If elected in her riding on May 9, BC New Democratic Party candidate Morgane Oger would become British Columbia's first transgender MLA.
But as the provincial election draws nearer and nearer, the Vancouver-False Creek nominee says she wishes the hype around her candidacy was more focused on her policies and track record than her gender identity.
“Being transgender shouldn't have to be an issue," she told National Observer in an interview on April 27. "Just like the first woman who was elected to office… and same with the first indigenous woman to be elected.”
She referred to her colleague in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, Melanie Mark, who became the first woman from a First Nation to be elected to the B.C. Legislature in February 2016.
Oger describes herself as a progressive candidate with a passion for protecting B.C.’s public schools, which have faced controversial cuts under the current B.C. government. Last year, slashes adding up to more than $80 million affected schools in 28 districts across the province, including Kamloops, Abbotsford, Surrey, Prince Rupert and Prince George.
With a successful career in the high tech sector, Oger has also worked as chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, which represents the parents of 50,000 students.
Born in France, Oger is a dual citizen and fully fluent in English and French. Before getting into politics, she studied mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia, specializing in computational fluid dynamics and ship design. She worked in countries like Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, the U.K., and the U.S. for 10 years before returning to Vancouver in 2009.
She has since taken up a leadership role as chair of the Trans Alliance Society, and a member of the City of Vancouver's LGBTQ2+ Advisory Committee. In 2016, she won the inaugural Pride Legacy trans-activist award and was named as the national hero marshal of the Vancouver Pride Parade.
Over the years, Oger says her experience as a transgender woman in Vancouver has been positive, but she received a nasty reminder of prejudice a few days ago. A man in her False Creek riding distributed pamphlets attacking her, claiming she was defying “God’s definition of gender.”
Both the BC Liberals and BC Greens condemned the pamphlets, saying it has no place in the public discourse.
“It’s indescribable,” Oger sighed. “But I always anticipated in the back of my mind, that somebody, somewhere, is offended by my existence.”
It was the kind of harassment she knew she would face when she decided to run for office. She said whenever she starts to "put [her] head up," the attacks start to happen.
Oger said she feels a strange satisfaction, however, knowing that she helped amend the B.C. human rights code to provide equal rights and protections for transgender people from discrimination. On the basis of this legislative change, Oger said she will likely pursue a human rights complaint against the pamphlet distributor.
In exchange for privilege, authenticity
Currently, the majority of B.C.’s legislature is male and white. Had Oger never come out as transgender, her run for office would have likely raised very few eyebrows. It would certainly have never caught the attention of the man who distributed religious flyers against her campaign.
But Oger explains why she had to transition at age 41, despite knowing that it meant giving up her privilege and ability to fit in with the mainstream.
“I thought I could take it to my grave,” she said of her gender identity. “But over time, it became more taxing. In every interaction with others, you’re only giving them a veneer, and I started to notice that my true self was becoming increasingly unreachable.”
Around 20 years ago, Oger almost spoke about it to someone, but said she backed down and decided not to bring it up again.
“I felt such a sense of failure. Year after year, I regretted backing down — and one doesn’t like to live with regrets, especially the kind you can still do something about,” she said.
She began to feel inauthentic for telling her young children that they should be true to themselves, while putting up a facade herself. She said she also came out because the world became more educated, resulting in a safer environment for trans people.
Advocating for public education
Public education, for Oger, is one of the biggest issues at stake in the May 9 election. She comes by it honestly as a parent of two young children attending public school, the sibling of a teacher and the child of two educators herself.
She says while working as parent advisory committee chair, she saw that most of the defenders of public education were from the BC NDP, rather than BC Liberals or Green Party, which is why she chose to run for the Opposition party.
“We held everyone’s toes to the fire," she said. "In my experience, the people who have been advocates for public schools were all in the BC NDP." She listed listed Kelly Greene in Richmond, Rob Fleming in Victoria-Swan Lake, Melanie Mark in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, and former NDP leader Adrian Dix as examples.
Oger said she’s not against private schools, but has been angry over the way that the BC Liberal government has helped wealthy private schools while chronically underfunding public schools. The BC Liberals did not respond to requests for comment on that accusation in time for publication of this story.
“This is cutting down the foundation of our society, which is the public education system, and it’s been systemic,” said Oger. “There are real concerns that the Clark government is trying to close down public schools and give these away to private schools instead.”
Oger questioned why the B.C. government was increasing special needs funding to private schools at a time when public schools were cutting essential programming and facing pressures to close down across the province. She argued that B.C. needs to ensure that low to mid-income families have as much access to quality education as children from wealthier families.
In its election platform, the BC Liberal Party highlights an investment of more than $1.4 billion in new and improved schools, including more than $500 million in seismic upgrades since 2011. If re-elected, it has proposed to invest more than $2 billion in capital spending over the next three years for schools.
The BC Green Party's platform, meanwhile, promises to increase funding for B.C.'s public education system over four years from $250 million to $1.5 billion.
Education takes up prominent space in the BC NDP platform, which promises $30 million each year to fund public schools and an ongoing capital fund for school playgrounds.
Setting a political precedent
Oger believes political candidates shouldn't be judged on the basis of their gender, race, or religion, but realizes that if she wins a seat, it would set an important precedent for other people like her.
Transgender politicians have successfully won elections in countries like Japan, the Philippines and New Zealand. In February, the mayor of New Hope, Texas, came out to her constituents as transgender. British Columbia however, has remained largely uncharted territory for transgender politicians.
Facing a formidable opponent in former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan of the BC Liberals, Oger nevertheless hopes she can win and inspire more transgender people to make their voices heard in B.C. politics.
"If I'm elected, it's not lost on me that there will be ripples through North America, through France and Europe over this because I happen to be a French citizen," she said. "Every community needs to be represented... but that said, what's important is that I'm elected on the basis of what I've done. The people in Vancouver-False Creek need a voice."