Montreal

'We're writing history': Canada's 1st trans mayor elected in village west of Montreal

Julie Lemieux says voters in Très-Saint-Redempteur wanted change and put 'skills before status'

Verity Stevenson - CBC News

November 11, 2017

Julie Lemieux is the first known transgender person to be elected as a mayor in Canada, in the small Quebec village of Très-Saint-Redempteur. (Thomas Gerbet/Radio-Canada)

The small village of Très-Saint-Redempteur, Que., near the Ontario border, is known for its towering historical Catholic church — and now, for being home to Canada's first openly transgender mayor.

The election of Julie Lemieux last Sunday flew under the radar as the surprising victory of Valérie Plante, Montreal's first elected woman mayor, stole the headlines.

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The irony of her religiously-rooted village having been the one to create the milestone was not lost on Lemieux. 

"It's quite funny," she told CBC News over the phone Friday.

That church is now a community and cultural centre, she noted, and saving the old building by making it so was what got her into politics in the first place.

Julie Lemieux won the mayoral election with 48 per cent of the vote. (Radio-Canada)

Lemieux, 45, isn't only the first known trans person to be elected in Canada, she is the first woman to be elected in her municipality, founded in 1880.

"It's really a place and a village that is bold and innovative," she said. "We're writing history and I have a lot to offer."

Lemieux, who won 48 per cent of the Très-Saint-Redempteur vote in the Nov. 5 province-wide municipal elections, told Radio-Canada earlier that she believes the villagers chose her "to incarnate change."

"People needed renewal in the village," she said.

Openness in Quebec's villages

"It shows something we don't necessarily see in the media: in the villages, too, there is acceptance and social openness," said Lemieux..

She said the fact that she was born a man "is an open secret" in Très-Saint-Redempteur.

Some supporters of the opposition tried to marginalize her candidacy, but it didn't work. She said she didn't feel judged as she went around meeting constituents.

The church of Très-Saint-Rédempteur is now used as a cultural centre. (http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca)

Voter turnout in the village of fewer than 1,000 was high — 70 per cent — considering many municipal elections in Quebec's small communities go acclaimed, and the province's average voter turnout hovers at around 45 per cent.

Winds of change

Très-Saint-Redempteur resident Chantal Brault said she's happy with the village's new mayor.

"Her orientation doesn't change anything for me. We don't look at that, we look at her skills," she said, noting she'd met Lemieux a couple times.

Brault described her as "jovial," and said she defended her points well.

Brault acknowledged there's been a "wind of change" in Quebec, with several female candidates elected to the posts they were vying for. 

"We need to make space for women," Brault said. "It's competence that's most important." 

A key election issue in the village has been whether to allow chickens in residents' backyards, something Lemieux has supported on social media and says she will make one of her first orders of business.

Other plans for the municipality include injecting life into its cultural centre, establishing an "Artisans' Route" and creating a space where merchants can get more visibility and where villagers can have better access to the services they offer.

"I'm extroverted. I've arranged my life around giving to others," Lemieux said. "I love giving my time."

'Skills before status'

Her identity as a trans woman did not feature in her campaign, but the fact that she is the first elected to a mayoral post in the country is a point of pride.

"[It] makes me proud," she said. "People see skills before status."

Lemieux knew she was "feminine by nature" around the age of six or seven, she says, and her transition began at age 29, when she lived in Drummondville.

A cabinetmaker by trade, Lemieux was 37 when she moved to Très-Saint-Redempteur. She became a municipal councillor four years later, in 2013.

With files from Radio-Canada's Thomas Gerbet
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