A former city councillor, Liberal MPP and provincial cabinet minister, Watson is currently serving his third consecutive term as mayor of Ottawa, after winning re-election in October last year. He became the youngest mayor in Ottawas history when he was first elected to the post in the late 1990s.
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Watson’s personal op-ed was published a day before the Capital Pride festival kicks off in Ottawa.
Warm response to Watsons coming out
In his op-ed, Watson recalled being taunted in school. He said there were no resources back in the 1970s, when he was a very shy and very socially awkward teenager growing up.
Even if I thought or knew that I was gay back then, making it known publicly would have been pretty daunting and lonely for a teenager in a new school, he wrote.
And while his surroundings in university were much more liberal, he remained too shy or reluctant to come to grips with my own sexuality.
His life has mostly revolved around his work, he added. My various jobs — both in and out of the political world — became my passion and were all-consuming.
His sexuality came up just once, at an all-candidates meeting when he was running for Ontarios legislature in 2003.
A known homophobic activist stood up and asked me if I was gay, Watson wrote. There were jeers and shouts.
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But before he could formulate a response, his NDP opponent at the time — Marlene Rivier — came to his defense and snapped at the person posting the question, telling the person that “anyones sexual preference had nothing to do with being a good MPP.
Citing openly LGBTQ elected officials — such as Ottawa Coun. Catherine McKenney and former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne — Watson noted that he has wrestled with coming out for the last few years and that there was no specific turning point for his decision to come out publicly.
In 2014, Watson went viral after tweeting about flying the Pride flag at Ottawa City Hall during the Olympic Games held in Russia at the time.
He also drew heavy attention for shutting down a Twitter user who said Watson had lost his vote after raising the flag.
“If you have that point of view, I really dont want your vote,” Watson responded, in a tweet that was liked over 1,000 times.
The Pride Flag will fly at Ottawa City Hall until the end of the Olympics. #Sochi2014 pic.twitter.com/MW2qo3FsAS
In 2017, he recalled a man using a homophobic slur in reference to the city’s Pride parade while Watson was strolling through an Ottawa park.
The mayor wrote he replied that he looked forward to marching in the parade, rendering the man speechless.
He ended his op-ed with some words of advice: Dont feel pressured or rushed to come out, but dont wait 40 years either.
Just a day before Pride celebrations in Ottawa officially kick off, Ottawa's Mayor Jim Watson has come out as an openly gay man.
Watson said on Saturday it was time to share his secret with the city after 40 years of worrying about how his constituents, friends and family would react.
"I've been thinking about it for 40 years … I've known I was gay since I was a teenager," he said. "I feel comfortable with the decision and I'm glad I did it. But it took me a long time to get there."
"[The response has] been overwhelming. I had to recharge my phone twice today just to keep up with the tweets and the emails and the phone calls. People have been very very kind," he said.
He said his experiences at the Ottawa Pride celebrations over the years have varied. He said he remembers one confrontation a few years ago, with a man at Confederation Park.
"I was walking back from lunch to City Hall and this guy came up and said 'I hope you're not going in the fag parade,'" Watson said.
"Then the last couple of years along the parade route … I've had some people say, 'When are you coming out of the closet?' I pretended not to hear and waved with the music."
He said chose to come out because it was "the right thing to do," but wishes he'd told everyone sooner.
"My hope is … hopefully it will make it easier for some young people who are having doubts about whether they should say anything," he said.
"My message is [for them] is: Don't be afraid to come out, don't feel rushed, but don't take 40 years either."
"We were extremely happy and proud of Mayor Watson, and it's for sure something that will send a good message out in the community that you can be a politician in 2019 and be your true self."
Ottawa MPP Joel Harden praised Watson for becoming a role model for younger members of the LGBTQ community.
"I think youth who are afraid to be themselves publicly, with their friends, they have another role model to look up to today and I think that's really significant," he said.
Congratulations, Jim! This must feel great – enjoy the well-wishes from so many of your constituents, and happy Pride!
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