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UPDATE: NDP leadership hopeful comes out

Farnworth says his sexuality was never a secret

"People wonder: do I have a partner? And the answer's yes," says NDP leadership hopeful Mike Farnworth, whose Jan 13 news release declaring his candidacy refers to his partner, Doug. Credit: Janet Rerecich photo

NDP House Leader and justice critic Mike Farnworth came out of the closet publicly Jan 13 and announced he’s running for leader of the provincial New Democrats.

“We’re not just choosing the next leader of the Opposition, we’re going to be choosing the next premier of BC,” he told a room of enthusiastic supporters in his Port Coquitlam riding.

The leadership announcement could well catapult Farnworth to the front of the pack of NDP contenders, which also includes openly gay Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons.

Farnworth downplayed his sexuality, saying he believes the best person for the job should be chosen as the NDP’s next leader.

Farnworth’s official news release, distributed by his press secretary during his speech, notes he was raised in Port Coquitlam and still lives there now with “Doug, his partner of 22 years, and their two dogs.”

Asked about his sexuality afterwards, Farnworth says it was never a secret. “It’s no secret from the caucus. It’s no secret in my riding,” he told Xtra, adding he has introduced his partner in public. “I never put out a press release,” he says.

It’s not something he’s talked of publicly before, but “I haven’t been running for leader of the NDP before,” he says. “People wonder: do I have a partner? And the answer’s yes.”

Asked if it’s important for leaders to set an example of openness, Farnworth pauses. “I know it’s a question and I’m going to address it. I think what British Columbians want to know is who’s the best person for the job.”

Farnworth has openly supported gay issues in the province’s political arena. In July 2010, he joined openly gay Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert to denounce gaybashings in Vancouver. He said the justice system needs to send the message that hate crimes will be prosecuted more strongly.

He told media at his leadership bid announcement that school codes of conduct should include rules against homophobic bullying. It’s a line he has voted in the legislature. In May 2007, Farnworth and his NDP colleagues voted against passing what many gay activists considered toothless safe-schools legislation that did nothing to protect BC’s queer youth. He reiterated that stand on Jan 13.

“I think codes of conduct are a good thing,” he says. “There should be zero tolerance for homophobia.”

The four-term MLA announced his candidacy in his suburban Vancouver riding of Port Coquitlam to a room packed with more than 100 supporters, including local politicians and a throng of local and national media.

The NDP leadership race now includes Farnworth, Simons, Harry Lali, Dana Larsen and John Horgan in the bid to replace NDP leader Carole James, who stepped down in December after weeks of internal party bickering. “The days of infighting are over,” Farnworth declared.

Farnworth had backed the ousted James before she yielded to opposition from the so-called baker’s dozen of NDP MLAs who objected to her leadership style.

The party is scheduled to choose a new leader on April 17. Farnworth is easily the most experienced government leader of the contenders. First elected in 1991, he held high-profile cabinet positions in the former NDP government of the 1990s, including health minister and minister of social development.

NDP MLA Adrian Dix is also expected to announce his candidacy soon.