A United Conservative Party candidate who compared transgender children in schools to having feces in food says she is sorry, plans to learn from it and is staying on to run in the May 29 Alberta election.
“I apologize for the way I discussed these issues in September of 2022,” Jennifer Johnson said in a statement Wednesday.
“I have nothing but love and compassion for everyone equally and am embarrassed that I have caused hurt in this way.”
Johnson added that she is concerned about potentially life-altering medical procedures for children.
“This is an extremely sensitive topic for so many and I need to do a much better job communicating my concerns and objectives in a manner that is respectful to teachers, parents and those in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
“If elected as an MLA, I will seek advice and counsel on how to best communicate my views and discuss these issues meaningfully moving forward.”
Johnson is running to enter the legislature for the first time as a candidate for Lacombe-Ponoka.
NDP call for dismissal
The election campaign is now into its third week.
Earlier Wednesday, the NDP called on UCP Leader Danielle Smith to take action and dismiss Johnson as a candidate.
“[Johnson] literally compared transgender children in schools to putting a scoop of feces in your chocolate chip cookie batter,” said NDP candidate David Shepherd.
“In the past, [Smith] has been openly supportive of the LGBTQ2S+ communities.
“The premier has said it herself: don’t judge me by what I said, judge me by what I do. So here is the opportunity for Danielle Smith to take action.”
After Smith’s party came under fire over Johnson’s comments, the UCP leader said at a candidates debate Wednesday night that it’s time to depoliticize LGBTQ rights.
She faced off against the NDP’s Gwendoline Dirk and Alberta Party Leader Barry Morishita, both of whom are running against her in the southeastern constituency of Brooks-Medicine Hat.
Candidates at the debate in Medicine Hat were asked by an audience member how they would ensure the protection of LGBTQ children and adults.
Dirk, who was a teacher, said: “Every single human being is valuable and deserves to be protected — period” to applause from the crowd.
Smith then added that she doesn’t like the way the issues have been polarized.
“There’s a lot of young kids who are struggling with their identity and their sexuality who need the adults to be supportive of them as they work their way through that journey,” she told the crowd of about 250 people, a few of whom groaned when the question was asked.
“We have to depoliticize these issues. These issues are very personal family issues and every family has a loved one that they support, every single one of us have family members who are struggling with gender identity or coming to terms with their sexuality and we need to give 100 per cent support to them and we need to depoliticize this.”
‘We’ve got to get rid of sex education’
Earlier this week, audio surfaced from Sept. 1, before Johnson won the UCP nomination, featuring her speaking to the Western Unity Group in Stettler about “The Hazards of the Public Education System and Homeschooling/Pod Schooling as a Solution.”
Johnson is heard telling the group that Alberta’s education system ranks among the highest in the world for achievement, but such accomplishments mean little when set against the issue of transgender students in schools.
“These kids who are identifying as cats — and a teacher puts a litter box in the classroom for them,” Johnson tells the audience.
She says girls are saying they’re not girls anymore “when they’re seven years old and transitioning at 14 years old and getting mastectomies, double mastectomies and getting chemically sterilized when they can’t even go to a liquor store and buy a beer.”
She compared the situation to baking a batch of cookies laced with a drop of feces to explain whether the food has any appeal.
“We can be top three per cent but that little bit of poop is what wrecks it,” says Johnson on the audio.
“This is more than a teaspoon of poop in the cookie batch, right?
“It does not matter that we’re in the top three per cent in the world. Who cares if they got an 89 in Chemistry 30? Who cares that they are entering post-secondary if they are chemically castrated?”
She also tells the audience that hard-core pornography is available in elementary schools.
“I talked to these teachers and superintendents and said, `How do we fix this?’ They’re stuck. They didn’t have any answers.
“We’ve got to get rid of sex education from the schools, K to 12.”
‘Gateway’ to violence: expert
Kristopher Wells, Canada Research Chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth, called Johnson’s remarks “some of the worst and most homophobic or transphobic comments we’ve ever seen from a political candidate.
“This is often the gateway,” said Wells, as associate professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton.
“First you start with the dehumanization, then you move to strip away rights and, pretty soon, you see the violence. And it’s exactly this kind of rhetoric that contributes to that.”
Asked about Johnson remaining a candidate, Wells said, “How can you have somebody who espouses that? What if you changed those words to [refer to the] Black community, Jewish community, Indigenous community?”
In late March, UCP Lethbridge-West candidate Torry Tanner resigned after claiming in a video that children are exposed to pornography in schools and teachers help them change their gender identities.
Smith most recently spoke in favour of the LGBTQ community in an interview before she won the UCP leadership Oct. 6.
“I’ve been very upfront about this in all my runs in conservative politics — that I have been an ally to the LGBTQ community. I was in favour of gay marriage,” Smith said.
Smith previously faced questions over candidates and controversial comments when she led the Wildrose Party in the 2012 Alberta election. She stood by a candidate despite his past comments warning gays need to repent or face eternal suffering in hell’s “lake of fire.”