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‘I’m proud of who I am now,’ says Mary Polak’s ex-campaign manager

Todd Hauptman on being gay in a conservative camp, and why he quit

Todd Hauptman found his experiences with many of Mary Polak's supporters hurtful. "Many of those people from those particular faith communities, they are very important to the election [of] conservative politicians," he notes. Credit: Facebook.com

Todd Hauptman made headlines May 7 when he resigned as Liberal candidate Mary Polak’s campaign manager just a week before the provincial election.

“I cannot in good conscience support a campaign made up of people who think of me as less of a person because I am gay,” Hauptman wrote in the resignation letter that he released publicly.

“I have had enough of being marginalized, and I am tired of politicians making endless excuses for political gain.”

Polak, the incumbent MLA for Langley, is the former chair of the Surrey school board, which fought a six-year battle to ban gay-friendly books from its classrooms.

Xtra spoke to Hauptman as British Columbians headed to the polls May 14. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

Xtra: Why did you decide to work for Mary Polak’s campaign?

Todd Hauptman: I had worked for Mary for two years. I first started with Mary in the early part of summer 2011 . . . I’ve only been in the coming-out process around the time I was hired by her office. Mary and I have known each other for some time, and I joined her staff because I respect her, and I still consider her a friend.

You said she was supportive of you personally. In what way would you describe her as supportive?

In late June, early July [2012], she had approached me to serve as her campaign manager. I spent a few days talking to a few key people in my life, and I came back to her and said I would love to work and do this role, but you need to know something. And so I told her, I came out to her. And obviously, it’s a personal conversation, so I’m not going to go into great detail, other than to say she was very accepting and very encouraging of me on a personal level. And it’s not often that your meetings with your boss end in a hug, and in that case it did.

Did she give you any indication that she was uncomfortable with gay people, or gay issues for that matter?

Absolutely not. As I say, she’s always treated me with respect, and she was indeed, for me personally, a source of strength and encouragement when I was coming out.

As weeks and months went on, as I began to come out and I started that journey of coming out – and as many gay men and women will know, it’s not an overnight process – for me, after weeks of being conflicted, I tried to stay silent until election day. I really personally believe in the value of loyalty and desperately wanted to stay loyal, but knowing who I am now more, and wanting somebody to speak up more for me, I knew I had to do something to resolve this conflict that I was having, that I had had for weeks.

You said at some point in the campaign you were “conflicted beyond words.” Can you elaborate a bit more on what you meant by that?

I think for me the watershed moment, or the breaking point for me, was the Langley Teachers’ Association debate, the debate that the teachers’ association was having with all of the Langley candidates. Mary was asked a two-fold question: this individual was asking whether Mary would celebrate gay students in high school. Then the second part of the question was, “Would you publicly apologize or express regret for your statements and actions made in the late ’90s and early 2000s?” Her answer was a . . . for me, it was personally, it was in my view, it was a missed opportunity.

She had an opportunity to say once and for all, “Here’s where I stand. My actions have left a hurtful mark on the gay community, but here’s where I am now” and be very blunt and be very honest. I have told her, and she knows, that I felt her answer wasn’t adequate.

One thing I will mention, both in terms of my resignation and in terms of the issue as a whole is, for me, my action was not going to be seen as a partisan action. I don’t see this as strictly a gay issue because for me, it really comes down to the fact that every single human being should be given and deserves dignity, respect and equality, whether it’s in Vancouver, whether it’s in a community [that’s] more conservative like Langley, or in small towns around British Columbia.

For me, it’s not about a Liberal issue or an NDP issue or a Conservative issue. It’s not a partisan issue to me; it’s a human-rights issue and it should be treated as such.

Could you give our readers a sense of what she said in her answer at that debate that didn’t sit well with you?

She answered it, in my view, in two-fold. One, she said that of course all students from all groups should be respected. We should bear in mind that the answers were only a minute long, so she really had a choice of how she was going to word the question accordingly. The second part of her answer, it essentially defended her position as the Surrey school board chair on the three-books case.

Do you recall how she defended it? Did she say she stood by her position that she took back then?

The second part of her answer was explaining why the statements and actions were taken with the three-books case. Her words weren’t “I stand by the three-books case.” She was explaining why the position was taken, what happened in that case. For me, it didn’t come down to the three-books case. For me, what it came down to was she had an opportunity to say as a candidate, as an MLA, and as a community member, I stand for the human rights, dignity and equality of all people. I really believe it was a missed opportunity that could have been used to, in my view, shake some things up in a way that was appropriate, considering the political realities that are in Langley.

When you approached her and said that you found her response inadequate, did you go ahead and ask her if she was now supportive of queer-friendly curriculum?

I didn’t approach her about that. My issue is not the three-books case. My issue is with the underlying culture in conservative communities and still, in my view, in the culture as a whole. There’s still an underlying culture that doesn’t truly, in every sense of the word, treat the gay community with full equality.

What made you quit? Was it that particular moment?

That particular debate was the tipping point. My coming-out process has been a journey, but that particular evening was the tipping point for me.

And you made that clear to her afterward?

