TORONTO – Canada’s first openly-gay premier, Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, will march into history later this month when she becomes the first sitting premier to take part in Toronto’s annual gay pride parade.
Wynne, who is married to Jane Rounthwaite and has three children and two grandchildren, said attending gay pride activities is an annual event for her.
“Well it’s part of summer you know,” said told The Canadian Press in an interview.
“Every year I take part in the Pride events. Jane and I go to the Pride and Remembrance run on Saturday morning. I go to the church service, which is always very, very moving, on Sunday morning, and of course I walk in the parade.”
Brenda Cossman, director of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto, said Wynne’s participation in the parade sends the best possible message.
“Those of us in prominent positions, whether it be politics, business, entertainment, academia, need to lead by example,” said Cossman.
“We have an obligation to the next generation to be out; to show them that they too will be able to find their way in the world. Premier Wynne exemplifies this kind of leading by example, yet does it with extraordinary humility.”
Pride week is hugely important for some people who are shut out of family holidays and gatherings because they are not accepted for who they are, said Wynne.
“I’ve had people from the lesbian, gay, bi and trans community say to me that Pride is like the biggest celebration of the year for them because they’re not part of their families, they’re excluded from family holidays,” she said.
“So Pride is like their extended family acknowledging them.”
It’s important to celebrate Pride week to remind people that gays are still being persecuted in many other countries, added Wynne.
“Unfortunately we still need a Pride celebration because homophobia is alive and well, not just here in some places in Ontario, but in many parts of the world where you can still be imprisoned or beaten for being gay, lesbian or trans,” she said.
Wynne said the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay scouts but maintain a ban on gay scout leaders shows society is still struggling with the issue.
“It demonstrates that people still struggling with their own internalized homophobia, and I get that,” she said.
“I understand that it’s an issue for people, but that’s all the more reason that those of us who are so privileged to live in an open society continue to speak out about how important it is not to discriminate against people because of who they are.”
Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty often attended Pride week festivities, but never marched in the huge parade that draws more than one million people to the streets of downtown Toronto.
Wynne, 60, wasn’t aware that no other Ontario premier has marched in the huge pride parade before.
“Well this one will be…and proudly so,” she said.
Cossman said the fact Wynne didn’t know she’d be walking into the history books next Sunday is very telling.
“What I think is so wonderful about Premier Wynne is precisely that she was unaware that it was a big deal that she would be marching in the Pride parade, because for her it is not a big deal” said Cossman.
“Hopefully, one day, it really won’t be a big deal for the rest of us.”
In a recent speech to the Ontario Public Service Pride Network, Wynne said questions about her sexual orientation that came up regularly during the Liberal leadership race that she won in January stopped once she became premier.
“I’ve travelled all across this province. Can I tell you how many people have raised the issue of my sexual orientation” None. Not a one.”
What’s billed as Toronto’s 33rd annual Pride parade will be held Sunday, June 30, but Pride week itself kicked off June 21 with a barbecue, concert and party.
There will also be many other activities, including the Trans Pride march in downtown Toronto June 28, and the annual Dyke march June 29.