I wrote an article on gay Tories in 2005 for Xtra and, at the time, couldn't find a single out Conservative lesbian to interview. If I recall, now-Conservative senator Nancy Ruth, formerly Nancy Jackman, was still sitting as a Progressive Conservative in the upper chamber, so she didn't qualify at the time for an article on gays in Stephen Harper's party.
I have no idea if Sue-Ann Levy was a card-carrying Conservative in 2005. But now that Levy is running for Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives in the upcoming St. Paul's by-election in midtown Toronto, we can now finally point to a high profile out lesbian who's active in Conservative politics. (We can also point to Jackman, who joined the federal Conservative caucus in 2006, but clearly she's not as high profile as Levy.)
Will Levy's candidacy cause a cascade of right-thinking lesbians to join the PCs or Harper's Tories? I doubt it. But I guess I'm the wrong person to ask.
Levy's by-election run greatly reminds me of Nancy Jackman's run in 1993 in the old riding of St. George-St. David, which encompassed parts of Rosedale and Toronto's gay village. Jackman ran under the pre-Common Sense Revolution banner of former Ontario PC Leader Mike Harris. Similarities with today's run by Levy are obvious.
In 1993, Mike Harris's endorsement of an out lesbian candidate was undoubtedly a one-riding strategy masking a larger, regressive agenda. Jackman, of course, lost the by-election to Liberal Tim Murphy. Harris went on to unleash his far-right platform in 1994 once he realized there were more votes to be won by vilifying the gay community and any other group or profession deemed unpopular at the time. In 1994, Harris led his entire caucus in voting against equal rights for same sex couples (I do admit the Liberal record that year was almost as dismal.)
I suspect that Levy's candidacy today now merely masks a similar, far-right and thoughtless agenda by new leader Tim Hudak, a protege of Harris who won the leadership this year promising to turn back the clock to 1995. If Hudak can stoke the fires of resentment and ignorance, he seems like the kind of guy more than happy to do it, Levy or no Levy.
Had Jackman won the 1993 by-election, would her Red Tory presence in Harris' caucus made them more open-minded to diversity? I highly doubt it. If Levy wins the St. Paul's by-election, I don't think it'll signal a new direction for Tim Hudak either. The strategy of putting up Levy in this very Red Tory riding smacks very much of local opportunism: running a fiscally conservative, socially liberal, Jewish columnist to win a high profile race.
The sad thing is should Levy lose, it'll likely embolden the Randy Hilliers of the party to steer as far right as possible in the run-up to 2011. I'm not sure how the by-election will go. The Tories will be putting their best Red Tory face forward. And now the Grits are sounding a little scared. Their candidate, Dr. Eric Hoskins, is impressive, but not as feisty or well-known as Levy. It'll be an interesting result, whatever the outcome.