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:

“It Gets Better” tops 2010 list


Dan Savage and husband Terry Miller started something in 2010 that Mark Kelley and the CBC Connect crew put at the top of Connect 10: A  Countdown of the most popular stories online in 2010.

Responding to highly-publicized cases of bullying and suicides of gays and lesbians, the “It Gets Better” project was launched with this video on September 21.

It is difficult to watch this and not remember, with horror, the pain of high school.

I have heard of at least two suicides this autumn by people closer to my own age still haunted by bullying, present-day homophobia or other trauma in their youth.

There are, of course, many others who do not attract the same attention as did those in the United States which, in rapid succession, followed a similar pattern: homophobic violence or harassment and then suicide.

LGBT community activists in Toronto chimed in with an “It Gets Better” video of their own:

A simple gesture over the holidays that could make a world of difference


 

I know that I was not the only Canadian very proud a few years back when Parliament passed legislation designed to make it easier for generic pharmaceutical companies to ship life-saving AIDS medications, and others, to developing nations of the south.

So it was rather shameful to learn that, so far, only one shipment – to one country – has been made.

As someone who has benefited from every advancement in HIV treatment since my diagnosis in 1989, even when that was just grasping to hope in 1992 with careful attention to symptoms by my HIV/AIDS specialist, I find it extremely offensive and immoral that this wealth of research and hope has not been shared with people no less entitled than me to the best possible health.

We can do something about this.

(1) Share this video far and wide.

 

 

(2) Visit Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network .

(3) Contact your Member of Parliament (information is provided at the above web site).  Feel free to tell them Kenn sent you!

 

All of this can be done in the time it would take to wrap one gift – and what a meaningful gift it would be!

Now with pictures: Activists warmly received – okay met with mild bemusement – during very cold “Die-in” for Bill C-393


Feel free to share the video below. With Parliament now on Christmas recess, we have the entire month of January to make our views known.

It was such a cold walk down to Yonge-Dundas Square this morning I was glad to be able to walk the full block south from Gerrard to Gould Streets through the corridors of Jorgenson Hall at Ryerson University.

I was dressed for the outdoors reminiscent of my childhood in Quebec.  Fluorescent red earmuffs, attached to a head band, were topped off with a black toque.  Beneath a red nylon ski jacket I wore a light turtleneck sweater underneath a warm fleece sweater.  I wore my usual blue jeans but underneath was a pair of what I call Truro trousers (Truro, Nova Scotia being the home of Stanfield’s underwear) also known as long-johns or long underwear.  My feet were covered with a pair each of cotton and wool socks, and I wore my dependable snow boots for their warmth, despite a total lack of snow.

Arriving at Yonge-Dundas Square, crossroads of the inner city and obscene consumption, I was greeted by a number of the organizers of today’s event – Bill C-393 Student Coalition, AIDS Action Now! and the HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

photo: Andrea Houston

Yonge-Dundas “die-in”

“Die-in” protest stops traffic at Yonge and Dundas

Toronto AIDS drug protest gets attention in Ottawa

Even with instructions having been emailed out and uploaded to the Facebook event page, we were handed index card-sized pieces of paper recapping how we would flood the intersection during its pedestrian scramble phases.  (Every third pedestrian signal is one in which anyone can cross from any direction to any corner of the intersection.)

photo: Claudia Medina

A whistle blew each time and about thirty of us headed to the centre of the intersection, with our signs supporting C-393, and for about ten seconds we either lay flat on the pavement (the classic die-in position), or got down on one knee or sat down with our legs straight out.  I was determined to lie flat, despite concerns I wouldn’t get up fast enough.  I succeeded for several consecutive scrambles, even starting to get up before the whistle blew, but eventually I just went down on one knee (as in the above picture) – that is until the end of this half hour exercise when we had decided, that during the final die-in, we would refuse to get up when the lights changed, leaving honking motorists to wait for several minutes.

photo: Claudia Medina

This was so well organized that the handful of police keeping an eye on things were in-the-know and assured our safety when bewildered motorists began honking their horns.

photo: Claudia Medina

photo: Claudia Medina

Bill C-393 is a private member’s bill in Parliament aimed at fixing “Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime” (CAMR) by cutting through the red tape blocking its effectiveness. The bill’s “one-license solution” would allow makers of low-cost, generic AIDS medications to distribute them to multiple countries in need. The House of Commons must restore this key provision, gutted from the original legislation,when debate on the bill resumes.

Because of too much red tape only one shipment of AIDS drugs has made its way to one country since the original bill was passed during the Paul Martin government.

