Insubordination? (Probably.)


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The Body Politic excerpt (PDF)

I Googled my name today, for the hell of it, and came across this article I wrote for the June, 1986 edition of “The Body Politic”, Pink Triangle Press’s forerunner to Xtra!  I was up to my arm-pits involved in this using the pseudonym David Coleman to disguise myself to my employer, CKTB, and talk-show host John Michael, the defendants in this case!

Usually no fan of John Michael, for some reason I was listening the morning he started going on an anti-gay, anti-AIDS tirade.  I had the presence of mind to slap a cassette tape into my landlord’s radio-tape deck.  That tape, and the formal copy provided by the radio station later, was the basis of the case to the CRTC.

I wrote the letter to the CRTC, inserting transcribed comments which I thought would carry the greatest weight. These were exciting times.  Warren Hartman and I worked hard, me speaking as David Coleman and Warren as his out, proud, gay old self! Now don’t get me wrong.  I was out at work, and so I’m sure there were suspicions I was involved, but I couldn’t use my real name and plot against my employer, now could I? It wasn’t so much of being in any closet of my construct as much as it was muck-raking anonymously.  I was to use the pseudonym a few more times before leaving St. Catharines.

Susan Mabey to receive 2017 Craig Chaplin Memorial Award


“A Christian who happens to be a lesbian”, Susan Mabey’s is a name which has been more than incidental in the long struggle for LGBT inclusion in the United Church of Canada.  Cited by the Chaplin Award committee for her recent bridge building, even as a self-described ‘lightning rod’, while the multi-ethnic Toronto school, where she teaches Grade 2, struggled with the new provincially-mandated health and sex education program, Susan drew national attention of a different kind in the early 1980s when she was refused ordination in the United Church of Canada due to her sexual orientation. (She very quickly established herself as a minister of Christos Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto at a time when the largely-LGBT congregation was beginning to be devastated by AIDS illness and deaths.)

Susan’s 1999 Doctor of Ministry thesis was entitled “When the Valley of the Shadow is Littered with Bones: Ministry in the Midst of Multiple Bereavements”.

See Shower of Stoles Project

The Craig Chaplin Memorial Award was established following the death of my brother in 2007. It is meant to lift up the outstanding vocation of an openly lgbtq person. Susan will be presented with the award as part of the Convocation of United Theological College, in Montreal this May, the tenth anniversary of Craig’s death.

“UTC is honoured to name Rev. Mabey’s long and courageous commitment to justice and inclusion, compassion and vital pastoral presence, and in particular, to the ministry she now lives as a teacher.”

Rev. James Scott will be recognized through the conferring of the degree Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa).  Rev. Scott, the United Church of Canada’s General Council Officer for Residential Schools, will also be the convocation speaker.  The College “recognizes in particular Rev. Scott’s profound commitment to indigenous concerns and his work with the Church in preparation for, and response to, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

UTC’s convocation exercises will be held at Roxboro United Church, 116, rue Cartier in Roxboro, Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at 2 pm.  Roxboro, which will officially become an Affirming Congregation of the United Church of Canada on May 7, is the congregation of Rev. Darryl Macdonald who, in 2009, was the second recipient of the Chaplin Award.

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1,013 followers – questions?


I don’t know who you all are, but the blog machine tells me there are 1,013 of you following me here.  You can also find me, Kenn Chaplin, on Facebook.

You’ll know that I haven’t been writing much lately so, might I ask, if you have any questions for me?

Remembering “The Romans” – The Romans II Health and Recreation Spa, gay activism, bathrooms


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just an illustration 🙂

I found it in the Yellow Pages, which I was checking out at the Toronto Coach Terminal on Bay Street. I had just arrived from Niagara College. It was 1979. I was 19. I thumbed through the book, checking “Baths”, which brought up bathroom fixtures mostly, then I think I tried “Saunas”. I can’t be sure how I found it; only that there it was, complete with a not-to-scale map. Turns out it was very close.

