INNISFAIL – Town council members are extending full support to colleague Cindy Messaros following her surprising unilateral decision this week to passionately speak out against the planned and controversial provincial government changes to Alberta’s transgender policies.
During council’s roundtable discussion on Feb. 5, Messaros, a first-term councillor elected to office in 2021, began her planned statement by noting elected officials at times express opinions related to “certain current or geopolitical” events outside the purview of a municipal council.
“I've indicated my connection to and supported the LGBT community, particularly as it relates to youth, newcomers and clients that I serve, Alberta Human Rights legislation, 13 grounds of discrimination, issues around diversity, equity and inclusion, and most importantly, my own family,” said Messaros, who has been employed in the field of workplace and skills development initiatives for the past 35 years.
“I felt I could not come to council today without saying something to express my dismay at the proposed anti-trans policy brought forward last week, and the fact that it serves to effectively perpetuate existing stereotypes and myths surrounding transgender individuals, while also removing access to care that should be decided on by family and medical practitioners.
“And that's all I'm going to say.”
Messaros’ council colleagues did not immediately respond to her statement against the recent controversial plans by the provincial government.
However, when the roundtable discussion came to Coun. Jason Heistad’s turn to speak the veteran councillor told Messaros that he stood behind her “in solidarity.
“We need leadership in the legislature regarding trans and the LGBTQ community, and I just want to thank you for bringing that up,” said Heistad. “It's very courageous of you to do so.”
The following day on Feb. 6 Heistad noted to the Albertan that council has been supporting the Innisfail Pride event since its inception in 2021.
“I believe, for myself as a councillor, is we should look after everybody and be considerate to all people that we represent in that community,” said Heistad.
He added that it was his opinion that while it’s important for council to express its financial issues arising from the provincial government it was also important to weigh in on provincial social initiatives.
“As councillors we look after our citizens. We as municipal councillors have a lot to say in the day to day lives of our residents, and how we provide services and how we work with our provincial health-care system,” said Heistad. “We should have a voice. That's why people put us in these positions, is to have a voice and to think for ourselves and to be respectful of everyone.”
Coun. Dale Dunham is Innisfail council’s first openly gay member. The first-term councillor is also a community leader, who has created and organized many popular events, including the annual Innisfail Festival of Trees, the Innisfail Lantern Festival and the immensely successful Innisfail Pride, which has attracted citizens, gay and straight, from all corners of the province.
Dunham also had no idea Messaros was going to make a statement on the Government of Alberta’s planned changes to provincial transgender policies.
“Councillor Messaros, as all councillors, are entitled to speak to things that they are passionate about or close to home,” said Dunham. “And of course I support councillor Messaros, not only because I am on council with her but she is also my friend. So, I definitely stand beside her with any support I can.”
Following the Feb. 5 council meeting, mayor Jean Barclay also told the Albertan that not only has the Town of Innisfail been an “ally” of the LGBTQ2S community since 2021, it has also supported the Innisfail Welcoming & Inclusive Community Committee, a community non-profit group that promotes inclusion and acceptance for all citizens, no matter what their ethnic background or sexual orientation.
"I remember, when we were defining what our (Town of Innisfail) values for the organization were going to be when we were doing strategic planning and we came up with a value called belonging,” said Barclay. “We chose that term because we want people to know that they belong here. This is their home and they are welcome here. They're part of our community, regardless of how they identify.”
Barclay then recalled a special moment at a past Innisfail Pride when she was asked to offer welcoming remarks to a large audience.
“I remember saying, ‘please know that you belong here’. And I had a young person come up to me afterwards and gave me a hug, and they had tears in their eyes,” said Barclay.
“And they said, ‘thank you for saying that. Thank you for making me feel like I belong here.”
Coun. Janice Wing also supported Messaros’ statement, adding Innisfail Pride has become so successful and accepted community-wide that many in the town’s business sector are not only enthusiastically supporting the event they are sponsoring it.
“You're starting to see Pride emerging with more and more activities in the community that are very, very well supported by sponsors,” said Wing. “Sponsors don't get involved with causes or with organizations they don't believe in. They don't.
“And they don't get involved with causes and organizations if they don't feel there's value for them to be supportive, as well as for the organization they're supporting,” she added. “That's why businesses do that.”
On Feb. 6 Messaros was contacted by the Albertan.
She said her motivation to speak out came immediately after Premier Danielle Smith announced wide-ranging changes to provincial gender polices, ones that are considered by many as the most restricting and even draconian in the country.
Smith has said the new policies won't be introduced until September.
“The amount that it bothered me continued to grow,” said Messaros. “I wondered if there might be someone watching who has been affected by the proposed policy changes, and I guess I wanted to speak for that person.
“I guess what I'm hoping is that I've opened the door a little bit for people to have a conversation and to become educated about transgender issues, and also about Danielle Smith’s proposed policies.”