By Andrew Macdonald
On the eve of Cecil Clarke’s campaign to become the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia, he made a deeply personal decision to come out of the closet.
Clarke, who is the two-term mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality, came out of the closet as a gay man during a radio interview with CBC reporter Wendy Martin.
He has been deep in the closet for most of his political career, which included stints as cabinet minister in the Tory governments of John Hamm and Rodney MacDonald.
In 2018, being gay is no big deal, not in a country where same sex marriage has been the law since 2005, and when same sex relations were removed from the crime books by Pierre Trudeau 50 years ago in 1967.
I asked Clarke in a recent interview why he felt it so important to come out of the closet as he mounts a bid to head the Progressive Conservative party.
He says someone in Sydney was threatening to out him, and the matter is now a legal issue, so he wanted to get out ahead of the threat to his privacy by acknowledging his sexual orientation — and to take the high road.
Even scandal sheet Frank, the loved or loathed magazine, said Clarke’s sexual orientation was a ‘non-issue’, and derided media from reporting on the story.
“For me, it was being portrayed as a negative. I am in a committed relationship and I was not going to go forward and allow this issue to be unaddressed, and I wanted to do it on my own terms, not someone else’s,” he tells The Macdonald Notebook.
He said he did not want another person to hold the issue over him.
“I was not going to hide who I am within a committed relationship,” he emphasizes, noting his partner was at his campaign kickoff, which attracted 600 supporters in North Sydney.
I asked Clarke how difficult a personal decision it was to come out during the CBC Sydney interview.
“It wasn’t an easy process. I did not know how it was going to unfold. I just knew I had to tell my story in my own terms. It’s not something you put in a press release. All I knew, the discussion (with Wendy Martin) was going to start,” Clarke tells The Macdonald Notebook.
“In this day and age, it was time to say enough is a enough. A lot of folk have told me it isn’t an issue for them, they’ve known for a long time.
“At my launch, we had people from their 90s to seven years old and younger, families with kids and it wasn’t an issue. The hall was jam packed with people showing support, that being gay wasn’t an issue for them.
“When hate is driving something and when homophobia is an issue, that was for me the driving force that I am not having someone else maligning me.”
In the gay community of Nova Scotia, the fact Clarke was gay was kept secret.
I had been aware of it for years, although I respected his privacy and never ran an article outing him, nor would I have done today if he decided to remain in the closet.
Kudos for Clarke to be honest with his sexual orientation. He’ll find life as an out gay male less complicated than hiding in the closet.
Being an out gay man has not hurt Liberal MP Scott Brison, who has been elected in every federal vote since 1997, despite serving a predominantly Baptist riding in the Annapolis Valley.
In 2003, when he was a Tory and running for Tory federal leadership, Brison came out in an interview with former leading and talented politico journalist Jane Taber, in a page three news article in the Globe & Mail.
At the time, now 94-year-old Clifford Brison, Scott’s dad, and obviously of a different generation, proudly took to the phone and called his well heeled stock brokerage clients and urged them to read that edition of the Globe and Mail.
Brison is the poster child for gay politicos in the Maritimes, and his same sex wedding to Royal Bank stockbroker Max St. Pierre in 2007 generated national news headlines.
Prime minister Paul Martin and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna attended Brison’s United Church wedding in Cheverie on the Noel Shore.
Brison and St. Pierre went on to make MP history by having two twin girls, Rose and Clare via a surrogate.
Brison and Clarke are not the only gay politicos in leading jobs in the Maritimes.
Over in Prince Edward Island, Liberal premier Wade MacLauchlan made regional political history when he became the first out gay man to serve as a Maritime premier.
For MacLauchlan, particularly, his win is viewed as historic because he becomes the first out elected gay premier in PEI, and the first out gay premier to head a Maritime province.
He also becomes the first out gay male premier of Canada, and the second gay premier serving today, given Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne is an out lesbian.
The late Richard Hatfield, who was New Brunswick premier from 1970 to 1987 was gay, according to journalists of the day, but Hatfield, who ran a decent government, was deeply in the closet.
MacLauchlan previously told me he is most proud of Islanders for being accepting of everyone and their differences, saying human rights have progressed down the road on the Island.
Two days after he won election in 2015, MacLauchlan said there wasn’t even a whisper campaign about his sexual orientation.
“If there was, I didn’t hear it. I don’t believe so,” he previously told me.
MacLauchlan says his life partner Duncan MacIntosh appeared at campaign rallies and knocked on doors in his rural constituency.
In fact, at the leadership announcement, the premier made a point of pointing him out in the crowd of followers.
As for Clarke, he says he has had thousands of congratulations on the fact he has come out of the closet.
“The political environment is shifting. You have to look at growing up in small communities in the 1970s and 1980s. It is not that I have been called a sissy or a fag,” he notes.
“Society has moved on and just was reinforced. I am not looking to do anything other than be a good leader and a good premier. And hopefully people can accept who I am in that whole process. I am gay, but at the same time, it’s a way of affirming to Nova Scotians that is our future.”
After he came out, he received a poster created by Mountain View Elementary School that carried the message, “We have your back.”
That’s the next generation. “That didn’t exist in my era, it just shows you were society is going. There is a lot of negatives out there, but there is also a lot of good,” says Clarke.
The PC leadership contender says he has heard from thousands of people on his coming out.
“I have received a couple of thousand messages. Parents talking to it with their children, I received a message from a mother that it was a great opportunity to talk to her children about acceptance,” he adds.
“I have received messages from people that it has helped them, and you can be yourself in life. It doesn’t matter. It’s a positive to hear those messages. A lot of human stories have been shared with me. Now I can be an extremely good advocate (and role model) for them.”