Remember how it was to be a closeted gay? Stuck there because of the teasing, the bullying, the taunting and the threats that being gay exposes us to. Anxiety builds as we are thrust into a public setting where people might catch an element of our gayness, when we would be outed and subjected to our greatest fears. We cope by putting up barriers. We cope by wearing masks. We avoid situations where we might face criticism, for we interpret that to be criticism of who we are at our core. This is a fitting description of Brett Goldhawk…five years ago.
Today, Brett is the sole speech writer for the Premier of Manitoba. His work weeks are not framed in seven-hour days, and he is often sitting across from the premier, white papers scattered between them so that out comes a skeleton of a speech that gives voice to the importance of politics. Goldhawk often asks the premier to tell him a personal story related to the topic of the speech, emphasizing that the leader does not need to prove that he knows the policies inside and out, but rather that he gets why they are important. The result is that with every speech, the speechwriter grows a bond of trust with the top politician in Manitoba.
The evolution, both personal and professional, was a quick ascent. While doing research at the legislature, Goldhawk began to have a sense that this physical space had a unique asset: being a place where discussions have an impact on people’s lives. Goldhawk’s thought was simple: “How do you pass up being in a building that houses all the issues that I care about?” He wanted in. So Goldhawk approached–for the first time his life–a politician, fighting the old adage that “politics is all about who you know.”
Goldhawk grew up in Westwood, the son of a firefighter and an IT specialist, in a household where politicians were not among their regular dinner guests. Nonetheless, he obtained an internship, starting in the midst of committee hearings dealing with mandatory accommodation of gay-straight alliances in schools. The presentations were powerful, from supporters as much as the opposition. It was, for Goldhawk, a clear reminder that there are many GLBT issues that still need a public space to be heard and addressed. “I want to be part of normalizing politics for the LGBT community,” explains Goldhawk. “I want our voices to be front and centre in a regular way so that there is less negative reaction when a queer voice is heard.”
Political staffers don’t always choose the issues they get to work on. “I never thought I’d be the one writing speeches about missing and murdered aboriginal women,” offers Goldhawk with emotion running deep in his voice. “But in the process I learned so much, and it’s now something I very much care about.” Political advisors are thrust to the front lines of so many issues. But, as Goldhawk explains it, the result is an explosion of possible paths that open up in front of you.
There is irony in the fact that focusing entirely on giving someone else a voice has resulted in Goldhawk having a unique and clear voice himself. “I often lean back in my chair, looking at a picture of the premier and think, “Would he say that?” A sentiment that reveals that Goldhawk understands there is not a lack of things to say, or stories to share, that will make politics relevant for us all.
–Eric Plamondon is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer.
–Reza Rezaï is a Winnipeg-based artist.