It initially startled her, but just as the words began to set in, Kathleen Wynne realized she was stepping into a new world.
Wynne said she was 37 years old when she came out as a lesbian and admits, up until that time, she had lived with the privilege of being a “white, heterosexual woman.” But in 1994, while walking in north Toronto, Wynne said she was accosted by a group of young men, who called her a dyke.
“I knew intellectually that could happen but it really hit me when it happened,” Wynne said.
“I had stepped into a different world. This hatred and this vile behaviour was what people had put up with who had been struggling with their sexuality their whole lives.”
Global News anchor Farah Nasser spoke with Wynne about this experiences as part of #FirstTimeIwasCalled — a series of interviews with high-profile Canadians about the first time they experienced racism or discrimination and how that experience affected them.
The #FirstTimeIWasCalled project:
Part 1: Jagmeet Singh
Part 2: Jully Black
Part 3: Fahreen Khan
The incident happened just as Wynne was preparing to run for school trustee at the Toronto District School Board.
“It made me feel indignant and angry that that kind of attack was okay and this was at a time when I was getting ready to run for school trustee,” she said.
“In fact, when I ran for school trustee the first time in 1994, there was a whole smear campaign about me being a radical lesbian.”
Wynne was defeated by Anne Vanstone, but in 2000, she ran again and was elected as public school trustee.
In 2003, she was elected as Liberal MPP for Don Valley West, after defeating cabinet minister David Turnbull, and in 2006, after working as parliamentary assistant to Minister of Education Gerard Kennedy, Wynne was promoted to Minister of Education.
WATCH: Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks about #FirstTimeIWasCalled
In 2013, Wynne was sworn in as premier of Ontario after winning the Liberal leadership and in 2014 she was re-elected as premier. But the incident she faced years earlier still sat in her mind, and Wynne said it led her to understand the struggle many people feel about coming out with their sexuality.
“Well, I think because I was older, I had lived and I was confident,” she said. “I wasn’t an 11-year-old.”
“But what I did think was, if I were 11 years old and someone was calling me that, I’d go so far in the closet I’d be so frightened about what would happen to me. … My own partner Jane, she knew she was different when she was six years old. Her whole life she had been living with that. Kids in the playground and kids in school dealing with that. It really went in, and it became for me another layer of understanding about the work we have to do to make the world fairer for everyone.”
Wynne is Ontario’s first female premier and Canada’s first openly gay premier. She said her experiences with discrimination motivated her to create inclusive spaces for people.
COMMENTARY: My first experience with racism
“As the Minister of Education, … it was really important to me that we have equity policies in place in our education system because — not just girls and lesbians and gay kids — everyone needed to feel like they belong and they are going to be treated equally, no matter their gender or background.”
The Ontario Premier recalled a volunteer dance for women that she coordinated alongside her partner, Jane, which helped raise money for the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line, a distress line for children who are part of the LGBTQ community.
“People would come from Owen Sound on Saturday night to go to this dance, and we called it MAD for dancing. I felt that I needed to do everything I could to support people who were feeling that they had been hiding,” she said.
“What we discovered by doing this dance, all these middle and older women went their whole lives, they had been closeted and that’s a sad thing. I don’t want another generation to have to live like that.”
Watch: Voices from the #FirstTimeIWasCalled series
Wynne said she felt she had a responsibility to create safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ community.
“At that moment, I thought I’ve got a real responsibility, because I am confident. … I know that I’m safe in the world,” she said.
“I have a real responsibility to make sure that I do everything I can to make the world safer for kids and other people. … There are people who are older than me that haven’t come out to their families, that don’t go home at holiday time because they can’t bring their partners. It is so painful.”
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