Newly selected Columbia–River Revelstoke NDP candidate Gerry Taft has publicly declared his bisexuality after a news article questioned whether his nomination went against an internal NDP gender equity policy, and his defeated rival also questioned the lack of transparency in the process.
On Oct. 15, NDP members in Columbia River–Revelstoke voted in Taft as their candidate in the 2017 election. He will be replacing Norm Macdonald, who announced his retirement from provincial politics earlier this year.
Taft, 34, is currently in his third term as the mayor of the District of Invermere, and was first elected to council in 2002 at the age of 20. He received the support of outgoing MLA Macdonald in his nomination.
Two days after Taft secured support from local NDP members, Postmedia reporter Rob Shaw wrote an article in the Vancouver Sun questioning whether Taft’s nomination ran counter to an NDP gender equity policy, which mandates that any riding held by a retiring male must be reserved for a female candidate, or members of racial minorities, First Nations, or members of the LGBTQ community.
In an interview, Taft said that he had received the NDP’s blessing internally to represent the riding as a designated equity member, but declined to state which equity group he belonged to.
Taft defeated former District of Invermere council member Spring Hawes for the nomination, and she did speak out against the lack of transparency in Taft’s nomination vis a vis the party’s equity policy.
Hawes questioned how the candidate could “increase representation without disclosing which group you are representing.”
This led to some questioning. Taft is apparently not a visible minority, and is married to wife Nozomi, and they have a one-year-old son together.
The question was left open-ended: what was Taft’s equity status?
In a statement circulated to the Revelstoke Mountaineer by Gerry Taft’s NDP media liaison on the afternoon of Oct. 18, Taft declared that he is bisexual, and that he had wished to keep his equity status private.
“I live with my partner Nozomi and my young son, but I identify as bisexual. This has always been a private matter; as a result, I have never made a public declaration about my sexuality. I’ve never felt that I had to,” Taft said.
“As part of the candidate vetting process, I disclosed to the party the reason that I qualify for equity status. Due to my family situation and my belief that an MLA should represent all people, I chose to keep my equity status private,” he added. “I believed that my privacy would be respected and that I would be able to make my disclosure in my own time, and in my own way, if I chose to do so.”
Taft said he was forced to change his mind in the past few days, in part because of pressure from rival Spring Hawes, whom Taft defeated in a 163 to 85 vote.
“Over the last few days, it has become clear that there are those, including the person I defeated for the nomination, who will continue to insist that my equity status be publicly disclosed,” he said in a statement.
Reaction (updated Oct. 19 at 6 p.m.)
When reached for comment after Taft’s disclosure, Spring Hawes said she was glad that Taft had “stepped up” and disclosed his equity status.
“I think members of the community that he has identified with will look to him to be a representative for them in his political life, particularly if he should become MLA,” Hawes said. “As a person with a disability and as a woman I have spoken up clearly for the rights of underrepresented people and I hope that he will take the opportunity to do the same when it arises.”
Hawes was seriously injured in a mountain biking accident in 2005 that left her with quadriplegia.
However, Hawes rejected Taft’s statements to the effect that she had forced his disclosure, saying that it was Taft’s decision to run and claim the equity status.
She also said that the open question mark of Taft’s equity status had been an issue for her during the campaign. Candidates aren’t required to fill out the equity status paperwork until well into the campaign, and she feels the race should have been run with Taft’s disclosure before, not after the vote.
Hawes supports the BC NDP’s equity policy, but said it needs change.
“I think it needs some refinement. I think there needs to be some clarity,” she said.
For example, Hawes said that the equity policy should support those who have barriers to entering political life.