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Canada’s First LGBTQ2 Advisor On What He’ll Actually Be Doing

From the blood ban, to two-spirit people, to HIV criminalization.

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This is Randy Boissonnault. He's an MP for Edmonton Centre, the first openly gay MP elected in Alberta, and he's just been named the LGBTQ2 special advisor to the prime minister.

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But what will that job actually entail? BuzzFeed Canada quizzed Boissonnault on day two of his new role to find out what we can expect.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

First up, the basics.

Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS

BuzzFeed Canada: Tell me exactly, what is it you will be doing in this new advisory role? What is your mandate?

Randy Boissonnault: The role breaks down to three components for me. The first is a coordination role across all different ministries in the government. So we're talking National Defence, we're talking Public Security, Justice, Health, just to name a few.

The second role is to be a focal point for the community. As issues come up, it's important for the community to know who to contact and how to get information.

Thirdly, my role will be to shine light and attention on important issues, and then serve as a spokesperson for government.

BuzzFeed: There's some questions around ensuring that your role is not just symbolic, that there's actually action behind intent. So what would your message be to community members who really want to see change and action?

Boissonnault: I'm not in government to run a process that doesn't lead anywhere. I'm here to get results. The prime minister has asked me to help the government respond in a clear and substantive way.

We raised the pride flag on the Hill for the first time. And for a lot of people that was an important symbol, but other people also see that as substantive change.

We're going to be doing both. Symbols matter, people notice, the trans community noticed that we had the pride flag and trans flag up there with the Canadian flags. That's change. Do we need to move on all the other substantive issues? Absolutely. So I want to see gender markers on official government documents? Yes. But if you think about all the different pathways that have to go through government before we can actually get that information, it's not as simple as it seems when you see it as a line item on a bullet on a recommendation.

Second, righting past wrongs.

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BuzzFeed: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this year that an apology for public servants and military members who lost their jobs for being LGBT was coming soon. When can we expect that now?

Boissonnault: The government's role in this, and the point of the prime minister appointing a special advisor, is to send a very clear signal to the community that we have heard the community loudly and clearly. We also want to make sure that as government, we take the right amount of time to make sure that we get all the elements of an apology right. It's definitely part of the mandate, we're looking at it, we're taking this very seriously, and I want to make sure we do this absolutely correctly.

BuzzFeed: Will that include compensation and the correction of records? Is an apology even worthwhile without those components?

Boissonnault: In that very short question you've touched three ministries. You touched Finance, you touched Justice, you touched Public Security, in one question. And so that's where the coordination role in government becomes really important. It is important to look at the concept of compensation because people's lives and careers were interrupted.

BuzzFeed: And what about clearing the records of Canadians charged under homophobic laws?

Boissonnault: Pardons are the purview of Public Security and obviously this is a case by case question. So that's why we need time. We're talking about hundreds of individuals, thousands. So that's going to take time, that's going to take the cooperation of ministerial staff and department staff to make sure that we get this right.

Third, making sure LGBTQ2 doesn't just turn into "LGB."

Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Buzzfeed: Healthcare is obviously provincial, but I'm wondering what you can do, what the federal government can do, to ensure that trans people have safe and timely health care access.

Boissonnault: One of the things that we face regularly as a federal government when we're talking about major policy issues, is we know there's going to be need for us to work out provincial and territorial counterparts. I see provinces and territories as very different ministries and as partners in this process.

Part of this is going to be to really emphasize best practices from different parts of the country and then encourage those best practices to be adopted in other parts of the country. When you take a look at Alberta, we got gender markers on government ID. And we learned from that experience in our own case here at the federal government. I can tell you that the first group of stakeholders that I was able to meet before the announcement was made, we had Marni Panas from Edmonton who very openly went through a transition process on social media. And Marni, she's now working with Alberta Health Services in this area, and as an advisor to the government. We have smart, dedicated people who want to help and bring their professional and personal experience.

BuzzFeed: Your title and your mandate specifically includes two-spirit people, but often, everything after "LGB" gets lost. So how will you ensure that you're addressing the needs of the two-spirit community?

Boissonnault: It's important for us to have the conversation. It's part of why it's included. It's also a clear indication that as we move down the path of reconciliation with First Nations people, that it's important for us to include this part of our Canadian society. We heard from two-spirited individuals that often they feel that they're the double minority and that they're isolated even within their own community. Part of this is to have the conversation. I think I would say 80% of the interviews done so far, people say 'what is the two?' And so right away we get to talk about two-spirited, we get to talk about the masculine and feminine spirit, we get to talk about it having become an umbrella term for LGBTQ members of the Indigenous community. So already we're helping people understand what we mean.

And finally, HIV/AIDS and the blood ban.

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BuzzFeed: A lot of people in the community were really disappointed when it was announced that the deferral period for blood donation has been bumped down to one year instead of being eliminated altogether. Trudeau himself has expressed disappointment over that, but is there going to be ongoing work around that? Is there a timeline of when that deferral period could be eliminated?

Boissonnault: As an openly gay man in Canada, I can't give blood right now. So I share the prime minister's disappointment in the announcement. I know what we campaigned on. And to [Health Minister Jane] Philpott’s credit, she is determined to keep working on this issue and she's already provided $3 million to Héma-Québec and Canadian Blood Services so they can do additional research. This is an issue Canadians have raised from coast to coast to coast, and it was actually the youth wing of the Liberal party that had this pass as a national policy. So this is our allies, this is LGBTQ2 youth, but it's also allies who have said this doesn't make sense, let's just have a screen for everybody. So we're going to be pursuing this.

BuzzFeed: Another big concern is the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. Is that something that's on your agenda?

Boissonnault: It is on the agenda, and again that is an area of coordination with both Health Canada and the Justice department.

When I was in private practice running my management consultant firm, one of my clients was HIV Edmonton. The criminalization of HIV-positive status was a setback for the community. And it's important, that again, we follow the science. We see the stigmatization of getting tested because of the criminalization. So that is not in the public health interest.

BuzzFeed: Is there any kind of timeframe you could talk about on that?

Boissonnault: It's day two. I still have to meet with the members of the team here in Ottawa so we're going to be working on this. I want to assure your readers and members of the community that we are going to approach this — it sounds really bureaucrat-y — with a whole of government approach to this issue. As we're able to make progress on any of the issues that face the community, we're just going to move. We're not going to wait to batch these things for some big announcement, we're just going to get the work done.

Lauren Strapagiel is Managing Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.

Contact Lauren Strapagiel at lauren.strapagiel@buzzfeed.com.

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