Music therapy – after which you may need some (without the music)


I cannot remember a time when music was not a vital part of my life.  Music is in my genes, especially from my mother’s side of the family, with my grandparents having been matched up in the early 1920s as a violinist/fiddler being accompanied by his pianist.  What I wouldn’t give for a cell-phone video of one of their evenings together at a Depression-era house party in rural eastern Ontario!  My mother studied piano throughout her childhood, later graduating from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, then earning her qualifications to teach the subject in Ontario schools.  With probably fifty years of teaching individuals, coinciding with thirty-plus years on the pipe organ at church, and I’m sure you’d agree that it was inevitable my siblings and I would also have some natural gifts in this area.

Anytime I am asked what types of music I like the only genres not on the list, with the exceptions of a few crossover songs, are country and today’s pop.  This, of course, leaves me with a vast array of music to choose from but the music player in my head doesn’t shuffle the same way that an iPod can, but goes from mood-to-mood, sometimes lingering on and repeating, over and over, the same song.

As a teen I would play and sing along to songs such as Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”, the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” and “Hide In Your Shell” by Supertramp in my basement bedroom, no Karaoke machine required, at the top of my lungs.  I know this experience was not unique to me and, while the examples cited were just a part of my record library, my tastes were generally not too mainstream – certainly not for a guy!

All of this is to prepare you for a sampling of the YouTube video-jockeying I did late last night, prompted by two guys posting two different songs by Josh Groban.  The first was a memorial tribute, from a man who had lost his partner to AIDS several years ago, while the second was a Christmas season favourite passed on to his Facebook friends.

Then I was swept away, again, by this.

And by this.

The next selection, a lot less video than audio, was such a blessing to find recently (and another artist does sing it on camera but at a much jumpier pace than I was accustomed to.)  Years ago, when the AIDS Committee of Toronto offices were at 464 Yonge Street, there was a group of us who gathered each Sunday evening for a healing circle.  It always concluded with a slower, studio version of this song, and hearing it again sends through me chills of so many emotions:

André Gagnon – whose every recording I have possessed in formats ranging from 45s to LPs, and from cassettes to CDs and mp3s – composed this particular song in homage to beloved French Canadian poet  Émile Nelligan (1879-1941). The poetry, and tragic life, of Nelligan inspired many Québec-based composers, authors and playwrights.  In fact Gagnon, along with the legendary Michel Tremblay, later penned an opera based on Nelligan’s life and work.

These pictures hardly do his Québec notoriety justice.  Having always fascinated me in my adult years, I often pass some of his haunts whenever I am in Montréal although, to the best of my knowledge, the boutique hotel which bears his name in the Vieux-Montréal quarter has no direct connection.  (The first two images are from his home, on Laval Avenue at rue Du Square St-Louis, and the bust in the fourth picture is in that square across the street.)

 

And now, as I prepare to conclude, here is my favourite Christmas carol – bar none!

 

 

For Betty Ann


BA and me at Pride 2009

 

I’m the only one, I dare say, who can appreciate at this very moment – Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 04 04 06 01 EST – both the frustration and the ‘been punk’d’ feeling I have after experiencing countless “(Not Responding)” messages from any number of programs I’ve successively tried to employ in writing what will ultimately be a simple, but sincere, blog.

In the denouement of an evening during which I absorbed much, enjoying some, of the day’s news from a variety of sources I scrolled through my Facebook page – in reverse order of course – until I came upon a message from my friend Betty Ann which included the YouTube video below.

When I have often least expected it, I have been told that something I’ve said, written or passed along has touched another deeply.  This is just such an occasion except, in this case, it is I who has been touched by Betty Ann’s forwarding of this message – to countless friends and contacts I reckon.

Be it the time of night I received it, the mood I was in, the feelings it evoked – or all of these – I was reminded of the empathy, trust and love which Betty Ann embodies at depths which make the oceans seem like single drops of rain.  I have known “BA”, as she invites her friends to call her, since her earliest days of her work with the AIDS Committee of Toronto.  I cherish every single mile of life’s journey that we have walked together, however haltingly at times.

From ACT, BA went on to gift the people she met at Bereaved Families of Ontario – Toronto.

Nowadays, BA enthusiastically invites and responds to life at Shalom Mountain Sacred Retreat and Study Center in the Catskill Mountains of Livingston Manor at what looks to be about the half-way point, maybe not quite, between here and New York City.

Betty Ann knows, more often than she may be told, how the divine mystery of our inner selves works.  While she may not be familiar with these two illustrations their essence remind me of her.

When I saw this video I soon thought of my father, who died in his garden in May of 2002.  Two vignettes sprung to mind.

Once, as we talked about some cathartic moment in what could have been any number of contexts, he quietly said, “Not all of us has had the chance to try to ‘find ourselves’” (I’m recalling that he was quoting that phrase back to, and in reference to, me.)  For many of his generation, he could not have been more right.  This was not a reflection, by any means, on the best-friends-for-life relationship he so richly enjoyed with my mother for fifty-plus years.

