Elenore Sturko’s defection to BC Conservatives confuses, disappoints LGBTQ+ advocates

Elenore Sturko's defection to BC Conservatives confuses, disappoints LGBTQ+ advocates
The newest member of the British Columbia legislature, Elenore Sturko (right), elected last month in Surrey South byelection, is sworn in by clerk Kate Ryan-Lord at the legislature in Victoria, Monday, Oct.3, 2022. The clerk says Sturko is the first politician pledging allegiance to King Charles.

LGBTQ+ advocates in British Columbia say some in their communities are confused and disappointed by the political defection of legislator Elenore Sturko to the BC Conservatives, whose policies she once opposed.

Charmaine de Silva, a former co-chair of Vancouver Pride, said she had heard from community members who couldn’t understand how Sturko’s values fit in with a party whose leader has called for the abolition of the sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum in B.C. schools.

“There was a feeling of, you know, how could this happen? The values that she has professed to have, even as recently as a month ago, how do they line up with her membership in this party and representing this party and their values?” de Silva said.

Sturko, who is gay and has been a prominent advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, said on Monday she was leaving the official Opposition BC United for the Conservatives and now believed the curriculum was “divisive” and eroding parents’ trust in public education.

READ MORE: Elenore Sturko, a gay rights champion, shocks BC United by defecting to Conservatives

Last October, she joined a standing ovation for NDP Premier David Eby in the legislature when he told Conservative Leader John Rustad he should be ashamed of himself for focusing on the school curriculum known as SOGI 123.

Sturko also said on social media that Rustad should “make an unequivocal apology” for calling homosexuality a “lifestyle” and having “doubled down in his ignorance.”

De Silva, who works for communication firm Hill and Knowlton, said Sturko didn’t seem to be trying to change the Conservatives’ positions from within.

“I think the reason people are raising questions is, the first time she was asked about something, it seems that she had actually taken a step back on her position,” she said.

Sturko said Monday she would “never abandon” LGBTQ+ causes but there was “room for everybody” in a “big-tent” Conservative Party of BC. The former RCMP officer represents Surrey South but will run in October’s provincial election in Surrey-Cloverdale, a riding now held by the governing NDP.

The president of Surrey Pride, Martin Rooney, said he was “extremely disappointed” in Sturko’s move.

“As a member of our community, I’m sure she has her own reasons for doing what she did,” he said.

“But it doesn’t help the community in any way (aligning) with a party that does not understand the community.”

Rooney said allies can come from all parts of society and he was hopeful Sturko would stand up for the community and other marginalized groups, but added that he found it “very difficult to believe that somebody can, as a candidate, step out from under (Rustad’s) shadow.”

Sturko is the latest BC United MLA to switch to the Conservatives. All four Conservatives in the legislature were elected as BC Liberals before the party changed its name to BC United, including Lorne Doerkson, the former BC United caucus chair who changed sides on Friday.

The BC United candidate for Coquitlam-Maillardville, Brandon Fonseca, announced Tuesday that he would no longer run for the party, saying Falcon “does not have B.C.’s grassroots movement at heart.”

Fonseca, who previously ran for the BC Conservatives in the 2020 provincial election, called on other BC United candidates to “unite behind John Rustad’s movement.”

The standings in the current 87-seat legislature are now 55 NDP, 23 BC United, three B.C. Greens, four BC Conservatives and two Independents.

The BC Conservatives and BC United held talks last month to avoid vote splitting between the two right-of-centre parties that could benefit the ruling NDP in the October election. But the negotiations collapsed, and Rustad has said he plans to run candidates in all ridings.

— By Ashley Joannou in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2024.

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