Ottawa mayor pushing back against homophobia after coming out as gay
It’s Pride week in the nation’s capital and the city’s mayor has one thing to say to Canadians:
“It doesn’t matter who you love. It’s your life. Live it as you should.”
As simple as it sounds, it’s a message Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he wishes he heard when he was a teenager growing up in the 1970s and struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. Perhaps it would have encouraged him not to wait nearly four decades to come out as gay.
On Saturday, Watson finally wrenched open the closet door in a personal column published in the Ottawa Citizen.
“I’m gay,” he wrote. “There – I said it; or rather, wrote it. Those two words took me almost four decades to utter, but as they say, ‘Better late than never.’”
In the days since his public declaration, Watson said the responses to it have been mostly positive.
“People have been very, very kind,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “About 95 per cent of the emails and tweets and so on have been very, very positive and I’m grateful for that.”
As for that other five per cent?
Watson said he’s not taking the insults lying down.
“Social media is an anonymous way to attack people,” he said. “You grow a thicker skin when you’re in politics like I’ve been for many years, but I think it’s just standing up to these bullies and pushing back.”
The mayor isn’t the only one in Ottawa fighting back against homophobia in the city.
On the same day that Watson’s column was published in the paper, a family storytelling event involving drag queens in Ottawa’s Bells Corner neighbourhood was interrupted by an anti-LGBTQ protester. Video of the incident showed the host of the event, Adrianna Exposee, confronting the protester while several other attendees joined her and asked the man to leave.
In response, police officers provided extra security and LGBTQ supporters were out in full force for another Pride event in Ottawa the following day.
“I think the community responded very well,” Watson said. “The very next day they had a Pride picnic in a neighbourhood called Hintonburg and a lot of people showed up just to ensure that that incident that happened in Bells Corner didn’t happen again.”
Watson said it’s important for LGBTQ supporters to keep holding Pride events and pushing back against homophobia.
“There’s still discrimination and still hatred in some people’s hearts and minds and you have to be really aggressive to stand up to that,” he said.
That mindset is especially important in schools where young people require extra supports, Watson said.
“It’s a lot tougher as a young person because of all of the pressures of being in school and cyberbullying and everything else,” he said. “I think students do need some help, whether they can get it from their parents, the school, the more information the better.”
The mayor noted in his column that there weren’t any LGBTQ clubs or Gay-Straight Alliances for him to join when he was in high school. If there were, it might have been easier for him.
That’s why Watson said he thinks current provincial policies in Ontario and in Alberta that are rolling back supports for LGBTQ students are “very regressive.”
“When I see governments that are sort of pulling back on allowing schools and teachers to help students, I don’t think that’s helpful at all,” he said.
Watson said he hopes his decision to come out as gay at the age of 58 will help young Canadians learn from his experience.
“You should be comfortable with yourself when you want to come out,” he said. “If you don’t want to come out, that’s your business. No one should pressure you, but think about coming out earlier because I regret not coming out earlier. Don’t wait for 40 years.”