1989 – Burning Down The House

Arson in the Old Y, is our third and final post in advance of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia coming up next week on May 17th.

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On the evening of April 20th, 1989 a fire was started in the basement office of Lesbian and Gay Youth Calgary (LGYC), one of several gay and lesbian groups housed at the Old Y, 223 12 Ave. SW (now called CommunityWise). Firefighters were called around 8:30 pm to extinguish the blaze which fortunately was contained to the LGYC office. There were no injuries, but about 40 people were evacuated from the three-storey brick building. The LGYC office was heavily damaged by smoke and there was approximately $1000 worth of structural damage to the building.

“Quick extinguishing of the blaze kept damage to a minimum,” said fire department Captain Gord Cantley to local press.

Arson investigators determined the blaze was deliberately set. The fire was started in a garbage can and was made to appear as an accident. None of the contents of the office were disrupted and it occurred about an hour after volunteers had left the LGYC office.

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Modern Pink Cover Illustration: Joey Sayer

Stephen Lock, who worked at Gay Lines upstairs in the Old Y, speculated that LGYC had been targeted. He said: “The fact that the offices are tucked away in the basement in a maze-like area indicates to me somebody searched them out.”

The LGBT community was bracing for an increase in violence that summer due to the very high profile Gordon Summers case in Calgary. The 24-year old, who knowingly was HIV positive, faced three counts of aggravated assault for allegedly having unprotected sex with one man and two women, one his girlfriend. This precedent-setting legal case made Summers a household name that April, and a source of AIDS panic locally. {He later pled guilty to the lesser charge of being a common nuisance and was sentenced to a year in jail.}

The arson investigation seemed dormant for a couple of months but then police started questioning members of LGYC. In June, the group received a letter from the city stating that the investigation may reveal that LGYC was responsible for the damages to the city-owned building, surprising everyone at the Old Y.

That same day as receiving the letter, the Police arrested 19-year old Robert John Girouard at the LGYC office, who was carted away to the surprise and shock of the other LGYC members present. LGYC later released a public statement: “It is the position of Lesbian and Gay Youth Group of Calgary, that the arrest was unjust and that the accused is completely innocent.”

Girouard went to court July 11th and pled not guilty. The court set a preliminary inquiry date for October 18th, but it is unclear that he was ever convicted.

{KA}

 

 

 

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