He was supposed to thank his partner, Doug, in his introduction.
At least that’s what the text of Mike Farnworth’s speech announcing his bid for the NDP leadership says: “Thank you all so much for joining me here today. Thanks to all my family and friends and my partner Doug for your support.”
Instead, he began with a beaming smile and a scan of the room.
“Whoa. This is pretty cool,” he said. “I look around this room and I see my hometown.”
It is pretty cool. A gay man seeking the leadership of a major political party, buoyed by the support and obvious affection of his suburban riding. A gay man poised to nab said leadership if early polls are any indication.
I couldn’t help feeling let down.
I went to Port Coquitlam on Jan 13 hoping to witness a coming-out moment, a proud declaration from a popular MLA who, after years of living with the closet door somewhat ajar, had finally decided to throw it open.
That’s not what I found.
I waited for some mention of Doug in his speech.
I had checked with his press secretary in advance. Yes, the information contained in his draft flyer was accurate. Yes, the reference to Doug was intentional. Yes, he was ready to take questions about all aspects of his life.
The press release distributed partway through his speech confirmed it: “Mike was raised in Port Coquitlam and has lived there for almost 40 years. He lives there now with Doug, his partner of 22 years, and their two dogs, Rex and Sofie.”
And still he said nothing out loud.
In the media scrum afterwards, he seemed uncomfortable with the questions Xtra posed.
Asked why he decided to come out, Farnworth said his sexuality was never a secret. He just never put out a press release before.
Then again, “I haven’t been running for leader of the NDP before,” he said.
“People wonder: do I have a partner? And the answer’s yes,” he acknowledged.
But it’s no secret, he insisted. “It’s no secret to my caucus. It’s no secret to government. It’s no secret to the media. It’s no secret to my constituents.”
After the scrum, I introduced myself and thanked him for coming out publicly. Removed from the pressures of the scrum, I asked again: what made you decide to come out now?
Again, Farnworth replied his sexuality was never a secret. He has introduced Doug before and even to the legislature, he said. He just never made a public statement before.
“Is it important for a leader to set an example of openness?” I asked.
Farnworth paused. “I know it’s a question and I’m going to address it,” he replied.
“I think what British Columbians want to know is who’s the best person for the job.”
Contrast that with his opponent’s answer several days earlier. When Xtra asked openly gay MLA Nicholas Simons about his sexuality, he said he doesn’t believe it should be a factor in his political life any more than being a cello player should. But, he said, it is important for people to be open about who they are.
“If people see me as open and honest about my character, they expect me to be open and honest about other things. It’s a continuum,” he said.
Simons has been completely open about his sexuality throughout his (albeit short) political career. He was first elected to represent the Powell River-Sunshine Coast riding in 2005.
Farnworth was first elected to city council in Port Coquitlam in 1983 and became an MLA in 1991.
Different era? Yes. Different generation? Yes. Should I be more understanding? Yes, I probably should.
I barely met Farnworth. By many accounts, he’s a funny guy, popular on both sides of the legislature. A practical idealist. My kind of guy.
And a guy who finally found the courage — or political expediency — to fully step through his own closet door.
I should be applauding and welcoming him fully to our community. And I am.
Even as I look around the room for Doug, so conspicuously absent from his own coming-out party.