Ted Nebbeling, BC’s first openly gay Liberal MLA, has died. He was 65.
The former two-term mayor of Whistler was diagnosed with colon cancer about a year and a half ago. He was released from hospital last week, and died at his Vancouver home Oct 28.
Nebbeling served two terms with the BC Liberals as MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi from 1996-2005. He married his partner of 32 years, Jan Holberg, on Nov 15, 2003 while he was minister of state for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“As one of the world’s first sitting cabinet ministers to marry a same-sex partner, Ted raised awareness of the important principles of equality and inclusion for all citizens,” Premier Gordon Campbell said in a statement Oct 28.
Holmberg could not be reached for comment at the couple’s West End home.
Liberal party member Laura McDiarmid says Nebbeling’s marriage while in cabinet made him a community hero.
“To have someone of that stature… to get married while in cabinet was such a coup for the LGBT community,” McDiarmid says. “It was so validating.”
Nebbeling and Holberg’s marriage came just months after gay marriage was legalized in BC.
“He lived what he believed,” McDiarmid says. “He always struck me as a gentleman and a professional in all he did. He was a wonderful man.”
Nebbeling was dropped from cabinet the day after his wedding but the government always maintained it was just coincidence.
Nebbeling said he had no issue with the cabinet shuffle.
“Quite frankly, I have known [Campbell] now for over 20 years and I consider him a personal friend and he feels the same about us, so I know 100 percent that that would never enter his mind,” he told Whistler’s Pique newspaper at the time.
In 1997, Nebbeling inadvertently found himself at the centre of a political debate on ethics and sexism.
He was speaking during a late-night sitting when a wind-up penis bounced across his desk. The prank was captured by the legislature’s TV channel.
“I don’t know what’s going on around me, but I have been surrounded by women who want to do something,” Nebbeling deadpanned.
Tim Stevenson was BC’s first openly gay cabinet minister, preceding Nebbeling’s entry into cabinet by several years. Like Nebbeling, Stevenson was first elected in 1996 but he ran with the NDP, which formed the government.
“We were both the first openly gay [MLAs] in BC ever,” Stevenson says.
As a member of the opposition during NDP Premier Glen Clark’s administration, Nebbeling was part of the Liberal caucus that opposed the redefinition of spouse to extend benefits to same-sex couples.
“I think we came from quite different perspectives on how to deal with the gay liberation movement,” Stevenson says. “He [Nebbeling] was not involved with gay liberation. He just lived his life. He wouldn’t talk about it or preach about it. He and his partner just lived and were open about it.”
Stevenson says it’s ironic that Nebbeling became the first gay cabinet minister to marry given his earlier opposition to redefining spouse. Still, he says Nebbeling set an example “that’s helpful to the queer community.”
Stevenson suspects Nebbeling occasionally had a hard time in the Liberal caucus.
“He had to live and be openly gay within a Liberal caucus that was not very sympathetic,” Stevenson says.
Nebbeling and Holmberg were both immigrants to Canada. Nebbeling was born in Amsterdam and immigrated to Canada in 1977, while Holmberg is from Sweden.
Prior to his election to the provincial legislature, Nebbeling opened a variety of retail outlets in Whistler. He also served on the local council as a councillor and then as mayor for two terms.
He was chair of the Sea to Sky Economic Development Commission, a director of the Whistler Resort Association and a member of both the Municipal Forestry Committee and the Tourism/Forestry Task Force.
While in opposition in the legislature, Nebbeling served as critic for municipal affairs, forests and employment and investment. He sat on a number of committees including finance and Crown Corporations, economic development, science, labour, training and technology and health.
Campbell praised Nebbeling’s work to bring the Olympics to BC after the Liberals formed government.
“Ted was instrumental in securing the 2010 Games for British Columbia and giving all British Columbians the gift of an event that will last in memory for generations,” Campbell said.
During her term as chair of the Vancouver Parks Board, McDiarmid was involved with Nebbeling early in the Olympic bid process.
“He saw the vision,” McDiarmid says. “He saw the benefits it would bring to out country.”
Since leaving politics, Nebbeling and Holmberg travelled widely, sometimes timing their trips between chemotherapy sessions.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.