Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne met with members of the Toronto Police Service to speak about being in a leadership role as a gay public figure.
Members of the LGBTQ-Internal Support Network, LGBTQ officers and civilians and allies, as well as community members, gathered to hear the Premier speak.
“We reached out to her because we thought it was important to see someone in a leadership position and listen to their story,” said Constable Danielle Bottineau, who added that visibility was still important within the Service, especially for members who may not be out at work, as well as for the community at large.
Wynne spoke of her personal experiences on coming out at the age of 37 and feeling like an outcast.
“I have been a white, middle-class heterosexual mom and I have been a lesbian mom – my experience of coming out at 37 and having lived with that… I was more indignant… by the way I was being treated because I was like ‘I am the same person’, but I was being treated differently and that was a real eye-opener for me,” she said. “It was very compelling and in fact it was empowering because I understood something I had only understood intellectually before. People were literally crossing the street not to talk to me.”
This may not have been as traumatic an experience as many other people go through, said Wynne, but it helped her understand better what people are faced with when they are openly gay.
“It taught me the walls that people still face and walls that go up to keep segments of the population away or compartmentalized, and walls that keep the definition of influence narrow and just out of the reach of certain groups of people. And I’ve learned in my public life to identify and process and overcome prejudice that puts up those walls, at least that is what I try to do. I try to name them, I try to root them out and I try to find the prejudice in what seems like innocuous acts,” said Wynne.
She also spoke about how, 25 years ago, the police may have been at odds with the gay community and then, a few decades later, they were the ones protecting Brent Hawkes when he officiated at the marriage ceremony of same-sex couples.
“So I think that puts into context how far we have come and I think it puts into context the challenges we still face because we are not there yet,” said the Premier.
Speaking of Hawkes as a religious leader, and the balancing act of juggling different identities, the Premier said was a challenging one, especially for public figures. “It’s like walking a line between two communities and not really feeling a part of either.
“For those who work in the public as you do, you have a public persona but there is also a struggle for authenticity. Be your true self, and fight off those quiet voices coming from inside and out that somehow we are imposters in our own uniforms and even in our own skin and that is something that I have dealt with in my role that I have to hold some parts of myself back and that’s okay. But that takes a toll and I think that’s something we have to acknowledge,” said Wynne, speaking to LGBTQ officers.
“So I want to work with you, I respect the work that you do and I want to find ways to support you and for you to push us and support us because that’s what needs to happen with government… I think the partnerships we can have with you will help us to create that model… If we are going to be a model for the world, we are going to have to be a model in all of our sectors, not just in government, not just in education and not just on Church Street, but a model in every way and everywhere that we work.”