Three Dollar Bill: A whole lotta Rosie

A whole lotta Rosie

NDP star candidate Peg Norman, having fun after all these years
Photo: Photo courtesy Peg Norman

Rosie O’Donnell is still making waves in Canada six months after the ocean liner Norwegian Dawn docked in Halifax last summer with 2,000 gay and lesbian parents and their children, including the O’Donnell clan.

That day, July 12, 10 couples stepped off the Norwegian Dawn and got married at Pier 21 every half-hour beginning at 8:30 a.m.

"This is amazing," Rosie told reporters, and she would know since Rosie married wife Kelli O’Donnell at San Francisco city hall in February 2004.

Then, over the Christmas holidays, Rosie sent a big fat cheque to her friend, federal NDP candidate Peg Norman, to help fund Norman’s current campaign to oust incumbent Tory MP Loyola Hearn – former house leader for both the Progressive Conservative and current Conservative parties – in the Newfoundland riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.

"This wasn’t planned at all," says Norman, whose life partner, dyke filmmaker Gerry Rogers, I interviewed in this column after Gerry’s terrific international award-winning documentary My Left Breast – chronicling Rogers’ inspirational struggle against breast cancer – landed Rogers on Rosie’s old TV show back in 2001.

"Rosie sent us the cheque the week before Christmas but, after consulting Elections Canada, we quickly realized that [to donate money to a Canadian election campaign] you have to be a Canadian citizen, a landed immigrant or a refugee. And Rosie was none of those – though she may become a refugee with Bush in the White House!"

Recognizing a good story when they see one, especially during the slow Christmas news cycle, Norman’s campaign staff immediately issued a press release that garnered more headlines coast-to-coast than even NDP Leader Jack Layton.

But Norman isn’t a one-trick pony. She’s been a social activist all her adult life, serving on boards and committees, including the St. John’s Rape Crisis Centre. For 18 years she worked in hospitals, nursing homes and a kid’s rehab centre before she was hired in 1989 to manage the Morgentaler Clinic. During her decade with Morgentaler, Norman was instrumental in negotiating full government funding for safe, legal abortions.

Norman now runs her Travel Bug store in downtown St. John’s and is running all-out to win her riding after losing to Hearns in the last federal election. She got 24 per cent of the vote in 2004. This year she, Hearns and Liberal candidate Siobhan Coady are running neck-and-neck.

Says Norman, "The Liberals are trafficking in fear. Gerry walked past this older dyke [in town] the other day who said she was scared of the Conservatives and was going to vote Liberal. She was terrified of Harper. That’s what the Liberals did last time: They say the Conservatives will turn back the clock on same-sex marriage. Even the media does it. They pretend there are only two parties. My message to gays and lesbians in this country is vote for the party who will always stand up for queer issues. The Liberals will only do it when they have to. This is not the Liberal government of Trudeau."

Norman says the thriving gay community in St. John’s is an open-minded and progressive place to live. "Newfoundland is very open. My sexual orientation is not an issue."

It was, however, in the last election.

"I’d ‘straighten’ out the house when my mom would visit me and then I decided [living a lie] was too hard," says Norman about her life before coming out at age 18. "My son – who is now 25 – was two years old when I came out and my sexual orientation has never been an issue for him or for me.

"So [during the last election, on the TV show] Out of the Fog, one of the questions was about same-sex marriage [SSM]. I had been on record for SSM throughout my campaign, I was an out dyke, and I was asked, ‘Where do you stand on SSM and if given the opportunity would you marry your same-sex partner?’ And, I thought, ‘You weasel.’ He made sure [all the homophobes] knew I was a dyke."

This election campaign has been a breeze in comparison.

"I have a meeting with the head of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union today," Norman tells me over the phone on the eve of her 14th anniversary with Rogers on Jan. 8. "And I have two social events to attend this evening. Knocking doors in January is not as viable an option as in June."

But with every new door Norman knocks on, the closet increasingly becomes a relic of the past.

"I’m tired," she says on the campaign trail. "But I am having fun."

And this time she may even win.

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