s refusals to call out their party’s transphobia is a betrayal of the LGBTQ2S+ community

Never underestimate the willingness of rich, cis, conservative gay people and so-called allies to sell out the rest of us.

In the 1970s, some gay community leaders turned their backs on the “less respectable” (read: trans, gender-weird, drag-performing, poor, racialized and/or flaming) members of their community in a cynical ploy to gain acceptance and power for themselves—at the expense of their more marginalized peers. There’s no better example than when, in 1973, the New York Pride Committee tried to bar trailblazing trans women of colour Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera from participating in the Pride parade because they were giving the organization “a bad name.” This decision by the local Pride committee exemplified a broader trend where some gay activists sought to push out more marginalized community members to win respectability and influence. 

Flash forward 50 years and history is repeating itself in Canadian politics. As anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate rises across Canada, with even CSIS sounding the alarm, and trans lives being used as a political punching bag by far-right groups, Melissa Lantsman and Eric Duncan, the two (and only two) openly gay Conservative MPs, and other Conservative MPs who’ve called themselves our allies, are turning their backs on LGBTQ2S+ rights.

Following federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre siding with transphobes in his opposition to gender-affirming care for minors, his remarks at rallies about so-called “gender ideology” and, most recently, his comments in support of banning trans women from women’s washrooms, not only have Duncan and Lantsman refused to speak out, Lantsman went so far as to defend Poilievre’s comments. Asked about his stance by the Hill Times last week, Lantsman said, “I think the leader has made his common sense Conservative position very clear, and our caucus stands by it, alongside most Canadians.” 

In 2006, under Conservative leader Stephen Harper, it seemed like “common sense” to oppose marriage equality. Most Canadians opposed it. The whole Conservative caucus voted against it

Lantsman, after publicly urging the Conservatives to shed their homophobia in a 2019 op-ed in the Globe and Mail, is now happy to support a leader who opposes the rights of some in the LGBT2S+ community: trans people. 

When the Hill Times asked Michelle Rempel Garner—who has historically been a vocal ally to LGBTQ2+ people within the Conservative Party—she literally ran away from the reporter, Chelsea Nash. Similarly, Scott Atchison deflected questions on the issue. 


When I tagged Lantsman and Duncan in a social media thread on expressing concern about Poilievre’s rhetoric two weeks ago, Lantsman resorted to a cheap partisan attack (on my non-partisan self) instead of answering my questions. It seems there’s no low she won’t sink to to cast a bad light on Trudeau.

As was done in the ’80s and ’90s with regards to gay people, social conservatives are using stigma, ignorance and outlier examples of trans people being bad or messy (as all people—gay, straight, cis or trans are capable of) to paint a misleading picture and to frame acceptance of a minority group as a threat to the family or to the safety of women and children. Social conservatives, by targeting those who are deemed most “deviant” or who fall furthest outside of society’s gender norms—in this case, trans people—hope to turn the public against the whole queer community, create a social environment poisoned against us and jeopardize the progress we have made.

I hope Duncan, Lantsman and LGBTQ2S+ allies in the Conservative Party understand the dangerous game their leader is playing. By kowtowing to the will of homophobes and transphobes, Poilievre is fanning the flames of hate toward all queer people—emboldening bigotry and contributing to a culture of fear. We’ve seen it escalate in the U.S. and in the U.K. already. 

In 2024, we deserve a Canadian political landscape where the rights of minorities aren’t partisan. Where trans and queer people don’t have to worry that a Conservative prime minister might jeopardize our rights or contribute to a new era of homophobia and transphobia. 

Poilievre is already leading in the polls. He doesn’t need to punch down on trans people to win. But, after using trans people as a wedge issue, social conservatives will hold him to his comments and push for regression on queer and trans rights if and when he is in power.

I can only hope Lantsman and Duncan—alongside supposed allies of queer people in the Conservative movement—recognize what’s at stake for the whole queer community if Poilievre continues with his anti-trans politics and rhetoric. I can only hope that, behind closed doors, if nowhere else, they’re pushing Poilievre to course-correct.

Poilievre crossed a line by opposing transgender rights and echoing the rhetoric of anti-LGBTQ2+ groups. Human rights shouldn’t be partisan, nor should they be politicized. We need all of you—queer and allied Conservatives, be you an MP or party activist—to speak up. Because our whole community will pay a price otherwise.

Fae Johnstone (they/she) is an organizer, educator and writer focused on gender, sex and sexuality. She is based on unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin Territory (Ottawa, ON). You can follow them on Twitter @FaeJohnstone.

Read More About:
Politics, Power, Opinion, Canada, Trans

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