06.23.2014 07:22 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: I sang Glad to be Gay

My parents thought I was gay.

In Seventies-era Calgary, this was a rather big deal. I had been writing pro-gay editorials in my school papers, I had been listening continuously to the Tom Robinson Band’s British hit (‘Sing If You’re Glad to be Gay’), I visited the Parkside Continental more than once, I wore black all the time, and most my friends at Bishop Carroll High School were gay, closeted or otherwise. We were the art-music-poetry-punk rock crowd, and a gayer bunch could not be found in Calgary, in those days.

Things got a bit queer, as it were, when my parents heard the first single by my band, the Hot Nasties. On the lead tune, ‘Invasion of the Tribbles,’ I hollered that I wanted to “make sweet passionate love” to someone named “Johnny.” That little bit of lyricism got the eyebrows popping around our archly-conservative Lake Bonavista neighbourhood, let me tell you.

So – to make a long story short – my parents thought I was gay. We grew up in a pretty gay-positive household, because my Dad was an immunologist, and one of the first physicians in Canada to deal with what would come to be known as AIDS and HIV. Their concern, if I can call it that, was that I would get outed, and therefore beaten up in Calgary, which – in those days – happened a lot.

I wasn’t gay, but rumours persisted throughout high school and university that I was. Back then, it was a big deal.

Nowadays, apparently, it is no longer such a big deal. Case in point: Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

During the Ontario Liberal leadership campaign, plenty of folks – and not just red-necked mouth-breathers – wondered if Wynne’s sexual orientation would hurt her when the election rolled around. The “issue” never showed up in any public opinion polling, because no reputable pollster ever asked about it, to my knowledge. But folks in all three of Ontario’s main political parties quietly reflected on how a married gay Premier would play in, say, Bancroft.

To the credit of Wynne’s opponents – NDP leader Andrea Horwath, and soon-to-resign PC leader Tim Hudak – no mention was made of Wynne’s sexuality, implicitly or explicitly. It did not factor in the election in the way that jobs did, or some other issue. It didn’t come up.

Wynne won a majority, capturing five more seats than the 54 needed. She did so because Hudak’s vote collapsed, and because – take note, homophobes – she is a rather nice person. People liked her more than they liked the alternatives.

Wynne didn’t win because of some super-brilliant move by her strategists, or due to some extraordinary unprecedented event. She – the first openly-gay Ontario political leader – won because of HER. Her, the gay person. Voters thought about it, probably, and they ended up not caring.

The best response to her victory came from veteran journalist Kevin Newman. I loved what he wrote on Twitter: “Ontario has elected a woman who is openly gay. And it didn’t matter. I love my country. (Not a partisan endorsement. A human one).”

Whether you voted for Kathleen Wynne or not, whether you live in Ontario or not, how amazing it is that she won.

There are many more miles to go, of course. But – so far, so good.

.

25 Comments

  1. Coelocanth_Jones says:

    I can emphasize with Warren, in that I was called fag and such with relative frequency, this growing up in the 905 in the 90s and 00s. So did almost every guy at my elementary and high school, whether they turned out gay or straight. Fact is, no boy is always able to adhere to the aggressive heteronormative culture that existed in both times and places. For the record, I am straight, though did question my sexuality to a significant extent throughout my teenage years. I think the unnatural thing is to never question whether one dimensional heteronormative values apply to yourself. There is nothing more pathetic than seeing another man as young as I who constantly needs to reaffirm their heterosexuality

  2. Lance says:

    Her sexual orientation didn’t matter, just as much as a quadraplegic MP’s disability, or a Hindu MP’s religion should’t matter. I’m glad it wasn’t made into an issue because it never was. I’m not happy with the result of the election, but I am gratified that it was about platforms, and though it got ugly at times, it never got THAT kind of ugly.

  3. Louis Smith says:

    In a globalized world, where:

    India is plagued by roving rape gangs, the recriminalization of “sodomy,” and has elected a Hitler-inspired Prime Minister.

    Russia cracks down on “gay propaganda,” sends Cossacks to flog young women in punk bands, and annexes portions of smaller nations via saboteurs and death squads.

