A few months back, a political friend asked me why I thought more people from the queer community did not put their name forward to run for political office. I offered a variety reasons which could also be said for why most people from any community do not put their names on a ballot.
Sadly, I also had to add the fear of reprisals, ridicule, and not wanting their private lives illuminated by a public of which some still harbour deep rooted hatred and bigotry towards us in the gay community. I thought of all of these things when I decided to run for the Nova Scotia Liberal Party for the provincial riding of Dartmouth North.
I won the nomination on Feb 2, 2012 and immediately started campaigning for an election which depending on who you decided to believe, was months or weeks away. The first piece of literature I wrote was designed was to further introduce me to the community. I had a relatively healthy profile due to my many years of community work including Executive Director of Alice Housing, a local non-profit for women and children leaving domestic abuse.
I had also developed the only addictions facility for women in Nova Scotia. Developed the only counselling program for child witnesses in Nova Scotia. Won awards for my work in homelessness, business ethics and non-profit management abilities nationally. I had earned a master's degree in Political Science while living on Income Assistance as a single mom of a son.
I have always been proud of my accomplishments. I have always been gay. I came out in 1995 to my son when he was five years old. I never looked back. I sang in a gay choir and started a lesbian mothers group for support but for the most part, the fact that I was gay was nothing spectacular, defining or shameful to me. It was just the way I was. I had married a man once and it was doomed from "I do." In 2008, I married Annette, my soul mate.
So on that first piece of literature I proudly listed all of my accomplishments, vision and hopes for the community. One sentence, said " Joanne is married to Annette, mother to their adult son Taylor and five rescued cats. One sentence. One sentence which would be in every candidate bio for any party in any riding during any election. Who you were married and a parent to.
A few days ago, after the writ had finally been dropped, my campaign staff laid a neatly hand-written letter on my desk. The feminine script was neat with no return address. The plain paper inside started with "I was interested in your campaign until I read you were married to Annette." The letter then went on to call me disgusting, gross (printed twice on the letter sidebar), and to say that I would never be elected and that I should find something else to do.
I was stunned. You see, I know homophobia exists. I see it every day. My partner sees it every day, but I had never had it directly addressed to me. Afterall, I have been told that I do not fit the "stereotype of a lesbian" -- whatever that means. Regardless, the letter left me feeling angry, sad, depressed, and a little more than bewildered.
I found it hard to wrap my head around the fact that someone read through my bio and focused on one sentence, sat down and took the time to write a hateful and hurtful letter presumably knowing the hurt it would cause.
I knew my candidacy might cause backlash, but when it happens, its is still surprising, revolting and exasperating. The letter threw me off my campaign game for the rest of the day. That night, I tweeted a positive response to the person who wrote the letter. A response which set the wheels in motion for my community close and far to prove once again that homophobia is not the norm, not acceptable and more importantly, not stopping me from being who I am.
A subsequent TV interview and countless best wishes have lightened my heart and turned a negative into a positive. The support of my wife, who agreed to be interviewed, (a very courageous move for this very private woman), was so touching to me. My son is bursting with pride and at the end of the day, that letter is nothing more than a blip in my life which will soon be forgotten.