OTTAWA – Dany Morin almost didn’t go into politics because he was gay.
“I was very afraid at that time that my sexual orientation might limit my chances of being elected,” he says.
But he was inspired when he heard about three MPs who came out while in office: NDP MP Libby Davies, Liberal Scott Brison and former NDP MP Svend Robinson.
“I saw that their constituents re-elected them even knowing that they were LGBT individuals,” he says. “That gave me a lot of hope.”
Now an NDP MP elected in 2011, Morin started Rainbow Day on the Hill three years ago to give young people a positive political role model from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
But just as important, he says, is telling politicians that it’s ok to come out.
“I’m a strong believer to not ‘out’ people, but that’s why I think that this day is really important, because out of the 308 MPs, some people are still living in the closet,” Morin says.
“There are some people in Parliament who are still afraid of being who they are.”
Inspired by a similar initiative for women, the 28-year-old MP for Chicoutimi-Le Fjord, Que. started his event in 2012, in conjunction with anti-bullying program Jer’s Vision.
On Tuesday, 10 to 12 teenagers will shadow six MPs for the day: New Democrats Morin, Craig Scott, Randall Garrison, Philip Toone and Libby Davies; and Liberal MP Scott Brison.
“Those kids will see that LGBT politicians pretty much do everything that straight politicians do,” Morin says.
Brison says politicians who are gay or lesbian should come out publicly.
“I can think of no reason why a politician in today’s context would not come out totally,” says Brison.
“And my experience is that it takes a huge burden off of yourself as an individual and as a politician.”
First elected in 1997, Brison became the first openly gay Progressive Conservative MP when he came out in 2002.
When he crossed the floor to the Liberals in 2004, he served as the country’s first openly gay cabinet minister.
Brison, who represents the small rural riding of Kings-Hants, N.S., has been elected four times since he came out as gay.
“People have demonstrated a great openness of heart and mind. You have to trust the people you represent at some point,” he says.
“You’re asking them for their trust, maybe sometimes you have to put your trust in them.”
Brison says role models are “tremendously important” for young people, especially in a profession such as politics that isn’t traditionally associated with the gay and lesbian community.
“I find it hard to understand why somebody my age or younger would not have the gumption to do the same,” he says.
Zack Ward, an 18-year-old high school student from Ottawa, is looking forward to shadowing the MPs on Tuesday and is especially interested in question period.
“It’s important to see that being queer doesn’t automatically mean that you can’t do things other people can,” he says.
“To be able to see there are MPs who are queer and they’re an MP, and they don’t have to be one or the other.”
But Conservative senator Nancy Ruth, Canada’s first openly lesbian senator, doesn’t see much value in the event. She says she wasn’t told about it.
“I think it’s fine to have role models, but I’m not sure…the best way for them to learn, is to shadow an MP or Senator around the Hill,” she says.
Ruth says it’s more important that young people educate themselves about laws and legislation.
“In my opinion it’s better the queers on the Hill would get together and hold a seminar for the kids.”
On Monday, Manitoba-based activist Krystal Kayne will also be on Parliament Hill to encourage youth to sign a 30-pound quilt to say no to bullying.