An Ontario legislator on Saturday became the first gay person elected provincial premier in Canada.
Kathleen Wynne defeated Sandra Pupatello to succeed Premier Dalton McGuinty after three rounds of voting at the Ontario Liberal Party’s convention that took place at a Toronto arena. She will formally take office before the provincial legislature reconvenes on Feb. 19.
“This weekend, Ontario Liberals came together to support the vision of a stronger, healthier, and fairer province,” Wynne, who is also the first woman elected to lead the Ontarian government, said in a statement after her election. “I’m excited to take these ideas and put them into action, for all of us.”
Wynne, a former Ontario education and aboriginal affairs minister whom voters first elected to the provincial legislature in 2003, will be among the handful of lesbians around the world who have achieved prominent political office. These include Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo in 2011 became the European Union’s first openly gay head of state.
“I believe that it sends out a tremendous signal of hope and empowerment to those young lesbians and gay men across Ontario and beyond, especially those living in small rural communities who feel isolated and alone,” former Canadian Parliamentarian Svend Robinson, who came out during a 1988 press conference, wrote in an op-ed the Globe and Mail newspaper published. “Now, they can be anything they want to be, including premier. Given the devastatingly high levels of suicide and attempted suicide among LGBT youth, this is important. It will save lives and build self-esteem.”
Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Egale Canada, also welcomed Wynne’s election.
“We’re very proud of her,” she told the Washington Blade during an interview from Toronto on Monday. “We’re very proud of her accomplishment. We’re also very proud of the fact she’s progressive, which I think is equally as significant as being a lesbian and a woman, so we’re very pleased and we’re looking forward to working with her over the course of the next few months and into her tenure as premier of the Parliament.”
While gays and lesbians have been able to legally marry across Canada since 2005, Kennedy said she expects Wynne will have an impact on other LGBT-specific issues once she officially takes office. These include reducing homophobia and transphobia within the country’s education system, tackling homelessness among LGBT youth in Toronto and other cities, improving access to health care for trans Canadians and adding gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
“In addition to the issues of the economy and transportation and everything else, she has a lot of other priorities that she will have to be aware of and I know that she is,” Kennedy said. “That’s one of the things that’s really great to have an out lesbian as our premier because she comes into the position with a fundamental understanding of some of those issues.”
Wynne, who has three children from her previous marriage to Phil Cowperthwaite, lives in North Toronto with her partner of 25 years, Jane Rounthwaite.