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’, as 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.)

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

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 “Jamie” 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 is the congregation of Rev. Darryl Macdonald, the second recipient of the Chaplin Award in 2009.

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I am reminded


I am reminded of December 6, 1989 at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique.

I am reminded of February 5, 1981 – Toronto’s bath house raids, the catalyst for my coming out.

I am reminded of stolen innocence as a child at the hands of a stranger.

I am reminded of the “flu” I couldn’t shake in May of 1989 when HIV was settling in.

I am reminded of the impact of a taxi cab as it rolled me on to the street on April 30, 2003.

I am reminded of a street preacher verbally assaulting me following the opening ceremonies of World Pride 2014.

I am reminded of AIDS vigils when I was incoherent with grief as I thought of the scores of people I knew who have died.

I am reminded of my connection to the human family and, in the context of the Orlando massacre, my LGBT family and friends in particular.

Keeping Kenn Zeller’s name alive


In a crowded classroom at OISE a couple  of weeks ago I listened politely as a woman told how she had been influenced so positively by a Toronto school librarian years before.

“I was going through a rough time – abuse and all kinds of shit at home,” she said.

“He spent a lot of time with me and I always felt better better after our talks.”

“Then he was murdered in High Park and my world crashed.”

Suddenly very alert, my mind raced back to a murder that had touched me deeply in June of 1985; my God thirty years ago?

A forty-year-old school librarian had left an end-of-year staff party and driven into High Park to see if he might find some opportunities for anonymous sex. Instead he found five drunken teenaged boys, ranging in age from 15 to 18, also celebrating the end of school, who had been heard earlier declaring they were headed to High Park to “beat up a faggot”. As Kenn Zeller walked past the youths, one of them stuck out a foot and tripped him . He managed to get up and run the 10 metres or so to his car but, after getting the door open, he didn’t make it inside. In the minutes of kicking and beating him around the head which followed, his increasingly lifeless form was left for dead. His car was then vandalized.

The five each pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to nine years in prison.

“That was Kenn Zeller,” I said to the woman nodding. “I adopted the spelling of “Kenn” as a memorial to him. I don’t get the opportunity to tell the story behind it as much as I might like sometimes.”

His death was a catalyst for the Toronto District School Board implementing a program aimed at eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation, and a foreshadowing of the board’s Triangle Program for LGBTQI youth.

Review (and a personal retrospective) – Behind the Candelabra


With only the most scant help from Google I have been trying to remember more about my personal, professional meeting with Liberace (“Please, call me Lee.”)

It was some time in the mid-1980s, while I was working at a St. Catharines, Ontario radio station, when the subject of last night’s premiere of Behind the Candelabra was making one of his periodic appearances at Melody Fair Theater on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Tonawanda, New York – a suburb of Buffalo about a forty-five minute drive from St. Catharines.

My first impressions of Melody Fair were that it had seen better days (and it has since closed, demolished in 2010). The same could be said for Liberace who, after all, was some eight years older than my father who would have seemed “old” to anyone else in their twenties!

The meeting was what I have since learned was a very routine set-up between journalists, celebrity-chasers, and their self-important subjects. My allotted time of ten minutes or so was no more, on less than anyone else in line claiming “exclusive” access from their particular micro-market’s point-of-view.

I had come out relatively recently and took it upon myself to use my time with a slightly dressed down version of himself to tease out Woodward and Bernstein-worthy details of his private life.

What did he like to doon his days off, infrequent though they may have been?

Spend time at one of his several homes. He liked to cook for his “friends” (none of the bawdy details I would have liked to hear, of course, and portrayed in Beyond the Candelabra and Scott Thorson’s palimony-inspired book.

That’s all I remember about our conversation – riveting I know – having been derailed in my aim of making news out of what was inevitably to be a fluffy entertainment piece.

I grew up feeling a lot of antipathy towards the flamboyant, yet conflicted (a self-professed Roman Catholic) and ultimately talented pianist. This was no role model I would ever want to emulate, should I ever own my own homosexuality.

His age, I suppose, would also have been a factor in his denial of the obvious.

It was, however, his denial of what ultimately killed him that left me feeling quite angry – with him and his church. He never acknowledged dying of AIDS, swearing everyone to secrecy, which of course illustrated the stigma of the times (worse even than now) in his over-the-top way.

I couldn’t separate my feelings for him as I watched last evening, which is not to say that I couldn’t also relate to the inner struggles while recalling my annoyances with him.

Michael Douglas had a hell of a job to do which I found to be well done and credible. Matt Damon also proved himself to be a convincing actor in a gay role and a sympathetic character. In a supporting role I thought Rob Lowe stole the show.

