SYDNEY, N.S. — The mayor of Nova Scotia's second largest municipality has come out as gay, saying he decided to speak publicly after someone threatened to expose his personal life.
Cecil Clarke, mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and a likely leadership candidate for the province's Progressive Conservatives, spoke out about his private life in an interview with CBC on Thursday.
The 49-year-old politician said he didn't want to run for the Tory leadership with people thinking they could shame him or hold something over him.
Who I am and how I go about my personal life is no longer up as a punching bag for me politically.Cecil Clarke
"I'm not going to go forward and announce my intentions about the Progressive Conservative party leadership race having people think that they're going to shame me ... that being gay is somehow a bad thing," he told CBC Sydney's Mainstreet.
"Who I am and how I go about my personal life is no longer up as a punching bag for me politically."
Clarke said he's in a committed relationship with someone he loves and who supported his decision to speak publicly.
"That man is very special to me and I'm not prepared to go on my future journey alone," he said. "I'm not going to do it ashamed or afraid or not proud of who I am as a person. And I hope, I hope people will not allow that to cloud who I am as a politician either."
'A very dark time'
Still, he described the threats against him as prompting "a very dark time" that brought him to a low point.
"When I was four and then seven, I was sexually assaulted as a child and I thought I recovered very well from that," Clarke said. "I had the love of a family that was there for me and a community that supported me. And this week, all of that hurt and pain came barrelling back and I said 'You don't own this, you don't own me.'"
He added: "I owe it to myself to be true going forward because I'm not going to have people trying to shame me."
The Sydney Mines native served in the provincial legislature as a PC MLA for a decade before returning to Cape Breton to become mayor in 2012.
Clarke is expected to announce whether he will run for the PC leadership Saturday in North Sydney.
I owe it to myself to be true going forward because I'm not going to have people trying to shame me.Cecil Clarke
Christina Lamey, a spokeswoman for the municipality, said the mayor decided to speak out after an incident earlier this week.
At issue was "hateful speech" directed at Clarke's sexuality, she said.
"He's been in political life most of his adult life. He's very focused on his work and dedicated to his job and kept his private life private," Lamey said. "But those comments were unacceptable and rather than allow someone to shame him, he decided enough was enough."
Clarke received an outpouring of support of social media, with many applauding his courage to come forward and tell his story and condemning the homophobia and threats he endured.
"There's no place in our PC party for homophobia or discrimination," MLA for Pictou East and PC leadership candidate Tim Houston said in a tweet. "Mr. Clarke's private life should not be up for attack. Period."
Rob Batherson, a former PC party president, said on Twitter that Clarke "showed tremendous courage" and that there is "no place for hate or homophobia."
Not the first Cape Breton politician to experience threats
Two years ago, another Cape Breton Island politician said someone had tried to blackmail him into resigning by threatening to reveal a call made from his hotel room to a male escort service.
Steve Sampson, a member of Richmond County council, said at the time he received an unmarked envelope in the mail in 2016 at his home containing a photocopy of a hotel bill from 2014, incurred while on county business in Seattle, Wash.