We spoke about the debate; we spoke about my concerns about her particular answer to that question. I’m a pretty straightforward, honest kind of guy, so I was straightforward with her the next day.

Were you aware before you joined her campaign that she had that history on the school board with the books?

Oh yeah, I was well aware of it.

Still you felt that you wanted to campaign on her behalf?

As I say, it wasn’t an overnight process. My coming-out journey started around the time I was working for her, and so I think what I would say is that I respected Mary for the person she is and for the politician representative that she is, aside from the three-books case. And for me, as I came out and I went through that process and became more of myself and understood the gay community more, I began to become conflicted.

I believe that no matter who you are, if you respect a politician and respect the job they do and who they are as a person, you’re never going to agree 100 percent on every single issue. But it became too fundamental, and I became too conflicted on this issue. That’s what resulted in my resignation.

What did you admire about her as a politician?

I think in the day and age we live in, it’s hard to find politicians who are sincerely committed to public service – honestly work their hearts out for their community no matter whether they’re NDP or Liberal or what their party affiliations are. I’ve been involved in politics since I was 14, and I still find it very rare to find politicians who are passionately committed to public service and they get results.

Mary is somebody who I know as a representative is committed to Langley, is committed to making a difference for people and helping people. Initially, she put faith for me back in politics, and so for me, putting faith for me back in politics on a political level was key, but also, personally, I just respect that she has devoted much of her adult life to public service.

When so many of us can be critical or cynical of politics, there are people in all parties that put faith for you back into politics. In many ways, Mary did that for me.

Were there other campaign staff working for Mary Polak that said anything to you that rubbed you the wrong way?

The core of my issue was with those within the base that ensure Mary’s election. Many of them are from very socially conservative perspectives. As much as some of the media have given the impression that it was campaign workers that did that to me, I always had the respect of our core team.

But for me, what was conflicting was the amount of people within her base that were very conservative individuals that saw things very conservatively, and so that culture and that ideology, I couldn’t handle anymore. It was the base that supports Mary that I had most conflict with.

Was anything targeted at you verbally that made you feel uncomfortable from this core base?

When I did start coming out, the Christian community didn’t treat me very well. From my experience, I had a lot of Christians who didn’t treat me with the love and respect that all of us should be treated with.

Many of those people from those particular faith communities, they are very important to the election [of] conservative politicians. And so it was those experiences – and because many of them are supporters of Mary’s – it was those interactions that really personally hurt and put that group of people in a bad light for me.

Were you targeted with homophobic slurs?

I did receive messages and phone calls that were not very kind. I had one individual that I was friends with that said, ‘I will start being your friend again when you stop being gay.’ I had people in the faith community who thought that there was help available if I needed it to change. There were comments like that.

Mary did an interview on CKNW where she said it had come to her attention that you “had a very close friendship with an individual who is involved on the campaign of my NDP competitor here – that they were spending significant time together, and that in fact, some information from our campaign had been shared.” What’s your reaction to that allegation?

I would say two things. On a personal level, that hurt. Secondly, I would encourage people to look at the response of the NDP candidate and his campaign manager in media outlets that respond to those allegations. And I would let those comments speak for themselves. They respond very well to those allegations.

Do you consider yourself a friend of Mary Polak’s at this point, in the context of what has happened?

I would still call her a friend, and I hope when the election is done tonight, I hope that we can meet face to face. I still see her as a friend, and I still care about her as a friend.

You had worked as a research assistant for Mark Warawa, the Conservative MP. He voted against gay marriage. Were you aware that his vote went against gay marriage?

Yes, and I should mention that when I worked for him, I was 18, so I was very young. I was not even coming out at that point. I would say that was very, very early on. I was still in the closet, and I was nowhere near that frame of mind.

You were also employed with Power to Change ministries. As a gay man, why did you seek employment there?

I wasn’t out then. My employment with Power to Change ministries, Mark Warawa, Russ Hiebert, all of it was before I came out. I would say that all of us, no matter who we are – life is a journey and sometimes we go through experiences and go through a journey. So for me, I was still questioning my sexuality at that point. Would I work for any of those politicians and that organization again? Absolutely not. I’ve journeyed through that, I’m out and I’m confident, and I’m proud of who I am now.

Are you part of any other campaign right now?

I’m not, no. I’ve had offers to be involved. I’ve spent some time this last week relaxing and reflecting and deciding what I will do next.

Will you return to politics at some point?

I got the political bug when I was 14, and I’ve never been able to get rid of it, so I don’t think I’m going far from politics. I certainly think I need a bit of a break from elected politics. As I move forward in life, I would very much like to continue to be in a place where I can make a difference. Whether that’s in politics, time will tell.

In light of all you’ve been through, how would you describe where you are at now?

I would say I am as out and as comfortable as I’ve ever been. I’m confident, I have peace of mind, and I’m so glad I finally came out, and I’ve never been happier. I would say to those who are either in Christian homes or in churches out there, you need to be who you are. It’s not easy and I understand where many of those people are at, but each of us are born the way we are. I encourage, especially, Christian young people who are struggling with their sexuality. They are the way they are because God made them that way, and they should be happy and content with that.

I hope that my resignation encourages and helps a few people and maybe inspires a few people.