    Where in China, “ritual girls, female reporters, and delegates to the Party Congress become beautiful scenery during the 18th National
    Congress of the Communist Party of China” – and those are the lucky females that avoid gendercide or being tossed in a dumpster as infants.

    North Africa and Arabia further descend into orgies of murder and mayhem, clitorectomy and rape, executions and beheadings a la ISIS to enforce the veil and submission.

    Macho Latin America has some of the highest homicide rates in the world. Etc., etc.

    Wynne stands as a beacon of rationality and Western civilization.

    • Lance says:

      A “Hitler inspired Prime Minister” *SIGH* Really?

      • Jack Wallace says:

        Modi’s political party – Bhartiya Janty Party (BJP) is part of the Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh (RSS), which follows an extreme right-wing Hindu ideology. Aside from their fascist Hindutva only policy, RSS uses Nazi salutes and stages grand rallies with workers dressed just like Nazis. Hilter’s Mein Kampf is recommended to be read by members of the RSS. Just like Hiter wanted all Jews to be removed from Germany, Modi wants a Hindu only nation, this is evident from the fact that he blames the ills of the society on a certain section of society, mainly Muslims.

        Maybe get your facts straight before uttering the thought terminating cliches …

  4. socks clinton says:

    A Toronto Star article today says a scientific study states that gaydar is accurate 65% of the time. But any stat comparable to a coin toss is baloney and this study just confirms people still rely on bad stereotypes.

  5. sj says:

    Reading your column this morning brought back a memory I didn’t even know I had. The first time I ever met you was at some smokey, loud party of Carleton students. There was a loud argument in the kitchen which, of course, included you. Not being a CU student, I didn’t know who you were and asked who that was. I got two replies: some very drunk guy called you a f—-t (can’t type that word), and my somewhat drunk roommate said you weren’t – but that you never shut up in class.

  6. TrueNorthist says:

    I am not sure whether folks under 40 really understand just how pervasive homophobia was in schools everywhere in Canada back then. When we moved to BC there were two obviously gay boys in my “cohort” and I watched through grade-school as they were mercilessly bullied and attacked repeatedly all the way to grade 12 in 1979. Neither ever got any kind of protection from teachers or school staff, yet both somehow managed to survive their torment and graduate with honours. I am fortunate that I grew up with two gay uncles so such and hatred and violence is and was anathema to me, but even then I still did my best to keep my head down and not get thumped by association. I was smaller than most of my classmates and was also bullied a lot and frankly it would have been suicidal to get involved, but that does not lessen my culpability much. I look back at school as my running days because that’s what I did to escape; run and run and run for miles and miles day after day, but those two boys couldn’t have even run very far without finding themselves being attacked by a store owner, or a priest, even a cop was a immense risk. There was no refuge for those guys except maybe home? I just don’t know.

    I also look upon the election of Ms Wynne with some pride, but also with a deep sense of shame that for all those years I didn’t do more to try and stop the torture. It cuts like a knife though my soul really. But good for Ms Wynne. Things are much, much better nowadays but there is still a strong streak of hatred in many quiet corners of our society, where the cruelty continues in earnest.

    • david ray says:

      Finally. Thank you True. You’ve called bullying what it really is. Torture. Thank you because the next time some homophobic asshole includes me as an assumed sharer of his hatred for the other I will ask him if he supports torture. Now where did I put those brass knuckles?

  7. sezme says:

    I’m with you, man. Getting called names is a drag whether they “apply” to you or not (though I’m sure it does hurt more if you are called a gay slur and you are gay). In any case I was called all that and worse. And “Glad To Be Gay” is an incredibly catchy song and certainly one of the top most important 5 protest songs of the last 40 years. Happy Pride, everyone.

  8. Matt says:

    I know I’m risking a lifetime ban for this, but:

    You? Gay? With that hair? Never.

    🙂

  9. Adam says:

    Premier Wynne. Electable indeed.

