Cost of Entry – 2SLGBTQ+ Candidates in Civic Institutions by Sharon Ma

Apr 15, 2024

For most candidates, the race starts before the current term is over. Deciding whether to run for public office is an incredibly challenging decision in itself, but when you identify under the 2SLGBTQ+ umbrella, often the decision is clouded with questions of personal safety and a weighing of costs and benefits. While some candidates may be focused on convincing others why they are the best candidate, many 2SLGBTQ+ candidates are forced to convince the public that they exist in their communities, and deserve to be treated with respect and humanity. When other candidates are asked questions about their applicable experiences and policy stances, 2SLGBTQ+ candidates are often asked to explain queer identities and speak on behalf of their community. This emotional labour asked of queer candidates does not make for a fair race, and these experiences are not limited to queer candidates, but people of colour as well. This unequal footing in their campaign races can impact the mental, physical and emotional health of queer candidates and make it difficult to feel safe canvassing neighbourhoods in their communities.


Understanding that the degree of these barriers differs, whether in an urban or a rural context, Canadian systems need to mitigate and respond appropriately to any harm that might come as a result of queer people putting their names forward. How do cities, towns, provinces, and nations respond to anti-2SLGBTQ+ sentiment in communities and how can we support individuals who receive these attacks? These are the questions we need to have answers to before we call for diverse candidates and encourage people to run. Calling for diversity without truly supporting it, is irresponsible.

With the most recent municipal elections in Ontario, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories, we have seen a significant number 2SLGBTQ+ leaders successfully elected to office. From city councilors to school board trustees, and even candidates for mayor, 2SLGBTQ+ leaders received a significant portion of the vote in their races. Some candidates only lost their races by 1.5% of the total votes cast, despite being first-time candidates with no party affiliation or backing. The resilience and determination of queer candidates have long been lauded but have rarely inspired change in our systems.  Civic institutions possess data and information that illustrates why certain communities are less likely to run for civic positions. Yet, it’s difficult to understand why they fail to t mitigate these factors, thus empowering  these individuals  to run. An impacting factor that contributes to shaping our municipal, provincial and national is having a diverse body of representation, with that comes exhaustive debates and robust policy outcomes.


Another one of the biggest barriers that keep queer candidates from running for office is the lack of financial support. Running a campaign is extremely expensive, and more often than not, queer candidates stand to lose more than just the election race when they choose to put their names forward. In Canada, queer individuals are more likely to experience homelessness and or live in poverty or low-income circumstances. While our civic institutions are aware of this reality, they are not understanding of it- many of them require a nomination paper filing fee that ranges in the hundreds of dollars, whilst not offering any sort of equitable fee waiver. A small step to allow more candidates to run would be to waive the nomination paper filing fee, while a larger, more meaningful step would be to provide baseline campaign funds for each candidate. Wanting to serve your community is a worthy cause, and our civic institutions should recognize that by giving all candidates enough to afford basic campaign materials.


There are countless other small but impactful steps our civic institutions can consider before 2SLGBTQ+ individuals run for office, starting with examining their own nomination or registration forms; how many of them are reflective and encompass lived experiences of queer people? What pre-set gender selections are on your forms, do they differentiate between legal names versus preferred names on the ballot, does your form show that you understand that homeless individuals are present in your community; and do your forms reflect your understanding that they have the right to run for office? Each civic institution must answer these questions on their own. While there are organizations such as ProudPolitics in Canada that support queer candidates through campaign training and connecting them with other queer candidates, it is our civic institutions that play a key role in making lasting changes in their entrances.