Having known Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson for more than half my life, I have to believe his story openly acknowledging being gay was incredibly difficult for him to write. Watson is a control freak, something he absolutely acknowledges. And while the world has changed incredibly over the years, he knew when penning the piece, he couldn’t control people’s reaction.
Thankfully, the world has changed dramatically since Watson realized he was gay, and it seems through reading Twitter, the public is simply happy their mayor now has acknowledged something he has kept secret for a very long time. But yet, it makes me a little sad to know the turmoil he’s endured.
I used to often say that everything I understood or knew about being gay I learned from talking to Alex Munter. Munter is now of course the president of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, but he was also the first openly gay local politician in Ottawa back in the early 90s. I was always incredibly curious about being gay and any question – no matter what it was or even how intrusive it was – Munter was happy and willing to respond. There were times I felt he was willing to educate one ignorant person at a time. It’s pretty impressive when you think about it, maybe even if you don’t.
I remember asking him once about the public reaction to his declaration, and he suggested that over the years, there was very little negative reaction. But when I would write about him in those days, I would get incredibly outrageous and ugly reactions to “that fag.” It made me sick to my stomach. Despite my ignorance about homosexuality, I never had any negative feelings towards those who were. And if you are lucky enough to know Munter, you wouldn’t either. I recall saying to him that I didn’t really understood the pressure to acknowledge being gay, that straight people were never pressured to declare their sexuality.
He cut me off quickly. “Susan,” he said, “you declare your sexuality with most everything you say, when you talk about being married, when you talk about your kids, you’re letting people know”
I’d never thought about it that way.
And now, Munter and his partner are the parents of a son, and I’d like to scream that from the rooftops.
Today, Mayor Jim Watson wrote an oped piece in the Citizen acknowledging he was gay. I’ve known Watson, as I’ve written many times, since our days at Carleton University. He was the president of the Rideau River Residence Association (RRRA) and I was the news editor of The Charlatan. He claims that when I quoted him in a story in his role as the head of RRRA, it was the first time he’d been quoted in a paper. I’m paraphrasing, but the quote included the statement that he would never make a good politician! I’m going to leave that one alone today!
But as Watson suggested in his piece, he believes his friends and family always presumed he was gay. I was certainly one of those, and certainly, being at Carleton at the same time, I wasn’t alone. And during those days, it just wasn’t an issue for any of us. It certainly makes me sad that Watson has felt he needed or wanted to keep this private.
I remember a time, I believe it was a celebration for his 30th birthday at a bar on Elgin Street, that myself and another reporter at what was then the Ottawa Herald, dropped by for a drink. For whatever reason, his friend – who I won’t name – acknowledged Jim was gay. And he also thanked us for coming, saying Jim wanted celebrities there!
Well, neither of us were even close to being celebrities, but….if it made the Birthday Boy happy, what the heck!
I’m happy for Jim Watson, and even happier to see the positive reaction to his pronouncement. You did a good thing today and I desperately hope that by day’s end, that’s what you’re feeling.