June 10, 2017 4:52 pm
Updated: June 13, 2017 12:05 am

Wildrose staff member alleges party members sent him anti-gay messages for planning to attend Pride event

WATCH ABOVE: An openly gay staff member for Alberta's Opposition Wildrose Party took to social media alleging party members sent him anti-gay messages because he planned to attend a Pride event. Now there are calls for resignations. Julia Wong reports

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Hours before thousands of Edmontonians were expected to take part in an annual parade celebrating gender and sexual diversity, an openly gay staff member for Alberta’s Opposition Wildrose Party took to social media alleging party members sent him anti-gay messages because he planned to attend a Pride event.

Cody Johnston, a legislative and outreach assistant for the party, took to Facebook Saturday morning and wrote he was “wondering why the Wildrose base is so god damn homophobic.”

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Johnston has worked for the party for seven years and said his sexual orientation was known to the party and leader Brian Jean.

Johnston also posted a number images with messages suggesting he should not be attending Sunday’s Edmonton Pride Run and Walk under the Wildrose banner.

READ MORE: Gloomy weather doesn’t stop thousands of Edmontonians from attending 2017 Pride Parade

“How the hell do you few get to say you represent the Wildrose party in this highly divisive and historically ethically charged event?” one message reads. “Represent yourself but in no way do you represent the vast majority of Wildrose members!”

“The parades have become nothing but sexual lewdness and it should not be tolerated or allowed in public,” the message goes on to say. “There is nothing to be proud of here.

“There are more important things to do in life and government than promote this sexual perversion.”

“You certainly may do whatever you wish in your own private time,” another message reads. “But do not give viewers the impression that this is Wildrose approved.”

View a gallery of messages Johnston said he received from other Wildrose Party members:

“It’s incredibly disheartening to have received these messages from Wildrose members about attending an event that is supposed to promote love and acceptance,” Johnston told Global News in a statement Saturday, adding that in the hours after he publicly shared those messages, he had received messages of support from various Wildrose members and MLAs, including party leader Brian Jean.

“I am calling for the removal of these members and I am confident these hate-filled comments will be seriously addressed by the party,” Johnston went on to say. “I would personally expect the resignation of these members before punitive action happens for the integrity of the party and all the good things Wildrose stands for.”

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao represented the Wildrose Party at Saturday’s Pride Parade in Old Strathcona.

Yao told Global News the comments to Johnston were “unfortunate.”

“To be honest with you, it’s quite embarrassing. I hope those – that very vocal minority – will get weeded out and we will continue to represent the majority of Albertans,” he said.

When asked what the hateful messages say about the party, Yao said “it’s just disappointing.

“We have to recognize these attitudes will take some time to change. We’re just trying to work towards that.”

Yao said those members behind the messages will be “addressed appropriately.” Global News asked him to specify exactly what that meant and whether it included those members stepping down or being asked to resign.

“That’s for some people to discuss, certainly, but we’re not supportive of any hateful comments or any kind of bullying. It’s hard to say.

“I wouldn’t be standing proud next to any of them myself.”

On May 18, 2017, Wildrose leader Brian Jean and Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney announced a tentative agreement has been reached to unify the political parties into the United Conservative Party.

READ MORE: Alberta PCs, Wildrose unveil plans to merge, create United Conservative Party

Watch below: On May 18, 2017, Brian Jean and Jason Kenney announced plans to unite their parties in order to form the United Conservative Party.

The deal still has to be approved by 75 per cent of Wildrose members and just over 50 per cent of PC members.

Global News asked Yao whether he thinks LGBTQ members may have a tough time being a part of the united party.

“I think they have to recognize conservatives are also about basic human rights like everyone deserves,” he said.

Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke was the lone Progressive Conservative MLA at the Pride Parade; he did not march in the parade but attended it.

“The important thing is that in Alberta… everyone has a place in Alberta,” he said when asked to comment about the situation.

“It’s unfortunate there are still some of those attacks that go on.”

When asked how he sees these types of inclusivity issues affecting a united conservative party, Starke said it demonstrates there is still a long way to go when it comes to fostering acceptance.

“It’s absolutely critical that we demonstrate that we’re inclusive and we’re socially progressive. If that’s something the parties fail to demonstrate, I think there’s a potential problem,” he said.

“I think it’s incredibly important we are open and inclusive and welcoming to all. I would hope that if there is going to be a new entity, it would continue on with that.”

Under its current name, the Wildrose Party has existed since 2008 and first saw significant political success in 2012 when it formed the official Opposition in the Alberta legislature. However, the party has been criticized by some in the past for not going far enough to promote inclusiveness and for anti-gay comments made by party members.

Just days before the 2012 provincial election, one of the party’s candidates – Allan Hunsperger – made headlines when it was revealed he had written a blog warning homosexuals that Satan was setting a “trap” for them and if they didn’t change their ways, they would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire.”

In an effort to move past the fallout of the Hunsperger controversy, Wildrose members voted to affirm a party policy denouncing intolerance against anyone at its annual general meeting in 2013.

However, party members later voted against adopting as policy a statement supported by then-leader Danielle Smith that affirmed the rights of everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation and other differences.

In 2014, Terrence Lo – a constituency vice-president for the party – resigned over the party’s refusal to adopt the policy. In his resignation letter, Lo said as an “Asian, atheist parent of a gay son… can’t in good conscience stay with the party.”

READ MORE: Wildrose vice-president quits over party’s refusal to endorse equal rights policy

Soon after, Smith and eight other Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives in a shocking political development. The former Wildrose leader later said the party’s failure to adopt the policy was one of her reasons for switching parties.

Last year, the Wildrose’s finance critic Derek Fildebrandt was suspended from caucus for a comment he made on his Facebook page. Someone posted on Fildebrandt’s page to congratulate him for telling the truth about “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as,” referring to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is openly gay. Fildebrandt replied: “Proud to have constituents like you!”

READ MORE: Alberta MLA Derek Fildebrandt suspended from Wildrose caucus over ‘unacceptable’ social media comment

Watch below: On May 28, 2016, Tracy Nagai filed this report as people from across Alberta weighed in on a social media post that landed Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt in hot water.

Fildebrandt later apologized for the comment, saying he misread the original poster’s comment before he replied. His suspension was lifted soon after.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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