HALIFAX – The riding with the lowest voter turnout in 2009 could be home to an election night first if Liberal Joanne Bernard wins the Dartmouth-North seat: she would be the first openly gay MLA in the province’s history.
Bernard made headlines in September when she received homophobic hate mail targeting her sexual orientation calling her “gross”. In her candidate biography, Bernard mentions that she has been married to her wife Annette for almost five years.
On Sept. 23, Bernard responded to the hate mail by tweeting from her candidate Twitter account:
Bernard may be the first out-of-the-closet gay person in Nova Scotia’s general election, but she isn’t the first in Canada. New Democrat Svend Robinson became the first openly gay MP when he came out publicly in 1988 while serving in the Canadian House of Commons for Burnaby, B.C. Robinson went on to be elected and re-elected for seven consecutive terms, a span of more than two decades, and was a well known advocate for gay rights.
ABOVE: Joanne Bernard says she expected some backlash, but receiving a blatantly homophobic letter still wasn’t easy
Also in British Columbia, Libby Davies because the first openly gay female MP serving in her riding of Vancouver East when she came out to the public in 2001.
Kathleen Wynne became the first openly gay premier when she assumed the office as the 25th Premier of Ontario in February of 2013.
But Nova Scotia is noticeably lacking in its history of openly gay politicians.
“I think we are more conservative thinking here in terms of gay and lesbian issues,” Bernard said from her home on Tuesday.
She said candidates should be mentally prepared for reactions of ridicule and hate mail.
But in her case, the community response following the letter was overwhelming.
“I had strangers on my doorstep hug me and say you don’t deserve this. Your wife doesn’t deserve this. I’m so sorry that happened.”
Scott Brison, the Liberal MP for Kings–Hants since 1997, has also received his share of negative backlash due to his sexual orientation. He married his partner Maxime Saint-Pierre in 2007.
In 2009, Brison sent out a Christmas card with a photo of him and his partner and their dog Simba, which was later reported in the Globe and Mail. After an onslaught of hateful and homophobic remarks, the Globe and Mail had to shut down the comments sections on the story.
Bernard said she doesn’t believe in hiding who she is, but she was surprised going public with the letter inspired such an outpouring of support.
“If you can’t be who you are, that says a lot about your character,” she said. “I never planned on being a role model.”
With files from Erin Trafford