Queer MPs and senators from across the political spectrum have come together to launch the country’s first non-partisan Canadian Pride Caucus, with all but one openly queer MPs signed up to join. The goal of the group is to hear from community stakeholders in Canada, as well as abroad, to help their work as parliamentarians and to help amplify voices.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of years now,” says independent senator René Cormier, one of the co-chairs of the caucus, who helped to organize its inception. “All of the conversations I had with stakeholders, and conversations I had internationally—it was part of conversations I had with [Liberal cabinet minister] Randy Boissonnault. When I arrived in the Senate six years ago, I was not working on LGBTQ2S+ issues.”
Cormier has largely spent his career on issues around official languages, particularly for Acadians in his home province of New Brunswick.
“It came from conversations, from travelling and meeting people,” Cormier says. “I knew it was a good idea, I knew people wanted it, but I knew it would be a challenge to put together because people are very busy and it’s difficult to bring them together.”
With help from his staff, Cormier got buy-in from the rest of the out queer MPs and senators (except Conservative MP Eric Duncan, who is not included in the list of members), and finally managed to bring them together to meet for the creation of the caucus.
“Right at the beginning, we agreed [on] certain things—that it would be a non-partisan caucus,” Cormier says. “That we would work on what we agree on, not what divides us. There are a lot of things that we agree on. Some of our objectives would be first to make links to civil society organizations to make sure that we are aware of their issues, and that internationally, we would be in contact with issues happening elsewhere. Within our own Parliament, we can raise awareness with our colleagues.”
Cormier says that they have decided to first meet only as out queer MPs and senators, rather than including allies, even though there is a lot of interest from allies to join.
“We’ll start as a group, and then we’ll see how it’s going to open, but we want to make sure that we’re clear on our vision and our objectives,” Cormier says.
Cormier says that the fact that he is an independent senator and is not part of a party probably helped with the creation. Based on discussions within the group, they came to the consensus of a co-chair model, with Cormier sharing the role with 29-year-old NDP MP Blake Desjarlais from Edmonton, who is the country’s first out Two-Spirit MP.
“He comes from a different generation, he’s Two-Spirit, he comes from the West,” Cormier notes. “We’re working well together. It’s fun.”
Desjarlais was not available for comment.
Cormier being a senator also lends a bit more stability to the role as co-chair, because he can provide continuity following an election, though he says he doesn’t want to think of an outcome where any of the members of the caucus don’t come back.
“That comes with being a senator—thinking over the long term,” Cormier says. “That said, it doesn’t mean I’m going to be the co-chair forever. We want to share leadership, and that’s important for us.”
Cormier has begun to increase his presence internationally, including accepting an invitation to attend World Pride in Serbia this past summer and attending the week’s events.
“In Serbia, the situation is pretty horrible,” Cormier says. “I got to make closing remarks, and I was really moved to be there. Because I’m part of parliamentary associations, and I like to go to Europe, and I am involved in the European Commission, I met with the European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup leaders.”
Cormier says that he received encouragement from those European members, as well as the Global Equality Caucus, which was one of the inspirations for launching the Pride Caucus.
“There is so much work to do internationally, and to show solidarity and just being there, and they were saying [in Serbia] that just having a Canadian senator on stage, speaking to them about what we’re trying to do, was really positive for them,” Cormier says. “For them, it’s a network and they can get contacts.”
The Pride Caucus is planning an inaugural event in February, which they are still putting together, where they can bring in stakeholders and parliamentarians in order to talk about the caucus and what they’re hoping to accomplish.
“We don’t have a strategic plan yet, but we want to make sure that we bring people together for that event,” Cormier says.
The caucus doesn’t yet have plans for specific issues they hope to initially work on, or how they’re going to go about it.
“We don’t have to agree on everything, but we all want things to evolve,” Cormier says. “There are individual actions that will be considered for me as helping the caucus.”
Cormier says that something they all agreed on at the beginning was that Canada has a role to play on the international stage, and that the caucus can play a role there.
“After we say that, how do we manage that in terms of resources or being able to travel, but now that we can work virtually, it can help,” Cormier says. “I want to leave it quite open.”
Could that role include the caucus using their platform to make more forceful pronouncements on the global stage around events like queer and trans rights at the FIFA World Cup?
“The caucus is certainly a place where we can have a conversation within us on those issues,” Cormier says. “The expectations around our being a voice is a conversation we need to have amongst ourselves to ensure that we’re all comfortable. One thing I wouldn’t want is that we’re not comfortable working together because we have to take a position. We’re not a big group, so that’s an advantage.”
Members of the caucus include:
- The Honourable René Cormier, independent senator from New Brunswick (co-chair)
- Mr. Blake Desjarlais, MP (NDP) from Edmonton Griesbach, AB (co-chair)
- Ms. Lisa Marie Barron, MP from Nanaimo—Ladysmith, B.C. (NDP)
- The Honourable Randy Boissonnault from Edmonton Centre, AB, minister of Tourism and associate minister of Finance
- Mr. Randall Garrison, MP (NDP) from Esquimault—Saanich—Sooke, B.C.
- Ms. Melissa Lantsman, MP (CPC) from Thornhill, ON
- The Honourable Seamus O’Regan from St. John’s South—Mount Pearl, NL, minister of Labour
- The Honourable Robert Oliphant from Don Valley West, ON, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Foreign Affairs
- The Honourable Kim Pate, independent senator from Ontario
- The Honourable Pascale St-Onge from Brome—Missisquoi, minister of Sport and minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.