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Nova Scotians elect province’s first openly gay MLA

Joanne Bernard received hate mail during the campaign

Joanne Bernard took nearly 3,000 votes — 44 percent of those cast — to wrest control of the Dartmouth North riding away from the NDP. Credit: Courtesy of Joanne Bernard

Nova Scotia made history Oct 8, electing its first openly gay member of the legislative assembly.

Joanne Bernard took nearly 3,000 votes — 44 percent of those cast — to wrest control of the Dartmouth North riding away from the now-third-place NDP, adding to the crowded column of those seats picked up by Stephen McNeil and the Liberal Party. She says she knocked on more than 4,000 doors during the campaign, many of them alongside her wife, Annette.

"Surprised? No. Grateful? Yes," she says.

That she is the first openly gay provincial politician elected in Nova Scotia may be historical but it is not especially significant for Bernard.

"It's overdue," she tells Xtra.

"I wish more people from our community would come forward and put their names on the ballot."

She figures there are very good reasons that gays and lesbians don't come out and run for office. She knows why firsthand.

Bernard made headlines earlier in the campaign after she received homophobic hate mail at her campaign office.

"It was a very neatly handwritten letter that started out with 'I was very supportive of your campaign, until I read the sentence that said you were married to Annette,' and in the sidelines of that they handwrote the word 'Gross' twice and then went on to tell me that I was disgusting and that I would never be elected."

Despite the shock of receiving that sort of vitriol, she says she received no more hatred on the campaign trail because of her sexual orientation.

The anonymous letter-writer turned out to be quite wrong, as Bernard easily took the seat once held by NDP-cum-independent Trevor Zinck — who was recently sentenced to four months in jail for fraud.

Bernard could keep making firsts if she's appointed to Stephen McNeil's cabinet. The Liberals' first caucus meeting is on Oct 11, and she has high hopes of getting one of the top jobs. She's hoping for minister of community services or municipal relations.

Before being elected, Bernard spent more than a decade in non-profit work in Halifax and Dartmouth, including work for victims of spousal abuse and homelessness.

She says her first priority is to set up a constituency office that's accessible to everyone. As far as queer issues go, she lauds the work of the previous government in enshrining protections for trans Nova Scotians into the Human Rights Act.

The Nova Scotia NDP were defeated before they could move forward with plans to improve access to sex reassignment surgery through the provincial healthcare system. Bernard says that will be something she's looking to advocate for while in government.

"That would be the logical next step," she says.