With just one month to go until the first in-person Pride & Remembrance Run in three years, Wynne and her family are anxious to resume what has become a family affair…
By Andrew Perez
Kathleen Wynne doesn’t recall exactly when she first began running for LGBTQ2+ causes, but as she remembers, it all began in the early 1990s.
The 25th premier of Ontario – and the province’s first female and openly gay premier – says it was not long after she first came out as a lesbian in 1991 that she began running in more formal races like the Pride & Remembrance Run.
“I lost a close friend, Doug, during the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s, and his death was an integral part of my coming out,” Wynne told me in an interview earlier this spring. “I think the Pride & Remembrance Run name is so important because it helps us all remember those who are no longer with us.”
Since the run’s inception in 1996, Wynne and her spouse, Jane Rounthwaite, have taken part every June. Over the decades, it has become a family tradition that Wynne and her now-adult children and grandchildren look forward to every Pride season. Interestingly, it’s an annual ritual Wynne became involved with long before she first entered public life as a Toronto school board trustee in the year 2000.
“The thing I love most about the Pride & Remembrance Run is that anybody can take part in it,” says Wynne, who recently concluded almost 19 years of service as the MPP for Toronto’s Don Valley West riding. “There is no feeling of exclusion when it comes to the run – for heaven’s sake, there are people running in tutus and wigs. It’s both fun and sombre at the same time.”
Wynne also appreciates that the run has always been a family-friendly event where children are welcomed and celebrated. She fondly recalls bringing her first grandchild to the run as a one-year-old in a stroller, and what that experience was like for Wynne and her daughter, Jessie.
As a professional runner, Wynne has taken part in dozens of races over the decades organized by different charities. But the Pride & Remembrance Run stands apart from all these other races, she says emphatically.
“There’s a heart to the run that other races just don’t have,” says Wynne. “The run creates a safe space for all of us to be in – it’s why it’s one of my favourite events of the year.”
Wynne’s life has changed significantly since she first began participating in the run back in 1996 – and so has the nature of her experience with the run.
While she was always well-known in her North Toronto community, over the years she built an increasingly prominent public profile – first as a school board trustee and local MPP, then as a powerful cabinet minister in then-Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government, and eventually breaking the glass ceiling as Ontario’s first female and LGBTQ2+ premier in 2013.
By Wynne’s own admission, the most poignant change in her relationship with the run took place after she became premier in 2013. She chokes up while telling the story about her memorable involvement in the 2014 Pride & Remembrance Run as Toronto was hosting “World Pride” celebrations.
Wynne had just formed a surprise majority government days before that run took place, and she was keenly aware of how excited people were that she had been elected in her own right as an out-gay female politician.
“When I marched in the Pride Parade and when I ran in the run in 2014, I felt like I was really able to connect with people in their happiness because they felt validated by having a lesbian as premier,” says Wynne.
“It made all of us feel a bit less afraid and more secure – it was one of the best feelings in the world.”
Now, with just one month to go until the first in-person Pride & Remembrance Run in three years, Wynne and her family are anxious to resume what has become a family affair. Wynne says she’s excited to participate in the run in person this year after dutifully taking part in it virtually with Jane for the past two years.
When asked about the run’s tagline – fun. fast. fab. – Wynne smiles, admitting without hesitation that she strongly identifies with the fun and fast aspects. “But I don’t think I’d ever describe myself as fab!” she says, laughing.
As a trailblazing member of Toronto’s LGBTQ2+ community who has faithfully taken part in the run for more than 25 years, Ontario’s 25th premier perfectly encapsulates the run’s tagline – and that most definitely includes the “fab” aspect.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to our cause, Ms. Wynne, and we so look forward to seeing you sprint to the finish line on June 25!
ANDREW PEREZ is a Toronto-based public affairs professional, freelance writer and political activist. Andrew also serves as the media and communications director on the Board of Directors of the 2021–2022 Pride & Remembrance Association, and has been very involved in organizing this year’s run.