EDMONTON — The head of an LGBTQ group in central Alberta says he wasn't surprised a candidate who compared transgender students in schools to feces in food won her seat in Monday's provincial election, which saw the United Conservative Party win a majority government.
"Jennifer Johnson was going to get in … there wasn't a huge opportunity for that to be changed," said Jonathan Luscombe, the executive director of the Lacombe Pride Society.
Johnson was the UCP candidate for Lacombe-Ponoka and garnered more than 9,000 more votes than the New Democrats in the constituency. Premier Danielle Smith said during the election campaign that Johnson would not sit in the UCP caucus because of the "vile" remarks, but also said she believes in redemption and second chances.
For more than a decade, the constituency has been held by either the UCP or the Wildrose Party, the more conservative of the two parties that merged in 2017 to form the UCP.
Johnson apologized during the election campaign for the Sept. 1 audio clip that surfaced two weeks before the election.
In it, she is heard telling a group that Alberta's high-ranking education system counts for little against the issue of transgender students, comparing their presence to a batch of cookies laced with feces.
"That little bit of poop is what wrecks it," Johnson is heard saying on the audio. "It doesn't matter that we're in the top three per cent in the world."
Luscombe said it was disheartening to see so many in the community vote for Johnson despite the comments.
"So many kids are going to look into this legislature and see this woman, who told them they were literal pieces of poo, being a voice for them," he said. "I can't imagine how they would feel."
Luscombe said he reached out to Johnson offering to sit down with her and talk about her comments. He said he could see the messages sent through social media were read, but got no response.
"It's a slap in the face, where you feel like you're trying to make it better and trying to offer these opportunities for them to learn and to understand" but they don't respond, he said.
Johnson said in a social media post on May 18 that she had a productive conversation with the Transgender Equality Society of Alberta, and was "willing to meet with any community group to educate (herself) on their concerns."
Luscombe said Ponoka Pride, Lacombe Pride and Central Alberta Pride have been working together and Johnson hasn't reached out to any of the local groups.
"It was all talking, no action."
Luscombe grew up in Lacombe, about 125 kilometres south of Edmonton, and said he doesn't feel safe in the community and has often thought about leaving for a more a progressive city.
"I told myself: 'As much as you're scared, Jon, there's some queer kid that's looking at this right now, and they're even more terrified.'"
He said he would stay in the community and fight for the safety of the LGBTQ people.
"Every kid deserves to grow up feeling safe. They deserve to grow up in their hometown … and to be themselves without fear of someone calling them a name or discriminating against them," he said.
Luscombe said the group's next step would be to reach out to Smith.
"I would like to see her taking a prominent stance and saying, 'No hate … this is not accepted in the legislature.'"
Smith's office and Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Anna Murphy, a Calgary LGBTQ community advocate and trans woman, said she hasn't completely lost hope in Alberta "being a place where all equity-deserving individuals feel an unwavering sense of belonging."
But, she said, the Lacombe-Ponoka result sends a destructive message to the community.
"It means there's so much more work we need to do, but I think we as Albertans are up to the task."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Ritika Dubey, The Canadian Press