  10. Scotian says:

    In what has been the darkest time of my and my wife’s life politically because of the rise of the Harper government, Wynne’s success in the last election was a brilliant burst of warm sunshine, not just because an openly gay Premier won, but because she did did so based solely on his political qualifications and platforms and her sexual orientation played zero role in any way in her election from any quarter. THAT was for this bi man married to a bi woman who both grew up in the dark shadows of serious homophobia cannot be overstated in terms of the power of it. For those of us who are of alternate orientations, it was not so much that she was able to be elected, although that was certainly no small thing, it was that the orientation was irrelevant altogether, which for so many of us is really all we are after. We want to be not judged or defined by who we sleep with in terms of gender, we are defined by who we are as people in terms of our characters and actions, that is all so many of us are really after, that and the ability to be with those whom we love and are loved by. How can that really be so much to ask for?

    Great post Warren.

  11. Matt says:

    I form my opinions of a person on WHAT they do, not WHO they do.

  12. TrueNorthist says:

    Ha, you were just checking whether Warren was serious or not, weren’t you? lol I know I am on borrowed time…

  13. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    I hope you will correct me if I’m off track given that I happen to know less than zip about Ontario politics — but here it goes: would I be correct in stating that most Ontario Liberals expected Sandra to win relatively easily? Perhaps, not Kathleen. She may have turned out to be her own most skillful strategist. Now, to take it one step further. What if she correctly read Ontario’s mood while most people slept, or missed it? If I’m right, the only conclusion I can come to is that Wynne wasn’t one bit surprised to have been returned to office as she likely quietly, confidently, expected that eventuality.

    • doconnor says:

      I’m sure most Liberals knew during the leadership campaign that with the scandals, the age of the government and the low success rate of replacing leaders to get out them of trouble that anyone they picked would face long odds of success.

      As most commentaries on the election have pointed out, including this one, the Liberal primarily won because of Conservative incompetance.

      Wynne did outflank the NDP much better then her rivials would likely have.

  14. Adam says:

    Wow, Scotian, darkest time of your life politically under Harper?! Why?

    They’ve done more to stand up for gay rights around the world than any gov’t in Cdn history.

    • Scotian says:

      You conflated two elements of my comment with absolutely no basis to be doing so. I said that the election of Wynne was a bright light in a dark time because we see the Harper government as the darkest political time in our lives, I said nothing about the Harper government record on gay rights in any way whatsoever, I did not even say why in any respect we felt this way about the Harper government. My opinion of the Harper government and why I see it as the worst ever in our history beyond anything from any prior Lib or Tory (which I do not call the CPC, I know what Tory means, and the Harper CPC does not deserve that respectable title) can be easily found by googling my alias here at this site as well more generally, and I am not going to turn this reply into yet another in depth condemnation of the Harper regime. Suffice it to say that I am a serious process geek and respecter of the Canadian Constitution and Charter, and what I have seen of the systematic destruction of the institutional creation/construction of decades of prior governments both Lib and PCPC, of the professional civil service, of Stats Can, and of the basic electoral process is why I call this the darkest time of my political life. Believe it or not, almost all of my political life has nothing to do with sexual orientation and never has, just as most of my life overall has little to do with my orientation.

      THAT is why I said what I did. Wynne’s victory and how it showed how far things have come in the area of gay rights and acceptance within our society is a truly warming moment for my wife and I , made all the more intense in contrast to the bleak cold darkness of the soul destroying reality of the Harper government. This is not hyperbole for us, we really feel it that way, myself more than she granted, but she feels it too.

  15. Adam says:

    I see… Yikes, I cannot relate to such “bleak, cold darkness of the soul destroying reality” passion for the census, the bloated bureaucracy and Elections Canada.

    • Scotian says:

      It is far more than those, it is all the arms-length institutions that once could be trusted to do their jobs, you know, just to cite one example of so many, and an early one at that, have you forgotten the Linda Keene affair and the nuclear regulatory agency? Then the loss of the long form census is no small thing to anyone who appreciates having policy from government whatever the political flavour having access to hard data/facts to build upon. I also said nothing about Elections Canada specifically, I said the electoral process, which is far more than just one government agency, it incorporates not just the watchdog but the machinery that watchdog is set up to protect.

