GayCalgary® Magazine [copy]

INTERVIEW - Ricardo Miranda

MLA for Calgary-Cross on winning an important seat at the political table

People Spotlight by Evan Kayne (From GayCalgary® Magazine, October 2015, page 5)
Ricardo Miranda at Calgary Pride
Ricardo Miranda at Calgary Pride
Image by: GayCalgary Magazine
Estefania Cortes-Vargas, Micheal Connoly and Ricardo Miranda
Estefania Cortes-Vargas, Micheal Connoly and Ricardo Miranda
Image by: GayCalgary Magazine

During May’s provincial election we saw a conservative dynasty end due to an upset vote by Albertans. It also saw New Democrat Ricardo Miranda defeat former police chief and PC candidate Rick Hanson in the riding of Calgary-Cross, by 100 votes, to become one of three openly gay members of the Alberta Legislature.

Ricardo is a native Nicaraguan whose family immigrated to Canada in 1988 when he was nine. As a young man, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Calgary, while working as a flight attendant. "I was going to school and learning about all these interesting places, and I actually had the opportunity to turn around and go to those places. It’s one thing to learn about Roman history, and quite another to take a walk in Rome and see."

He was also getting an education on worker/employer relations at Air Canada, first as a volunteer with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, then as treasurer, vice president, and eventually president. After negotiating the last two collective agreements for the flight attendants, Ricardo was recruited to the national staff for CUPE and became a rep in Edmonton. He returned to Calgary when a researcher position became available.

When the NDP started gearing up for the election, about a year and a half ago, Ricardo put his name forward. After noting to party brass that the last two elections saw two different names running under the party banner, he advised a strategy of having the same person run at least in two election cycles so the individual could build name recognition. He successfully put himself forward as the person who could commit to filling that role. During this time, thinking the election was at least a year away, Ricardo went back to university to get an additional degree. When the election came, he was going to school, working full time and running an election campaign. Fortunately, he had the assistance of his family to help knock on doors.

That most of those doors were not slammed in his face indicated something was going on with the electorate. "Slowly, but surely, we started building momentum; did a couple of mail drops; I was invited to a couple of community events.... At some point, halfway through the writ period, things kind of changed. People started saying We’re not completely saying yes, but we’re not saying no either, and we’re definitely not going to be voting for the PCs this time around. We want change. We’re just not sure if you’re the one. I was encouraged by that." He kept canvassing and returned to the indecisive voters, which impressed them.

Ricardo thinks this frustration with the governing PCs had been growing for many years, and reflects the frustration of many people who were being impacted by cuts and government policy changes. "Like me, many other people were not impressed by what was going on, and I think the reflection today is of many years of being on the cutting board of education and health and everything else that, for the average person, is a huge thing."

Looking back, it was obvious why he was able to build on this discontent but, at the time, there was that worry about voter inertia. "People like their traditions, and people are very comfortable in their ways, but all it takes is one or two people to really question the status quo and push the envelope just a little bit." In his opinion this province is a lot more diverse than the ‘conservative bastion’ people make it out to be, "I found for the most part people are very open minded and very forward thinking. It’s a reflection of what I have always known about this province – it has always been welcoming and supportive."

As we evolve from a political landscape that saw the conservatives in 1998 consider using the ‘Not Withstanding Clause’ to deny gay rights to a begrudging governmental acceptance of gay rights; and now, gay MLAs and a supportive government and premier, the question is Where do we go now with the NDP?

Acceptance, recognition and respect of the LGBTQ community was in the NDP’s political DNA for years, long before it was the popular thing to do. To be fair, Ricardo knows there were PC MLAs who were tolerant and accepting, but to a certain degree they were beholding to their base constituency. "It’s disappointing because the [PC] government dragged their feet for so long. In reality, the province was there long before, and I think the election results reflected that... [The PCs] were not in line with the priorities and visions of people in this province."

That’s a lesson the new government wants to take to heart – to listen to the constituents and let them drive the agenda – and there is so much more that remains to be done, Ricardo says. "There’s a different level of discussion that needs to take place. It’s not just about gay rights; it’s not just about this, this, this and these different silos. It’s a whole discussion where we need to bring those voices to the table and have meaningful dialogue, and then implement those dialogues into actual change."

They will be looking at ensuring people have access to the services they need. "I’m talking about every citizen – regardless of sexual orientation – but, more importantly, when it comes to dealing with issues of sexual identity. I understand... in some respects people need to leave Calgary and go to Edmonton because there’s no clinic here, when someone needs access to the medical profession, if they’re going through a transition."

Bringing all the voices to the table includes smaller groups within the LGBTQ community, such as older LGBTQ citizens and immigrants. With Ricardo being the oldest of the LGBTQ NPD group of MLAs, he has witnessed the province evolve on gay rights and acceptance. As a flight attendant with Air Canada, he has seen how different cultures respond as well. The younger generation posseses an almost casual level of acceptance of different sexualities, but for older or different cultures, these can still be sensitive issues.

"It’s something I have already noticed. It’s a different level of thinking... Michael [Connoly] and I were talking about something and I said Michael, not everyone is comfortable like you and I... people that are older than me are less so comfortable in being out even if they have fully gay lives – they’re not in the closet, but they would not describe themselves as openly gay, and I realize in your generation... people shrug their shoulders and just kind of move on, but that’s not the case for everyone."

Older members of the community have that experience of being the ‘other’– the outlaw – and that’s different for the younger generation. Many remember the first Pride rallies in Edmonton and Calgary – people wore paper bags or masks on their faces – and now we have corporate sponsors and floats in our parades. Ricardo’s nieces, and cousins have been to gay bars more than he ever has... and these are straight-oriented kids.

"I think many of us who have been around for many years have the remnants of internalized homophobia...which I'm happy to say is not as prevalent in the younger generations. Hopefully we'll get to the point when it doesn't exist anymore." However, until then, having that experience where he can relate to the older LGBTQ community is invaluable.

As a gay immigrant, Ricardo also has the experiences to speak to issues impacting that segment of the population. One of the best things that has happened to him recently: he answered the phone and was talking to a constituent who asked him questions about his objectives, but slowly divulged that he too was gay and an immigrant. The caller, unfortunately and for personal reasons, was not able to come out publically, but was so glad Ricardo had won because the constituent felt he had someone who would look out for his interests. Ricardo realized that, more than ever, he can inspire others in his new position to the understanding that one can live a meaningful life outside the closet.

Granted, this is still the early days of the new government – we will have to wait and see how the NDP legislation and economic policy moves the province in the years to come but, for our community to finally have a place at the table after being left out for way too many years, this is a refreshing change and thrilling opportunity.

Related Articles

Contributor Evan Kayne |

Locale Calgary |

Person Ricardo Miranda |

Topic Alberta NDP | Politics |


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