Nova Scotia

'I'm a public person with a very private life,' says Cecil Clarke, announcing he's gay

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke says after someone threatened to try to "shame" him about his personal life, he made the decision to share some information himself.

CBRM mayor says someone threatened to try to 'shame' him so he decided to share the information himself

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke speaks in studio with Mainstreet Sydney's Wendy Bergfeldt on Thursday. (Cecil Clarke/Twitter)

As Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke readies to embark on a new chapter of his political life, he's also speaking out about his personal life.

Clarke, 49, announced publicly Thursday he is gay.

Clarke said someone "wanting to possibly shame" him threatened to expose his personal life, so he made the decision to share the information himself.

"If that's homophobia and the fact that I'm gay in political life, then shame on people that do that," he told CBC's Mainstreet Cape Breton.

Clarke is expected to announce on Saturday that he will seek the leadership of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party. He said he wanted to come out before then.

"I'm not going to go forward and announce my intentions about the Progressive Conservative Party leadership race having people think that they are going to shame me, or hold something over me, or make it negative that, in this day and age, that being gay is somehow a bad thing," he said.

A progressive Progressive Conservative

Clarke described himself as a "red Tory," focusing on the progressive side of the Progressive Conservatives and so was happy to talk about equality, but didn't plan to make his private life part of the conversation in the future.

"I hope on Saturday anyone that's coming to hear me is there to support me as Cecil the politician and the fact that I am gay, if they have a problem with that as a Progressive Conservative, then they're not my Progressive Conservative of today."

After someone threatened to shame him about his personal life, Cecil Clarke says he made the decision to publicly state he's gay 1:38

Clarke said he is in a committed relationship with a man he loves, which he credits, along with the support of his family, with helping him reach his decision to come out publicly.

"I owe it to myself to be true going forward, because I'm not going to have people trying to shame me or somehow get out there and malign me," he said.

Childhood sexual abuse

He also revealed that he had been sexually abused as a child. 

"When I was four and then seven, I was sexually assaulted as a child. I thought I'd recovered very well from that and that I had the love of a family that was there for me and a community that supported me. This week, all of that hurt and pain came barrelling back."

He did not provide details of the abuse, which he said was "swept under the rug."

"The RCMP of the day were at the door; I remember the images. It was like, 'OK, how do we make this go away?' And that was it."

He said his sisters, brothers and parents rallied to his side this week. He said they all had a tough time growing up, living on welfare and dealing with the separation of his parents. "But I had love around me. That loving family built me up," he said. "My church has been fundamental to me in my life in giving me a great foundation."

Clarke said he also wanted to set an example for young gay people today so they wouldn't be afraid or ashamed of who they are.

"If I don't speak out now, if I can't go into a room and know that the person I want to spend my life with can't be there freely as well? I actually turned it around and said, no, I'm not prepared. Shame on me — it's time to say no to this type of abuse."

Long political career

A resident of Sydney Mines, N.S., Clarke has been mayor of CBRM since 2012. He is just over a year into his second term, having been re-elected in October 2016.

Before running municipally, Clarke sat in the provincial legislature for 10 years, beginning in 2001, under the Progressive Conservative governments of former premiers John Hamm and Rodney MacDonald.

He served as minister of economic development, minister of energy, attorney general and minister of justice.

He was named Speaker of the House in 2006.

In 1997 and 2011, Clarke ran unsuccessfully for Parliament in Sydney-Victoria. 

Clarke's major focus as mayor has been the development of Sydney Harbour. He has led an effort to develop a container terminal, and has proposed a multimillion-dollar commercial and residential development for the waterfront.

Clarke participated in Pride parades as mayor before he publicly came out as gay. (CBC)

With files from Mainstreet Cape Breton and Gary Mansfield