Every year on December 1, social media channels like Twitter and Facebook are filled with touching tributes in honour of World AIDS Day. This year was no exception, but some were surprised to see a message of support come from Jason Kenney, the leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party.
On Saturday, Kenney tweeted a video message encouraging his followers to support HIV/AIDS organizations and patient care facilities. Social media users were quick to point out the hypocrisy between Kenney’s supportive message and his past actions.
Kyle Morrow, a lawyer and political activist, was one of those critics. He tweeted an audio clip from a campaign speech that Kenney gave back in 2000, where he bragged about overturning a spousal law in San Francisco that allowed gay men to visit their dying partners in the hospital during the AIDS epidemic.
“I became president of the pro-life group in my campus and helped to lead an ultimately successful initiative petition, which led to a referendum which overturned the first gay spousal law in North America,” Kenney said in the clip.
In a statement to VICE, Kenney’s spokesperson Christine Myatt said, “The event Mr. Kenney is referencing in the audio took place in San Francisco when Jason was a student there. He would have been roughly 20 years old at the time. Mr. Kenney’s views on these issues have evolved since then, as have society’s.”
At the time, Kenney was studying at a Jesuit university in San Francisco where he was active in right-wing politics, including anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion activism.
In 1990, Kenney was featured in a CNN news piece where he was credited as an anti-abortion activist. CNN was covering a potential free speech lawsuit between the University of San Francisco, and a group of law students who were prevented from distributing pamphlets about abortion. Kenney was one of the student activists trying to silence them.
Since then, he’s tried to soften his stance on some of these political issues. In a 2018 interview with Charles Adler, Kenney claimed he spent his days as a young man "washing bloody sheets at an AIDS hospice in San Francisco.”
This is a claim that he proudly touts on Twitter from time to time. However, critics like Morrow, who also ran as a Liberal candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka in 2012, can’t help but question the sincerity of this new political stance and what this means for the direction of the United Conservative Party.
UCP members have recently made headlines for their radical socially conservative views, which have at times gone at odds with Kenney’s new direction.
Just last month, UCP member John Carpay compared rainbow pride flags to Nazi swastikas at an event in Calgary. This comes just months after his organization, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, filed a legal challenge questioning the constitutionality of a gay-straight alliance bill that would protect LGBTQ students.
In October 2018, the UCP also disqualified the nomination of a member who was seeking to become the party’s candidate in Edmonton-West Henday riding for the 2019 Alberta election, after he defended a white supremacist group called the Soldiers of Odin.
While Kenney may be trying to tame the alt-right factions within his party, critics like Morrow feel as though he hasn’t done enough to rebuke hatred.
“It’s worth remembering that Jason Kenney has spent his entire political career fighting against LGBTQ rights. He’s never apologized for his treatment of the community and even today, he aligns himself with anti-LGBTQ activists like John Carpay,” Morrow said. “If Mr. Kenney has truly evolved, he should apologize to the individuals who were prevented from visiting their dying partners in the hospital.”
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