Jordon Williams hopes to be a candidate representing the Progressive Conservatives in the next provincial election.
But he’s not there yet, nor does the Province seem close to announcing an election, so before the serious campaigning begins, he plans to work on making Niagara-on-the-Lake a more diverse and inclusive community.
He is especially concerned about the business sector, and specifically restaurant workplaces, where a prevalent “macho” attitude can be inconsistent with inclusivity.
Williams ran unsuccessfully in the last municipal election. He stayed away from the lack of inclusivity in town, he says, although it has been on his mind for more than a decade. He had been working in Toronto, and then returned to town and took a job in the local hospitality industry, where, as a member of the LGBTQ community, he felt safer “in the closet than out in the workplace,” he says.
“I didn’t feel comfortable being my true self.”
While there has been some forward movement since then, “there is still a way to go,” he says.
The 40-year-old gets the sense Niagara-on-the-Lake is changing, but he’s not so sure about Virgil. “I think there is a lot of educating to do.”
There is a “lack of a presence in the LGBTQ community, as well as over-all diversity” in NOTL.
When he was running in 2018 to win a seat at the council table, “I didn’t want to come out as that kind of candidate. I wouldn’t have hidden what I am, but I wasn’t asked.” He didn’t advocate for his community, he adds, because he wasn’t sure whether he’d be met with hostility. “I didn’t want to be the gay candidate.”
The business sector is ignoring an opportunity to appeal to LGBTQ consumers, which could be a real boost to the local economy, he says
The Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which educates the travel and tourism sector on how to be more welcoming in the work place and how to attract the LGBTQ community, has done a study that shows 50 per cent of that community expects to travel this winter and spring, and will be choosing Ontario. Businesses that attract diversity and promote inclusivity could bring more visitors, who will spend money and stay longer than many of those currently travelling to NOTL, Williams says.
As the economy rebuilds, it could be strengthened by attracting the LGBTQ community, by making everyone feel “welcome, comfortable and safe.”
He would also like to see the hospitality industry become more welcoming as a workplace for teenagers and young adults, who may be looking for a part-time job to finance post-secondary education, or who may be thinking about a career.
He singles out two local businesses he says are already doing a great job of being inclusive: The Olde Angel Inn is very supportive, he says, and Vintage Inns, where he worked for a time, has shown through actions, not just policies, that it is committed to ensuring its employees feel safe and comfortable. “I’ve never worked in an environment like that before,” he says.
Political action, “from the top down,” also needs to occur, which is one of the reasons he says he is thinking of running for office, to make public institutions more welcoming.
Although a provincial election isn’t expected any time soon, there has been talk about it happening next year, instead of the scheduled 2022 vote, and the Niagara regional party is looking at nominating candidates.
Williams says should he be successful, he doesn’t want to be the “gay candidate” when there are so many other issues to talk about, but he will be an advocate for his community. “It’s a fine line, but it’s time to get the dialogue going.”
He has always loved the hospitality industry, and was on the verge of signing a lease on a restaurant in Toronto when COVID hit, so he is back in Niagara, and as owner and creative director of lahava.ca, is looking forward to launching a luxury LGBTQ travel and lifestyle magazine.
He has also created a Facebook group for NOTL that promotes diversity and inclusion locally.
Inclusive NOTL+, a private group, was started just a week ago, had almost 100 members by press time. Those members were using it to discuss a diverse range of local issues, including other towns which feel more safe and welcoming, what makes them feel that way, and what can be done to implement similar practices in NOTL.