The Burnaby First Coalition is trying to distance itself from the past of some of its members accused of homophobia. But one of its candidates, who first entered politics by railing against school bullying protections for LGBT youth, signed the nomination papers of a scathing anti-SOGI activist this year and refused to take a stance on local issues affecting gay and transgender people.
Heather Leung, seeking a council seat in the Oct. 20 election under the BFC banner, was a vocal opponent in 2011 of a school board policy designed to prevent discrimination against gay, lesbian and queer staff and students in Burnaby schools.
“What is being recommended in this draft is a deliberate and systemic strategy to indoctrinate our children with a controversial moral teaching that should be left for families to decide on and wrestle through,” she said at a board meeting in 2011.
Leung served as the spokesperson for Burnaby Parents’ Voice, a group formed to oppose the gay- and transgender-positive policy.
In November 2011, Leung unsuccessfully ran for school board alongside five others under the BPV banner, including current BFC candidate Charter Lau.
But Leung told the NOW on Monday that her past political involvement has nothing to do with her current run for city council.
The interview came after BFC representatives took issue on several occasions with the NOW’s coverage of their party, when it mentioned Lau and Leung’s involvement in BPV.
“Burnaby First Coalition, as a party, has no connection to Burnaby Parents’ Voice and we are not a continuation of Burnaby Parents’ Voice or any other party,” she said.
Signing anti-SOGI activist's papers not an endorsement
This year, however, Leung signed the nomination papers for Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, a TV host and outspoken critic of B.C.’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) resource for schools, in her independent bid for Burnaby’s school board.
Tyler Thompson has put the SOGI program at the centre of her campaign.
But Leung said signing Tyler Thompson’s nomination papers should not be seen as an endorsement of her views.
“Like me, entering into politics takes courage, I know,” Leung said.
“I have been the target of intimidation and have experienced bullying on numerous occasions, including media. If someone is willing to take on this challenge and they meet the legal requirement, I will sign their papers.”
Asked how she came to sign the papers and whether the two candidates were friends, Leung said, “she knows people and I know some people and then we may have common friends and that’s it. And she’s famous as you know.”
Leung repeatedly refused to say whether she continued to disagree with SOGI policies. She said BFC had no official stance on the issue.
Queer woman says past should be remembered
BFC’s attempts to move past Leung and Lau’s political beginnings are not convincing to at least one queer former North Burnaby Secondary student.
Serene Carter, who graduated in 2017, was part of the formation of the SOGI policy and said Leung’s decision to sign Tyler Thompson’s papers “is just as bad as saying the same thing she says.”
She said SOGI school policies save lives, as they protect LGBT youth, who have above-average suicide rates, from bullying and discrimination.
Asked what she would say to someone considering casting a vote for Lau or Leung, Carter said “I would tell them to really think about the lives and wellbeing of queer and trans youth.”
When asked to respond to Carter’s comments, Leung said: “We categorically and emphatically [condemn] any form of bigotry. We don’t like bigotry. We are against bigotry, racism, violence and intimidation against any person or group due to any reason.”
No policy on Pride flag at City Hall
Leung did not give a clear answer when the NOW asked whether she would have supported a Burnaby city council decision to raise the Pride flag at City Hall this summer.
“We will look at all proposals and approve them if they meet certain conditions,” she said.
When asked what those conditions would be, she said “the organizer is willing to pay all the additional costs that are required.”
However she seemed to walk back this statement, saying “Right now, we don’t have a policy on this.”
Soon after, Leung cut the phone interview short, saying she had to set up for a Mid-Autumn Festival event. She said she was unavailable the following day to answer further questions from the NOW.
'If you express intolerance ... you're going to be judged on those words'
Mayor Derek Corrigan said he believes it’s important to know whether council candidates are accepting of a diverse community.
“If you express intolerance, if you express racial discrimination, if you express a homophobic approach to people, you’re going to be judged on those words and I don’t think they can distance themselves from that,” he said of Leung and Lau.
SFU political scientist Paddy Smith said the BFC candidates shouldn’t be surprised that questions are still swirling around their past political campaigning.
“I think it’s hard for politicians to deny their antecedents,” Smith said. “What I observe, is them making an attempt to be more mainstream but I’m not sure it’s something that resonates terribly well.”
He said the pair’s visibility at the forefront of the anti-SOGI battle is largely to blame for the perceptions some people still hold of them.
“Part of this game is name recognition, and you want people to name-recognize you in a positive way, rather than a negative way,” he said.
He said the BFC candidates have failed to prove they have changed since 2011. For example, he said, if Lau and Leung had since been seen at Pride events, it may be easier for them to now “change the channel.”