2 min

The new gay politician

He'll answer the question - if asked point blank

HE'S NOT ADVERTISING. Manitoba New Democrat Jim Rondeau is out. Credit: Gilles Marchildon

Don’t call Jim Rondeau Manitoba’s first openly gay member of the legislative assembly.

He’s “not openly gay but… not in the closet. I don’t hide what I am… I’m not embarrassed. If I was straight, I wouldn’t advertise it either.”

Elected in Manitoba’s Sep 21 provincial election, Rondeau is a New Democratic Party backbencher who can nonetheless be given the title.

Rondeau came out in the November cover story of Swerve, a Winnipeg-based queer monthly newsmagazine.

The story attracted some local media attention, but nothing compared to the headlines a year ago, when openly gay city councillor Glen Murray became Winnipeg’s mayor. During that same election, out lesbian candidate Kristine Barr joined another lesbian, Lori Johnson, as trustees on the city’s biggest school board.

To anyone who asks, Rondeau replies that he’s gay. The idea, however, that it plays a role in the decisions of voters dismays Rondeau.

“Civilization will have matured when it gets beyond looking at individuals’ single characteristics.” As for the gay and lesbian community, “we will have won” when sexual orientation no longer warrants any attention when lesbians and gay men run for public office. Rondeau accepts that “people should be able to know” if they ask, but he hopes they don’t need to know a politician’s sexual orientation.

Also, he does not expect all gays and lesbians to automatically support him because of a shared sexual orientation. “I didn’t run on gay issues. I ran on health care and treating people fairly.”

Does his sexual orientation influence him as a politician? “Being gay gives me a certain experience and approach but if I was a farmer, that would also give me a unique experience that would help me deal with people.”

Rondeau admits to being a workaholic who sometimes forgets meals. An activist in causes such as literacy and AIDS awareness in northern Manitoba, where he lived for 10 years, Rondeau is also a financial planner. Until the election, he also worked for a school division designing and creating educational programs.

Never especially involved in the gay community, he goes out to local gay clubs occasionally but finds them “too smoky.”

“I’m not excluding my sexuality nor shying away from it. In my life, I’m much more than that.

“I’d rather socialize with people with common interests.”

Rondeau is reluctant to share anything about his partner of eight years. “Before the election, my partner and I discussed the whole aspect of political life. The agreement was that politics was my activity. He’s a quiet, shy person who doesn’t like the political schmoozing.”

Rondeau won the riding of Assiniboia in one of the province’s tightest races ever. On polling night, his opponent was declared elected by six votes. But when votes from hospitals and prisons came in later, Rondeau pulled ahead by the same number. It took two judicial recounts to confirm his election by a mere three ballots.