Jack Layton, leader of Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP), passed away a few weeks ago. He was a man I had admired for many years, and his death struck a chord with more Canadians than I think even he would have expected. For decades Canadian elections were a back and forth battle between the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals - whichever party didn't win was always the Official Opposition Party. Well, not last time. The PCs won (boo! Hiss!) but for the first time in Canadian history, the NDP was the Official Opposition. The Liberal party suffered an historic defeat and the NDP an historic success. Canada's Green Party even won their first official seat, which thrilled me as I think Green party leader Elizabeth May is an absolute dynamo. An historic win - sending a message to not only the Liberal party to get their shit in order, but a message to NDP supporters and millions of other Canadians - we need to remember we're a country with multiple parties....we don't need to concede and vote for "the lesser of two evils."
I first met Jack Layton while I was out dancing at "Buddies" - my local go-to dance club - on a Saturday night out in Toronto when I was around 20/21 years old. Jack had come by to meet the young queer people of the city. Think about that - a candidate for Prime Minister going to one of the local gay nightspots to dance with the young gays, talk to them, listen to them, share with them, encourage them to vote and take an interest in politics.
Jack Layton always marched in the Pride Parades, too. Often his supporters had adorable signs which read "I'm a Layton Homosexual." Cute, eh?
(The last picture I've posted, though it's hard to read, is a snapshot of a chalk message which reads "Thank you for always marching in the Gay Pride Parades" - that's how important this man was to LGBT People - a leader that didnt' pay lip-service, this was a man who genuinely was proud to stand in solidarity with us, and call us Brother.)
This was a man, who with his wonderful wife Olivia Chow, absolutely championed the Equality of LGBT people. Ethnic minorities. The working class. The elderly. The poor. The needy. The "Us's", as Harvey Milk would say.
Was he perfect? No. Show me a politician that is and I'll show you a unicorn. But Jack was an incredible and compassionate man. Simply put, he made me proud to be a Canadian. He embodied what I love most about this country. He gave me Hope that a politician can be elected for the right reasons.
His absence is still felt. Weeks after his death, chalk messages and memorials and flowers and gifts still adorn the plaza of the Toronto City Hall. We won't see something like this in a long, long time.
It's been a number of weeks, and I still get a bit choked up about this. It was amazing for me, as a young guy still coming to terms with my comfort as a gay man, to find myself dancing and talking and sharing experiences with a legitimate party leader, and candidate for Prime Minister of Canada. It made me feel like I was worth something.