Coming out as the end of a beginning


This morning on CTV’s Canada AM Kevin Newman, of Question Period fame, was promoting a very important segment on this weekend’s W5 program (Saturday at 7 p.m. ET) and, in the accompanying online article he wrote, “Coming out is toward the end of the process for our gay children” – when learning to accept it is just starting for parents. A very important insight, I thought, as I recalled my own process.

(This weekend’s W5 will not only include Newman’s gay son, Alex, but will focus on out gay athlete @ScottHeggart who I wrote about last spring.)

Kevin’s empathy and insights are quite remarkable, perhaps more so to any families who have not yet been faced with a child’s dramatic struggle towards self-acceptance, and “coming out (as) toward the end of the process for our gay children”.

By the time that I came out to my family in 1981, at the age of 21, I had been through a whirlwind of attempts to make peace with myself but, almost completely untethered and in the shadow of a traumatic childhood and adolescence, I had done so in the fog of abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and in a rampage of sexual activity at a time when HIV/AIDS was just beginning to permeate our collective conscience.  So much living before I could be sure enough to come out!  Notwithstanding the exceptionally loving acceptance of my family more than one reckless genie had been let out of the bottle.

As I look upon the rest of my life as recovery I am optimistic for the future of younger members of my community with helpful, empathetic media coverage and young role models and their families so willing to share their stories.

W5’s ‘OFFSIDE’ airs this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on CTV, along with livechat at CTVNews.ca

For a young peoples’ video look at the history of the Tay Canal please click the link below, by which I mean…


this one!

I am so proud! Not that I had anything to do with this (and I didn’t) but because the video shows how the appreciation of Perth (Lanark County, Ontario, Canada) history is, and will continue to be, alive and well!

Congratulations to everyone, particularly the young people and their mentors, who made this possible.

Newspaper clipping from Mom: “A GAY JOCK TAKES OFF THE MASK”


It was on the front page of the Ottawa Citizen’s March 17 “Saturday Observer”  section.

The paper sat on a table beside Mom’s comfy chair, where she keeps anything she wants to pass along to me.  She knows that, like Jamie Hubley, whose passing touched me so deeply, hockey stories wouldn’t normally need to be on that pile.

Beneath the headline a full one-third of the page is a picture of a hockey goaltender, his mask flipped up on his head.  21-year old Scott Heggart looks confidently into the camera and smiles, his right hand holding one of the goal-posts.

The online version does not include what is, for me, a very moving picture of Scott and his family, including boyfriend Brock – a picture large enough to fully cover “above the fold” on the third page – sister, father, boyfriend, Scott, mother and brother.

Scott has been chronicling his story by posting videos to YouTube here for a long time and one of his featured playlists “Coming Out” includes “First my take on coming out to my family, then my family’s take; final note on the interviews with my family, followed by my advice to those looking to come out.”

But it’s the video of his appearance on CBC’s “Q” with Jian Ghomeshi that opens his main page and summarizes what’s been going on – fantastic!  What an inspiration!

Recording resistance and history through music in Palestine


Songs from a Lost Homeland, which originally aired on Al Jazeera English last year, is in the programming rotation again this weekend.

Is there a song in the west right now with even a small percentage of the punch of these musicians? I hope you get a chance to see the entire documentary. There’s another absurd segment where Israeli forces, tipped off that a Palestinian musician had a bunch of his CDs in his car (that can’t be good!), pull him over at a makeshift check-point and take them away.

While I’m sure I will look in on the Oscars presentation Sunday night it’s not hard, what with what’s going on in Libya, northern Africa and the Middle East, to see how completely shallow this is.

To say nothing of Charlie Sheen.

We just don’t know how good we’ve got it, do we?

Music of the movement


One of the first activists’ songs that had any resonance for me was “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” (1961) and then “Give Peace A Chance” (1969). Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” (1963) was an anthem, if ever there was one, and I remember making a connection with “One Tin Soldier” in 1969. While grown-ups were worried about missiles in Cuba and a war in Vietnam I was learning a little bit of French watching “Chez Helene” and trying to figure out matters of proportion and size with “The Friendly Giant”. My only brush with war, more than young Canadians in other provinces mind you, was during the October Crisis of 1970. Riz Khan, a television figure new to me since I started receiving Al Jazeera English, spends just under half an hour with Yusuf, formerly known as Yusuf Islam and Cat Stevens during my youth (“Peace Train” 1971) as he releases a rallying song to commemorate the sea change underway across the Middle East and northern Africa.

Awesome task (or perhaps not): bridging the perspective gap


Excerpts from my tweets (and a RT) from early this afternoon:

Death by daily repression and near-starvation or death by desperate martyrdom via the State responsible? Your choice? #Bahrain #Libya #Yemen

MD from #Bahrain: “Pls, pls, where is the #UN; we need the world; ppl are being killed in the streets!”

Ambu’s BLOCKED frm #PearlRoundabout as security shoots and kills thru haze of tear gas; MDs plead to world, “Where are you?”#Bahrain

Photo: Protesters prayed for injured comrades outside Salmaniya hospital in #Manama late on Thursday

CBCNN adverts walk-in baths ad naus, Aljazeera Eng (#176 in T-O w free prevws) covers Bah’rain & Libya crises wall-to-wall w ppl on phn .

I’m hungry. Why? Because the late start to my day began only with coffee, HIV meds, Al Jazeera,Twitter and Facebook. Such an embarrassment of riches!