This was well before the mass bath-house raids by police of 1981 – well before I took that occasion to come out to my family.

So everything about Toronto at that time of my life was huge. But I found my way to The Romans, where I stood in line briefly to hear how men entered, what was said, what, if any, identification was required.

I rented a room, a real bargain, I thought, at less than $20. Once inside the facility, I noticed an active gym, showers, a lounge, a pool, two saunas (wet and dry), a whirlpool and a lot of faux pillars, statues and plants. This small-town boy was impressed.

Turns out the room was about the size of a train roomette, with a single bed and a locker, a small table and an ash-tray. But as I made my way through the maze of hallways to find it, it was clear that the decor was not uppermost on the priority list of my fellow bathers.

I do not recall all I got up to that night, perhaps for the purposes of this blog that’s for the best, but I have a vivid recollection of being with a guy I swore could have been Gino Vanelli who, at that time, had wild, dark curly hair (and all over his body!).

There were lots of men, in various states of undress, cruising the hallways, checking out the various facilities.

It was a pleasant initiation, the experience I would expand by visiting other bath houses over subsequent trips, in quick succession over the years, into the city.

Bath houses were so central to my early gay life in Toronto that I always kept money for a room separate from my beer money, in the event that I didn’t hook up with someone at a bar.

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.

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” was the largest mass arrest in Canada since the October Crisis of 1970. 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 my church wrote a letter to the local paper praising the actions of the Toronto police.

Assuming that television cameras would catch me at the protests, 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 Bebout and 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, in January, 1985, 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 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 withholding 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.

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.

I’m back, breaking my blogging fast


Facebook, with its at-best superficial ways of linking me to my world, has taken me away from greater reflection possible in this blog so…I’m back – on my journey here.

The past few weeks I have been involved with the Youth/Elders Project, a joint effort of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the 519 Community Centre and the Senior Pride Network. We are a group of queer-identified people – youth, up to 25 years old, and elder folk 55 years and up.

We have been meeting separately in our age cohorts, either at Buddies or the 519, and will continue to do so except for occasions like this past Saturday when we met en masse for the first time.

The highlight of Saturday, for me, was a speed-dating style exercise in which youth sat with the rest of us, one-on-one, to discuss things such as early queer role models, or lack thereof, early cultural markers (or landmines), and things such as favourite films and TV shows.

F. asked me about films about AIDS.  I could only come up with two – Philadelphia, which I saw with my friend Chaz the week that Jim died, and Longtime Companion, which Jim and I reviewed over and over in our minds the night that Terry died.

I forgot all about Angels in America – which I loved!

We spoke of friendship – intimate friendship; Jim and me separated by death and F. separated by geography from his best buddy. No modern means of communication can match being in person. Tears were shed, hugs exchanged – it was a genuine moment of connection which I treasure still now, thinking about it.

Oh and we each have/had a gay brother.

It was an amazing three hours.

We return to our separate work-shopping this week, eager to meet again as the project evolves.

Out for 35 years


Reading something which noted that 1981 was 35 years ago jarred me into realizing that it was three-and-a-half decades ago this very month that I officially came out of the closet, by which I mean letting my family know that I was gay.

It was in the context of the uproar over the bathhouse raids by Toronto police in which, but for luck, I was not involved.

This weekend’s cold temperatures remind me of the cold nights spent protesting the raids, a fear of being seen on the TV news which propelled me to pen a letter of coming out to my Mom and Dad.

It was met with a phone call from Mom in which she assured me of their unconditional love for me (after I had imagined worst case scenarios of a different kind for no reason).

35 years!  I was a fresh-skinned 21-year old then on the eve of the first cases of AIDS being reported in the United States.  I managed to escape the first waves of death which swept through the community and now count myself among ‘long-term survivors’.  AIDS still seems very real to me but I no longer take for granted that I will die prematurely.  I’m trying to accept that there are some things I just don’t know.

There have been other things which could have, and could yet, kill me but, for now, I am trying to re-experience the energy I recall from those powerful days of protest in 1981.

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