February 5, 1981

Google “Toronto February 5, 1981” (the quotes are not necessary) and you will find accounts of the inauspicious events which brought me out of the closet.

While I was not among those unfortunate enough to be in a gay bathhouse that evening I was familiar with these establishments to the point where I knew that I very easily could have been a “found-in”. Even then I realized that they did not fulfill my need for real intimacy but I had far more wild oats than common sense or feelings of self-care in those days. (Many years of life-experience later I am even less of a fan of these places, particularly as they have become synonymous with covert, careless drug-taking and consequential lapses in safer sex activities.)

I set this context not to generate debate on the merits of bath-houses, although that may result, but to help you understand the circumstances under which I began my public emergence from the proverbial closet and gradually became the social activist that I try to be today.

This was a mere twelve years after the infamous Stonewall Riots in New York, the most oft-cited starting point of the modern-day “gay rights” movement. While Canada had already legalized homosexual activity (in the late ’60s) gay community building, activism in addition to simple socializing, was still a patchwork process.

February 5, 1981 changed all that – at least in Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

There was an immediate mobilization of not just ‘the usual suspects’, but also of people who had never demonstrated in their lives before, and of groups who had, until then, not linked their struggles with those of the gay and lesbian community. Not living in Toronto at the time I commuted to the city several times to join in these protests.

It soon became clear that, with the glare of television lights lighting our night-time marches to police headquarters and the legislature, there was a very real possibility that my face might be seen on the national nightly news.

So, after a quick study of Metropolitan Community Churches’ stand on the Bible and homosexuality, I was convinced that I was strong enough to tell my parents that I was gay. Oh, and this was also after the pastor of my very conservative church-at-that-time (where I was sincerely trying to pray it away) sent a letter to the local newspaper defending the police raids and rolling out the favourite Bible verses used to condemn homosexuality. I was really pissed at that!

I decided, and I think it was after reading the book “Consenting Adult”, – later a made-for-TV movie starring Mary Tyler Moore 🙂 – that the safest way, particularly given my favoring of the written word over conversation to get a point across, to “‘come out” to Mom and Dad was by writing them a letter.

Carefully, trying to imagine how it might feel to receive such a letter, I told them what I had been struggling with and that I was convinced that God (as I described It at the time) loved me just the way I was; that my sexual orientation was ‘a given’ and not a choice or some personal cliff dive into depravity.

As Mom recalls here (please excuse the links within links), the response was wonderful (not a surprise to me, really) although I knew they would need some time to adjust to the news, and Mom and Dad told me about someone else in whose footsteps I was following.

All of this – my coming out, the long road (which I still trudge) to accepting me as I am, the HIV/AIDS, the genuine friendships gained through that alone, my faith journey, my politicization – yes all of this began, or certainly was expanded from merely my inner struggle, on this day in 1981.

The date never comes without me noticing it – even if I do not always write about it at such lengths!


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