After the cathartic experience here this morning of again recalling Craig’s struggles, in the early days of his ministry, I was remembering some of what was going on in my life 700 km away from Craig. In the raucous days of an Ontario Human Rights Code amendment debate, giving gays and lesbians protection in the workplace, housing and so on, I agreed to be interviewed by another reporter (she from the newspaper, me in radio).
In a brown envelope, within a “clippings” folder, I found a photocopy of this St. Catharines Standard article stamped Dec. 29 1986.
Forgive some of the views expressed. Pop quuiz: I won’t tell you which ones. I was so naive!
Beneath a picture of me on the phone, a picture roughly the same size as the three-column article, picture this:
On the record
Kenn Chaplin has ended a double life to find contentment in the gay world
By TERRY SLAVIN
If Kenn Chaplin had been able to choose his sexuality, he would have chosen to be gay. Although it’s difficult enough for most people to deal with their heterosexuality, Kenn has no regrets about the fact he was born gay.
“I’m enjoying the political side of my lifestyle immensely. I think because I’m gay I’m more sensitive to other oppressed people. Despite what I now know about the difficulties of this lifestyle, if I could choose, I think I would choose to be gay.”
Kenn, a reporter with CKTB in St. Catharines, is also one of the founding members of Gay Outreach Niagara, a two-year-old support groups for gays and lesbians.
Helping other gays in the region come to terms with their homosexuality is a labor of love which occupies about half of his leisure time. He also has devoted a great deal of time working with the AIDS committee in Toronto.
Kenn has emerged from a few closets since the day six years ago when he penned a letter to the United Church Observer objecting to the ordination of gays as ministers.
“It’s something I regret now,” the lanky 27-year old says quietly. “But I think some of the worst homophobes can’t come to terms with their own sexuality.”
Kenn moved to the Niagara area from Valleyfield, Que., to attend Niagara College in 1977, and entered a period of emotional and mental confusion.
“When I moved here I had a truly double life, going to Toronto for sexual contacts while attending an ultra-conservative sect in Welland on Sundays as a way of suppressing it.
“It didn’t work. It just made me feel guilty – not because I was doing what I was doing, but because I was leading this double life.”
On one trip to Toronto in 1981 he was handed a pamphlet which tore apart the biblical justifications used to denounce homosexuality, and he suddenly realized he could resolve the conflict between his gay identity and his faith in the United Church.
It was on the heels of that revelation that he decided to tell his parents the truth.
“That was the biggest hurdle, telling my parents I was gay. I just wasn’t sure how they’d handle it. My gut reaction was they’d either reject me or lovingly accept me.”
Fortunately for the entire family, they did the latter.
Spending Sundays hearing the anti-gay gospel expounded on the Calvary Gospel Church pulpit, however, has helped him to understand both sides of the heated debate about the sexual orientation amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Code.
“I appreciate the diverse backgrounds. I know how the two poles operate. I know how the born-agains operate. They fully believed I was going to hell.”
Kenn says his goal in life is to share a normal existence with one other man “and live happily ever after”, but it has been difficult for him to find a partner.
He estimates between 40 and 50 percent of gay men aren’t secure enough about their sexuality to commit themselves to that kind of lifestyle.
It is difficult enough meeting other gays. He says “straight people” have the opportunity to meet potential mates in school, shopping centres, work situations, as well as the bar scene, but gay people don’t have as many choices.
Outside of a gay bar, he observes wryly, “You just don’t go up and ask, if you want to keep your teeth.”
There is one bar in downtown St. Catharines which caters to a gay clientele at night, he says, but most people go to Toronto, or across the border to Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York.
“I’m not holding out much hope it’ll happen here, and that’s why I’ll never feel at home here.”
Another shadow that cannot help but creep into Kenn’s life is the fear of AIDS. He has done some work with the AIDS committee in Toronto, and has given emotional and practical support as a “buddy” to some of the AIDS victims in Niagara.
He has had three friends die from AIDS.
“When I read the Globe or the Star I read the death pages. It’s made me grow up fast, come home, do the crosswords and read the death notices.”
And with each new death, his thoughts can’t help but stray to his own mortality.
“I’m assuming I’ve already been exposed to the virus before safe sex started,” he says. Because of the long incubation period (up to five years) he could still get AIDS.
“I like to live. My philosophy is don’t worry until you have something to worry about.”
And now that the Human Rights Code has passed an amendment prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals, he does not have any fear about going public about his sexuality.
He said he expects some negative reaction when “people who’ve been dealing with Kenn Chaplin, CKTB reporter, find out they’ve been dealing with a gay all along…but I accept it. I’m going to have to deal with it all my life. By coming out the only choice I’ve made is to be honest. If other people can’t handle that it’s their problem, it’s not mine.”
If I was spoiling for a fight I got one – but nothing as bad as it could have been.
It just so happened (wink, wink) that the article came out on the first of my two days off. When I returned to work my fellow reporters showed a variety of levels of support but when my boss called me in I got a truer picture.
He nervously assured me that he had no problem with the substance of the article, the unorthodoxy of a newspaper interviewing a competing radio station notwithstanding. He wished that I had given him a heads up. It was his boss, he said, the station manager, who was having a harder time with it.
His office was my next stop.
Again, I was treated with courtesy but he gave me a double-pronged objection: I was opening up the radio station to unnecessary scrutiny by listeners and he was Roman Catholic and struggled with some of my views. No big surprise there.
The whole exercise was an adrenaline rush and I wholly admit to being in a frame-of-mind at the time of, “Go ahead. Challenge me!”
It’s a reminder to me of those days when “pride”, as in LGBT Pride displayed in the annual festivals and parades, was much more political here in Canada than has since become the case. However, echoing the words of Alyson Huntly to me earlier, “I don’t think people realize how much hatred glbtq people experience just for being who we are, or how hard it is for young people especially. It’s still socially acceptable to be anti-gay even when it is no longer socially acceptable to promote racial hatred.”