My Own Private Gay History

On Tuesday, October 11th, the Calgary Gay History Project is happy to be collaborating with Calgary Cinematheque to bring you: My Own Private Idaho. A 25th Anniversary screening on 35mm film at the Plaza Theatre. The 1991 arthouse film was a breakout success both critically and financially. Director Gus Van Sant created an unusual and visually memorable film that serves as a mediation on isolation and alienation – still relevant today.

River Phoenix was widely praised for his portrayal of Mike, a narcoleptic male hustler whose unrequited love for fellow hustler Scott (Keanu Reaves) provides the backbone of the film. Sadly, River Phoenix died a couple of years later, of a drug overdose, at the age of 23. Tickets and show information can be found: here.

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River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho

We were thrilled to be included in the Canadian Encyclopedia. Last week we published a feature article about Everett Klippert’s Calgary years, in the now online-only heritage institution.

Running until October 15th at Truck Gallery, is Mark Clintberg’s thoughtful art installation: Cecil Hotel. The recently destroyed hotel was infamous in recent decades, but was an important site for Calgary’s lesbian community of the 60s.  Mark’s recent work has been inspired by local queer history. A previous piece installed in Winnipeg, Détournement, evokes the former Calgary gay bar, Detour, which was on 17th Ave between 2nd and 4th Street SW (known as Dick’s and 318 in other incarnations).

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Gay Age of Consent in Canada

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this fall contemplates lowering the age of consent for anal sex (read: gay sex) from 18 to 16, matching that of heterosexuals, it is timely to reflect on where we have come from, to get here.

Calgarian, Everett Klippert‘s sensational Supreme Court case in 1967, paved the way for decriminalizing homosexuality for two consenting adults aged 21 years or older. The law came into effect in the summer of 1969.

On January 15th, 1981 the Calgary Herald reported on then Federal Justice Minister Jean Chretien’s bill to reduce the age of consent for homosexual acts from 21 to 18, as well as make legal “daisy chain”sex, or sex with more than one consenting adult.

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February 1981 Issue: Legal at 18? Cover Story

The Body Politic, Canada’s gay liberation newspaper soon cheekily reported: “Gay sex, orgies to be legal at 18 if Criminal Code changes pass.” Unfortunately the Bill never makes it through and was withdrawn by Chretien in 1982 due to organized pressure from police chiefs, social conservatives and an organized letter writing campaign from the 10,000-member strong, US-based, Family and Freedom Foundation.

The age of consent for gay sex was eventually dropped to 18 in 1987, and came into effect in 1988 as did sex with more than one consenting adult (not in public). Several legal minds noted that the difference in ages of consent between anal and vaginal sex (then aged 14) was discriminatory. The Justice Minister at the time, Raymond Hnatyshyn, argued AIDS prevention was one of the justifications for the age difference in consent.

In 1995, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that Canada’s higher age of consent for anal sex unconstitutionally discriminated against gay men and violated the Canadian Charter of Rights. Quebec, then Alberta, then BC, then Nova Scotia courts made similar rulings; the Federal Government contemplated appealing those decisions but never did. Consequently, although it is a theoretical crime for two 17-year olds to engage in anal sex, law enforcement currently chooses not to police it.

Trudeau’s lowering the age of consent for gay sex is part of a larger apology to the LGBTQ community for historic wrongs that Canada’s state institutions inflicted upon us in previous decades. It also aligns the Federal criminal code with the Provincial Court rulings of the past 20 years. Although changing the law to match the enforcement does not seem very dramatic, a new generation of social conservatives are sounding the alarm and using an old trope – gay panic  – as a fundraising tool.

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A reworked Pride Toronto Promo Image of the Prime Minister on the evangelical website Canadianvalues.ca {they also oppose Trans public washroom usage!}

Decidedly not panicked here, we at the Calgary Gay History Project are looking forward to the changes.

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The UK also had issues around double standards in the 1980s….

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Pride 2016: A Visual Wrap

Last week was busy with lots of Pride Programming throughout the City.  One of our highlights was the Downtown Gay History Walk. We had a warm evening and an even warmer crowd of 60, who were keenly interested in hearing stories of our past. Our group had an interesting visual resonance with the first Pride Parade held 25 years ago in 1991.

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Pride History Walk 2016, Photo: Tereasa Maillie

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Calgary Pride Parade 1991, Photo: Luke Shwart

Then on Friday the Calgary Herald published a Pride article putting the Calgary Gay History Project front and centre (thank you Val Fortney). After doing a phone interview, Val asked if they could send out a Herald photographer (ummm…). Thankfully photographer, Elizabeth Cameron, was professional and kind.

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Calgary Gay History Project’s Kevin Allen at CommunityWise, Photo Elizabeth Cameron/Calgary Herald

And finally, Parade day – we were worried about the weather, but it proved to be less cool than we thought, and the sun even came out in the Pride Festival grounds that afternoon. We ran out of our historical button reproductions, and talked to hundreds of interested festival-goers about why Our Past Matters.

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Historic Button Reproductions that were given away at 2016 Pride

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Project Volunteers, Ayanna Smart & Kevin Allen, Sept 4, 2016.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by. We appreciated the comments, questions, donations and kind words. We are looking forward to Pride 2017 already!

{KA}