      If I were to run through the entire list of institutions that Harper has damaged or destroyed since becoming PM it would take me hours to list, and more space than this entire page of comments has already used up, and not by a small margin. This government has acted in a manner no prior Canadian government has, and with a recklessness in using a chainsaw unheard of in Canadian history. This is the ugly reality we have, and it is more than enough reason for anyone who truly cares first about the mechanics of governance as opposed to who uses it to feel as I do and to say what I said.

      One of the greatest failings/problems with Canadians IMHO from all I’ve seen since my childhood decades ago, and something politicians especially Harper have exploited, is the massive ignorance of the mechanics of how our government actually is designed to work, and the respect these institutions truly deserve for what they provide. So much of what they have done is invisible on the surface, which shows not their irrelevance, but just how well they perform their functions. This is where being a “process geek” matters, and explains why this is such a dark time. Unlike Harper and his cheerleaders, I believe as traditionally do most Canadians including traditional Conservative Canadians that government is not automatically the enemy but can play a healthy and important role in our society and the social contract.

      One of the most disgusting aspects about the Harper period is how the work of decades of government both PCPC and Lib building world class legal processes and institutions is being slaughtered willy-nilly out of some ideological need without any actual consideration for whether these things performed a useful function, and if so what happens to those functions once they are removed, and what kind of impacts making such drastic changes to our governing structures will make. When you go about actually trying to reform a system you first map out what it is, what it does, and then in a systematic and rational way make changes in a progressive manner instead of wholesale destruction without restraint. You do this because you need to make sure that the changes you think will do what you want in experience actually do that, and you want to retain the ability to undo when things go wrong.

      What you fail to understand is that it is the conservative part of my political soul that is suffering the most in this respect, because the way this government acts is about as far from anything resembling the meaning of the word conservative as you can get. Being a real conservative is not being a member of a team wearing a jersey, it is following a set of beliefs, including believing in the need to CONSERVE as opposed to radical change/destruction. Harper is not a true political conservative, he is a radical beyond anything Canada has ever known or seen on the federal stage as proven first by his words and record prior to becoming PM, and now since he has been the PM.

      That you cannot relate to this, that you find it so baffling speaks far more to your issues than mine Adam, and it shows that whatever you may think you are or claim you are you clearly are not a Canadian conservative in any meaningful sense of the word beyond the partisan (assuming you are, since I do not know you nor whether you are one I make this qualification). I care about the institutions that allow for the Canadian social contract to function, I recognize the importance of it, as do most people who care about politics beyond the narrow partisan level, because without it we are reduced to who has the biggest club to swing. The rule of law is also a paramount aspect of this nation and its heritage, and Harper’s record in the courts and the contempt he has shown for them demonstrates just how little respect he and his legislation has for it, yet another example of why this is such a dark time.

      My passion for these things Adam is because I understand the importance of them, much like the passion of a good engineer feels for the machinery he sees running a complex system as opposed to what that system is used for being the focus. That this seems so difficult to be understood by you does not speak well of you, and if you did understand and still mocked it, well that says even more, doesn’t it. I care because I understand human nature, I’ve studied history, and I recognize just how rare and valuable the social institutions Canada developed over its history are, and that has nothing to do with partisanship for a party or leader and everything towards a broader philosophy of what being a Canadian really means, and on this I truly believe (and when asked in specifics polls repeatedly prove out) is what most Canadians value about who we are and what we have done in this world.

      If you cannot relate to that, well you have my pity, because you clearly are missing something important about what being Canadian is all about, and yes, believe it or not our governing institutions, our legal processes, out various balances within our system really have been a major factor in developing the wondrous multicultural respectful society Canada has been for so long now. Despite our warts in our internal social and societal conflicts we have traditionally been more open to compromise and discourse as opposed to conflict and aggression than most nations, and that speaks well for us as a society, and that a major part of what Harper has been destroying. So that is why you have my pity if you truly do not get it, and you have my contempt if you do get it and either think it irrelevant/wrong.

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