Ontario premier Doug Ford has doubled down on his support for Brantford-Brant candidate Will Bouma following criticism of the conservative politician’s ties to a homophobic church.
In comments to the press on May 18, Ford addressed reports that Bouma, a member of Ontario’s provincial parliament currently running for reelection, held a senior role with an anti-LGBTQ2S+ religious group. According to the news outlet Press Progress, Bouma sat on the Free Reformed Missions International Church’s board from 2011 until 2017, during which he also helped lead the Free Reformed Churches of North America’s youth and education committee.
Both groups are openly homophobic. The Free Reformed Missions International Church adopted a formal “position on homosexuality” in 2016, which states that “God’s condemnation extends to all homosexual desires and acts” and that LGBTQ2S+ people would be punished on “the day of His wrath.”
Amid calls for the candidate to drop out of the provincial race, Ford defended Bouma as “incredible person” and an “incredible man with an incredible family.”
“Anyone who knows Will knows that’s not his views,” Ford told reporters.
Bouma, who was first elected in 2018, also criticized the report. He noted that his daughter, Lena, is a lesbian.
“I am a proud, loving and supportive father to a daughter who is a member of the LGBTQ community,” Bouma tweeted on May 18. “My views are clear, I support the rights of all of my constituents regardless of orientation. I had no involvement in writing these articles.”
The articles to which Bouma is referring were published in a magazine, Youth Messenger, that he personally oversaw as part of the Free Reformed Churches of North America’s youth committee. In one such piece, the publication attempted to stop LGBTQ2S+ kids from coming out, and urged them to reject the “homosexual lifestyle.”
“Those of us who are raised in a church where homosexuality has always been considered a sin, even a grievous one, probably are more aware of the militant and strident homosexuals who publicly flaunt their lifestyle as in Gay Pride parades, or suffer from HIV, STDs and addiction,” reads a passage from the magazine’s September 2015 issue cited in the Press Progress report.
The Free Reformed Churches of North America confirmed that its views, which include advocating conversion therapy, have not changed since Bouma served on its board.
“What was published in the Youth Messenger and on our site is, in fact, what our church believes and what we teach,” a representative told Press Progress. “Will [Bouma] is a fantastic guy and he believes what the Bible teaches. Will is as much a member of our denomination as I am.”
The scandal has led many, including members of opposition parties, to call for Bouma to resign immediately.
“The news that @WillBoumaBrant, a full-grown adult, promotes homophobic and hateful views is terrifying,” Toronto Centre Liberal candidate David Morris tweeted last week. “If these allegations are true, he can’t stay as a candidate for the Conservatives.”
Ford himself has had a shaky relationship with the LGBTQ2S+ community. In 2019, his administration attempted to roll back an inclusive sex-ed curriculum by reintroducing guidelines dating back to the ’90s that omited concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity. Although Ford’s government later backtracked on this, an updated policy made it so that these concepts are taught in older grades and gave parents the ability to opt their children out of the curriculum.
Ford also famously declined to march at the Toronto Pride Parade in 2019, citing the event’s exclusion of uniformed police officers, a decision made by LGBTQ2S+ organizers in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. And back in 2o14, Ford defended his brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, following a pair of controversial decisions to vote against a study on a shelter for homeless LGBTQ2S+ youth and abstain from joining in a standing ovation for Toronto’s World Pride festival.
“Rob is not homophobic,” Doug Ford said at the time. “He’s spendaphobic.”
While there seems to be no indication of Bouma dropping out of the race any time soon, his scandal is just one of many tainting a candidate’s image during the 2022 provincial election. Just last week, fellow Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario candidate Stephen Lecce made headlines for having participated in a “slave auction” event at his university fraternity in 2006, and the Ontario Liberal Party fired three candidates for past controversial behaviour, including instances of homophobia.
The 2022 Ontario provincial election will take place on June 2.