André Boisclair, the unapologetically gay leader of the Parti Quebecois resigned May 8 after just 18 months as the party leader. Unlike almost any gay politician at any level of government, Boisclair was candid about his gay, urban lifestyle and youthful flirtations with cocaine.
Boisclair came to represent the difference between accepting gays in theory, and accepting our city-dwelling, well-manicured, slightly-affected real lives.
The controversial leader never gained the full support of his own party. During his leadership campaign, he was openly booed at prominent campaign stops in Montreal and Sherbrooke. He was publicly castigated after assuming the mantle by members of his own party and then, during Quebec’s spring election, his controversial endorsement of another referendum on sovereignty — combined with the rise of Mario Dumont’s ADQ — finally sunk him.
Polling done in late 2005 suggested that Boisclair was the favourite leadership candidate — and better liked than premier Jean Charest — outside of Montreal and Quebec City and also in the over-55 age group. At the time, those polls suggested that Quebec was ready for an out-gay premier. But by the time the province voted, he’d already lost them.
Boisclair’s orientation was the elephant in the room for most of the election. In February, Quebec shock jock Louis Champagne called him a “tapette” (fag) and publicly questioned whether Quebeckers would vote for a gay man. Factory workers in the Saguenay would never vote for a tapette, said Champagne.
Boisclair responded with grace.
“Is he saying on the radio that people in Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean are more homophobic than other people elsewhere in Quebec? Homophobia exists, but I feel these words are very insulting for the people of Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean,” the PQ leader told CBC.
Boisclair cited internal opposition as the reason for his resignation. His time as leader has been plagued with well-publicized gaffes. His campaign was declared “undisciplined” and “amateur” by pundits.
Women have often complained that they get a raw deal in the media, that small mistakes female politicians make are taken more seriously than those of their male peers. Having had few gay politicians with as much clout as Boisclair, it’s hard to say if that’s the case here too.