As we celebrated Pride in Montreal over the weekend, Ottawa mayor Jim Watson also did something to be proud of as he came out in an op-ed published in the Ottawa Citizen. This makes the 58-year-old Ottawa’s first openly gay mayor.
In the op-ed, Watson took a look back at his life and the signs that now look so obvious in hindsight. After starting his op-ed piece with “I’m gay,” Watson recalled being taunted with the words “Jim Fairy” as a Grade 7 student. As a teen, he said he was more attracted to male movie stars rather than female ones. He also talked about never having met an openly gay student during his high school years. He remained in the closet while in university, and continued to be closeted when he was elected to the Ottawa City Council when he was 30 years old.
Even then, there were moments when it could have all been exposed to everyone. One instance Watson recalls was during a 2003 all-candidates meeting where a homophobic activist asked him if he was gay. Before the publication of the op-ed, Watson says he only came out to two gay friends and assumed that his family and the rest of his friends already knew.
However, it was the 2014 Olympic Games in Russia that started him on the path towards coming out. After he tweeted in support of gay athletes protesting homophobia from the Russian government, one of the responses to his tweet — and his response to that tweet — went viral.
He recalled: “One person wrote and said: ‘This is a stupid waste of time. You’ve lost my vote.’’
I replied: ‘If you have that point of view, I really don’t want your vote.’”
He also recalled an incident at Ottawa’s Confederation Park that was also a turning point for him.
“I was walking through Confederation Park after lunch and a middle-aged man approached me and said: ‘I hope you’re not going in that fag parade,’ meaning the upcoming Pride Parade,” he shared. “I told him: ‘I’m looking forward to marching in the Pride Parade, and I plan on doing so again, so why don’t you join me?’ He was left speechless and quickly walked away.”
While he wrote that no one should be pressured to come out unless they are ready, he’s also expressed regret at waiting 40 years before making the decision.
“My reluctance has not allowed me to live my life as full of love and adventure as my gay friends who were bolder and braver than I ever was,” he explained.
Since coming out, Watson reveals he’s only received warm responses.
“I’ve gotten some beautiful direct messages from parents who said their son or daughter is going through what I went through as a teenager. They shared the op-ed piece I wrote with them, and that was very nice,” he shared.
Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chimed in.
Brave words that I’m sure will inspire Ottawans – and all Canadians – to feel free to be themselves. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jim. https://t.co/sr6v86XFzc— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) August 17, 2019
Congratulations on coming out, Mayor Watson!