The second occasion came at the end of a weekend visit with Mom and Dad, not long after his first heart attack.  I had brought with me a scrapbook-sized photo project someone had done about me in the genre of a day in the life of a person living with AIDS.  Under each photograph was a hand-written note in which I simply commented on the picture or recounted a brief story.  Accompanying one, showing Dad and me shaking hands as I prepared to leave, I wrote something to the effect that it reminded me of an occasion early in school when he set me down off his lap and told me that I was too grown up to kiss him now. Of course – of course – he meant no harm, and my jotting down the story was equally free of malice (I could not have had a stronger advocate for a father throughout our time together), and after seeing the finished photo project Dad never greeted me, nor said good-bye, without a warm, two-armed hug!

Thank you for posting this BA.

Ever-developing story – Clint “I-like-it-when-gays-die” McCance speaks to CNN’s Anderson Cooper: brain farts maybe?


I’m keeping this post open to add more developments.  Suffice to say, to begin, that Clint McCance’s so-called apology on CNN’s AC 360 is not going over very well.  (As I wrote at the time it seemed like Anderson had to pull out the nature of his wrongs.  They weren’t forthcoming from McCance himself.)

David Pakman of Midweek Politics with David Pakman (my favourite podcast) was having none of it and was also critical of Anderson.

Dr. Phil called McCance’s performance “a non-apology apology”.

Thursday night Anderson Cooper interviewed the Vice-President of Midland School District in Arkansas whose Facebook rants against gays, “fags”, “queers”, the recent rash of publicized gay suicides of five young men and boys, and his mocking of a day to remember them, touched off such a storm earlier in the week.

Whether it was the glare of the television lights, or the endless stream of upset his comments caused, Clint McCance was, at least, very soft-spoken. It seemed as though Anderson Cooper had to feed him reasons why he should be sorry, other than the fact that his father took him to the proverbial woodshed:

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres joined Anderson and called for people from a wider cross-section of society to become involved in counteracting homophobia and other sorts of bullying.

So, in a whirlwind twenty-four hours or so, Clint McCance has announced his resignation.  That would be enough for some people, as would his words – however laboured – with Anderson.  It’s too bad there wasn’t some community council way of restorative justice which would compel Mr. McCance to work, supervised of course, with gay kids.  He would learn a lot from them, I am sure, as long as his presence didn’t terrify them.  Instead he will be able to, should he choose, keep the company of good ol’ boys (and gals) to whom his incendiary, wounding ramblings on Facebook were anything but offensive.

Maybe one day he’ll have the opportunity to speak with a Dad and Mom who’ve lost an LGBT kid to suicide, although I can’t imagine them wishing to speak to him.

Then again, since  Mr. McCance has already had a terrible influence on children maybe these ideas are just too creepy and that the focus should remain on the kids he has lorded over with such hateful thoughts and words.

Clint McCance is a man who should be run out of Arkansas


This idiot’s 15 minutes (I don’t expect he’d know what that means) will, hopefully, soon be over but surely not before he loses his elected job on the Midland, Arkansas school board.

Anderson Cooper set the story up this way last evening and then had a couple of great guests, including the whistle-blower:

A screen-shot of McCance’s Facebook page (which has been taken down), quoted by Anderson Cooper,  is kicking around the internet:

It turns out McCance is a bit afraid for the safety of his family – really? While I do not doubt there will be some who have some threatening words for this idiot, there are far more children – the ones he was ridiculing, just recent, public examples – who have, or have considered, suicide and who are in danger.

Was wearing purple last Wednesday, to remember kids who had killed themselves and to draw attention to bullying (by other kids mostly, mind you) just too much for this heat-seeking missile of a crack-pot to stand for?  I’m a little over-heated myself, I grant you.

I don’t know if the women of “The View” will be able to discuss this without smashing the furniture but it’s over-heated reactions – and by a school board vice-president no less – to grassroots movements of commemoration and education such as we saw a week ago Wednesday that make them all the more necessary.

No blogger, not even Anderson Cooper, is going to change the mind of a monster like Clint McCance (and should he ever apologize my guess it would be along the lines of “If I have offended anyone…”) but this is an opportunity for the people of Midland, and everywhere else in need of some soul-searching, to talk to one another and make an effort to see that there is nothing to be feared in difference.  Your children’s lives may depend on it!

This is an occasion when a wide variety of people, not just queer activists, should make their views about this known to Mr. McCance, the school board, and each other.

Now I need to remind myself (thank you Jo-Anne), with six hours sleep ahead if I’m lucky, that I am 51 years old and no one in my circles today is a bully. C. G. (“Mr. G” to me) is long dead and gone.

That will not stop me from calling out others like him as I see them.