Today in LGBTQ+ history…
On February 29, 1988, Svend Robinson became the first Canadian Member of Parliament to come out as gay. He was the only openly LGBTQ2 member of the House of Commons until 1994, when Bloc Québécois MP Réal Ménard came out as gay.
Robinson is now retired. But 35 years ago, when he became the first MP to come out as gay, Canada was battling the HIV/AIDS crisis. Fear of the disease, coupled with long-standing social stereotypes, meant homophobia was rampant across the country.
Robinson was only 27 years old when he began his political career in 1979, being elected to represent the suburban Vancouver-area constituency of Burnaby for the New Democratic Party (NDP). On February 29, 1988, he sat down with CBC reporter Barbara Frum and told her he was gay.
“Nobody had ever done it before, and many people said this was political suicide,” Robinson recalled in 2018.
Thankfully, it wasn’t political suicide, and Robinson was re-elected six months after he came out, winning by a larger margin than he’d ever had before. He remained in office for another 16 years, before deciding not to run in the June 2004 election. At the time, he was one of the longest-serving members in the House of Commons, having been elected and re-elected for seven consecutive terms.