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Rookie Conservative MP Eric Duncan struggled with it initially – being the first.

“I don’t want to be the token gay guy,” he said.

But he is also keenly aware of the historic role he plays in his party’s caucus: the first openly gay Conservative member of Parliament.

“I’ve kind of reluctantly embraced it,” Mr. Duncan, 32, said recently over coffee. “I can be a voice for a big part of our party.”

Friendly and outgoing, Mr. Duncan came out publicly in a 2017 blog post when he was mayor of North Dundas, south of Ottawa. He was hoping for indifference; he was met with overwhelming support. A self-described “classic nerd” and politics junkie first elected as a municipal councillor at age 18, he won the mostly rural riding of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry in the 2019 federal election with almost 54 per cent support.

And now, he is using his unique position to speak about his vision for the party – one that is both fiscally conservative and what he calls “socially relevant.”

“We can have the best economic policies … but people weren’t listening to that because they didn’t feel we were socially relevant. We weren’t with the times,” Mr. Duncan said.

Departing leader Andrew Scheer came under fire during the campaign for his previous positions on abortion and same-sex marriage. But it was his apparent discomfort when speaking about LGBTQ issues that appeared to do the most damage within his own party.

Mr. Duncan, who said he has a good working relationship with Mr. Scheer, said he saw a similarity between his boss and his own father, who runs a trucking business.

“There clearly was something there where there was … a lack of a comfort level,” Mr. Duncan said of Mr. Scheer. “What I also know is that there are a lot of people … that are allies of the community, but struggle with how to say it.”

He said the majority of his party supports gay marriage, unequivocally. And they want to move on from the issue.

“I know that marriage equality is not going anywhere. My rights aren’t being taken away,” Mr. Duncan said.

While Mr. Scheer faced repeated questions about his refusal to walk in pride parades, Mr. Duncan said it doesn’t matter. Federal leadership front-runners Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole have both said they’ll march, although unlike Mr. MacKay, Mr. O’Toole said he won’t participate in Toronto Pride until uniformed police officers are welcome.

“Everybody has a different way of showing their support. It doesn’t have to be with a pride parade, but those who choose to do it, it’s awesome,” said Mr. Duncan, who’s never marched himself. His riding didn’t even have a parade until last year, but he’ll attend this year if he’s able.

What he’s more interested in is policy: supporting a ban on conversion therapy for LGBTQ people, and ending the blood donation ban for gay men in Canada, a Liberal promise that has yet to materialize.

Mr. Duncan is not currently supporting any Conservative leadership candidates. But he has little patience for contenders such as Derek Sloan, a first-time Ontario MP who has said that sexual orientation is “scientifically unclear,” and Richard Décarie, who was barred by the party from running and who publicly declared that being gay is a choice.

“I can scientifically confirm that being gay is not a choice,” Mr. Duncan said.

Most of all, he hopes his own story will help young people.

“If there’s a closeted teenager who’s gay in a rural community somewhere, scared of telling their families, scared of telling their friends, scared of what the reaction would be – I’m hoping that they can find inspiration,” he said.