I will watch it again, while it’s still in the HBO lineup, and while I don’t necessarily expect my feelings for Liberace to change I know I am capable of seeing him – jewel-encrusted warts and all.

Lunch with Vito Russo


Disclaimer:  My memories have been assisted by Google and a piece of paper, 8-1/2″ x 11″ divided in half, on which is written the following:



After signing up for The Movie Network again recently, I came upon the film Vito: A Man For All Seasons.  I was immediately transported back to the early summer day in 1982 when I met the celebrated author, filmmaker and activist Vito Russo. It was at a very ambitious conference, at the U of T perhaps, put on by, among others, The Body Politic collective called “DOING IT! Lesbian & Gay Liberation in the 80s”.

Vito put to words, and obviously used film clips, what he had done in the book but had us riveted with laughter during the presentation and in the question and answer period which followed.

Because I was staying with a couple of the conference organizers for the weekend and, I’d like to recall, at 22 among the younger guys there I was invited to lunch with Vito – then in his 30s and a real looker!

We walked to a patio along the north side of Bloor, I’m guessing near Brunswick, perhaps Dooney’s.

This sheet of paper protrudes from my copy of Vito’s book “The Celluloid Closet – Homosexuality In The Movies” which had come out the previous year (as had I).  I described to him how upset I was that I had not remembered to bring the book along on my break from my then-dreary existence in St. Catharines.  Such, apparently, was the extent of my troubles back then!  He thought nothing of just folding a sheet of copy paper in half and writing the cute note.  This story goes with it whenever the opportunity presents itself.

While I’d like to launch into a tale of love unleashing itself into a passionate, long-distance relationship, as we sat across from one another, I can’t even allow my “based on actual events” note to take me there, as much as I’d like to.

He vented about Ronald Reagan.  (By comparison we were experiencing the second go-round of Pierre Trudeau, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms round at that, with Conservative Brian Mulroney only in our nightmares.)

The documentary inevitably moved to the beginning of the AIDS crisis and its eventual taking of his partner Jim Sevcik in his thirtieth year.  That same year, 1985, Vito himself was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma and died in 1990, just a year-and-a-half or so after my diagnosis.  But what a difference there has been, both in opportunistic infections and in our respective treatment options.

Vito went on to become a founding member of the media-monitoring group Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

In 1987 Vito, Larry Kramer and ten others founded ACT UP!, the AIDS activist organization which has been at the centre of some of the biggest developments in AIDS anger, compassion and care.  A clip in the film is of Vito shouting,

“People are dying of homophobia.  They’re dying of Jesse Helms.  They’re dying of Ronald Reagan…AIDS is a test of who we are as a people!”

Given all he went on to do in his AIDS-shortened life I count it a privilege to remember the joy of that day on a patio in Toronto and the personal touch of his autograph.

I’m sure that Craig would be proud of his United Church of Canada electing a gay man as Moderator


The criteria my brother Craig set out for the United Theological College award in his name reads in part:

To recognize the powerful and passionate ministries of gay and lesbian persons and to honour one whose life’s work has been particularly distinguished in its clear commitment to such central Gospel values as personal courage and integrity, life-affirming faith and spirituality, an unswerving commitment to social justice, a sustainable environment and solidarity with those who are poor or marginalized.

Now I’m not making an early pitch for next year’s award but I can imagine that Craig would be pleased and proud of the United Church General Council’s choice of openly gay Rev. Dr. Gary Paterson as Moderator for the next three years. In fact, he was one of three openly gay candidates in a record field of fifteen nominees.

Craig was not completely open with his sexuality right up until he took his early retirement, at which time, it turned out, his parishioners were far more concerned for his health and well-being than his sexual orientation. He had been able to come out to many people in his congregation over the years when he thought it would be helpful but I know he took something of an envious delight in me being as open as I have been for so long.

The United Church of Canada broke new ground, and cracked open parched, dusty ground, when in 1988 – twenty-four years ago – its General Council decided, by no means unanimously, that every Christian, regardless of sexual orientation, was not only welcome in the church but was “eligible to be considered for ordered ministry.”

Craig was at that assembly in 1988, speaking of sexual orientation in the third person, feeling the slings and arrows of the often acrimonious debate. In light of all the love which surrounded us when he died, and the wonderful memories of Craig his parishioners shared, it is still so painful to imagine what that meeting in Victoria must have been like for him and other lgbt colleagues.

That was then. This is now. Although my direct relationship with the United Church has never been the same since Craig’s death, I applaud the decision-makers who re-affirmed the church’s 1988 decision in such a big way.