I wasn’t winding up days of mourning for someone today when my country’s security forces opened fire with tear gas and live ammunition.

Am I still pissed with Bev Oda and my government’s dismissive handling of the KAIROS scandal? Sure. Rightly so.

Do I believe that I owe someone an apology, undeliverable until next Thursday, due to a slight delivered his way yesterday? Yes.

Should I surrender my gay card for again postponing a hair-cut, so desperately needed? Honey, do I really need to ask?

Am I pre-occupied with one leg in yesterday, given what has happened to me in the past, and the other in tomorrow, worried about what I’ll have to do in the future – meanwhile, as the off-colour saying goes, “pissing all over today”? (As Cenk, on The Young Turks would say, “Of COOOOURSE!”)

30 years “out” – February 5 (when Toronto cops swept through the baths)


If ever I’ve had a “But for the grace of God, there go I” occasion (even though I have problems with that expression) it would have to have been February 5, 1981 – thirty years ago today.

At 11 p.m. that night, more than 150 police carried out simultaneous raids on four of Toronto’s most popular bath houses, arresting close to 300 men. “Operation Soap”, as the police named the investigation, is very well recalled here by Pink Triangle Press. It was the largest mass arrest in Canada since the October Crisis of 1970 and the late Rick Bébout’s account of the raids and the aftermath live on here. This was long before police “sensitivity training”.

Had it not been a weeknight I might very well have been swept up in the raids as I was a frequent visitor to bath houses on my almost-weekly trips from St. Catharines to Toronto bars and baths.

Until the events of that night I was leading a tortuous double life as a twenty-one-year-old, secretly trying to extinguish my homosexuality during the week as part of a conservative church and inevitably giving in to my natural instincts on the weekend (or whenever my days off happened to be) in the anonymity offered by the big city across the lake.

I came out to my parents, writing them a letter.

I was livid when the pastor of the church wrote a letter to the local paper praising the actions of the Toronto police. He was driven from the church not too long after due to an unrelated split in the congregation.

Assuming that television cameras would catch me protesting, following the raids, I came out to my parents, writing them a letter. Their positive response included them telling me that my brother, Craig, had come out to them a few years earlier. Understandably, neither they nor Craig were interested in telling me so long as I was part of the fundamentalist church.

The bath raids brought me out of the closet, frankly feeling more angry than liberated, and I count myself among the thousands in Toronto who can trace their passion for gay liberation politics through the tumultuous events of the raids and the subsequent massive demonstrations. I hung out with Rick, Chris Bearchell (who gave me a button which read “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”) and others, at a few meetings/parties at The Body Politic. I later wrote, infrequently granted, for TBP (the excellent forerunner to Pink Triangle Press’ Xtra!) – particularly when police arrested men having sex in public washrooms in Welland and St. Catharines.

Niagara Regional Police released the names and addresses of the accused. Most media outlets ran them – before trial – including my employer, but not before I engaged in a heated argument with my boss. He insisted on “the public’s right to know” (read gossip) while I argued that the extreme sensitivity of the charges far exceeded the seriousness of the allegations.

Very few of the accused fought the charges. In rural west St Catharines in January, 1985 a 42-year-old father of two, and a Sunday school teacher, was found dead in his car, having soaked himself with gasoline and set off his lighter. Just days earlier, he had been at the Fairview Mall. Three hours before his suicide, he had been charged with gross indecency.

He missed his trial; didn’t enter a plea. He was never convicted and yet he, and many others, had already been punished by the police and the media. The St. Catharines Standard was an outstanding exception, not only witholding the names of the accused but also doing a series of reports on the phenomenon of anonymous sex, even “tearoom sex”.

It was heart-warming to find so many of the activists with whom I had cut my political teeth, in the aftermath of the bath raids, now playing key roles in Toronto’s response to the AIDS crisis.

Using a pseudonym, so as not to upset management at the St. Catharines radio station where I was employed (I’d already caused a ruckus by “coming out” in the local paper), I worked with other activists on various information and political action campaigns through my years there in the 1980s.

When I was diagnosed with HIV, and then AIDS, not long after moving to Toronto in 1988 it was heart-warming to find so many of the activists with whom I had cut my political teeth, in the aftermath of the bath raids, now playing key roles in Toronto’s response to the AIDS crisis. Rick Bébout was among them until his death in 2009.

The Pride parades in Toronto, now held each June, got their biggest shot in the arm following the raids. What had only loosely been called a “community” was now a community indeed. We became very adept organizers and campaigners of all sorts.

Another of the lasting legacies of the raids is the almost universal disdain with which the Toronto Sun is held in the LGBT community. The paper, and most notably columnist Claire Hoy, were constant cheerleaders of the brains behind the raids at the Attorney-General’s office and Metro Toronto Police’s 52 Division. Ironically relations with the police have greatly improved over the years.

The Sun? For “old-timers”, at least, not so much.

What follows is a full-length documentary about the bath raids entitled “Track Two”. I well remember how proud the community was when it was released. It is available, and in smaller segments as well, from Xtra‘s YouTube site.

In fact I’ll lead off with one of those segments because I thought it was so funny and I was mere steps away from the main subject, author Margaret Atwood, during the filming. I even remember that date, February 20.  This was an event at St. Lawrence Market North, a fundraiser for legal defense and for future political advocacy. (The evening also featured a then up-and-coming a cappella group The Nylons.)

Enjoy Margaret’s deadpan!

Now the full 87 minute documentary: