Tag Archives: gay

Labels in YYC: do you like Queer?

The second episode of Calgary Rainbow Radio premiered this week. It is an interesting discussion about labels and the complications in how we identify in our community. Here is the transcript of our contribution to the show on the history of labels:

Hello. My name is Kevin Allen and I am the research lead of the Calgary Gay History Project.   When I initially conceived of the name of the project, I called it the Calgary Queer History Project and had printed posters and postcards to that effect. I personally like the word queer, and use it often. I came out in 1990 at the age of 19, when AIDS activism and queer nation was in the ascendant. The slogan “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” still resonates with me today. Yet in my first few oral history interviews with community elders, I discovered that “queer” is still a living pejorative for them. To honour their contributions to the project I shifted the name of our work to the Calgary Gay History Project.

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Photo: from Zine, “Queers Read This: published anonymously by queers”

Terminology in the LGBTQ2S+ community is steadily evolving and there have been many transitions in terms over the decades. For example, I was surprised to learn that some women once considered the term lesbian an uppity feminist word in the mid-20th Century. These individuals maintained that they were gay women and not lesbians. In fact, Canada’s very first national lesbian conference, held in Toronto in 1973, ended up being called the Gay Women’s Festival. Ellen Woodsworth, one of the organizers, explained:

“Some of us really wanted to call it the Lesbian Conference or Lesbian Women’s Conference or something, but it was clearly going to be a barrier to others – either those who self-identified as gay or those who weren’t sure, or those who were really in the gay movement. We wanted everybody to feel safe to come.”

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Woodsworth quote and poster image from Liz Millward’s book “Making a Scene: Lesbians Community Across Canada 1964-84.”

The word gay itself came into common usage to mean homosexual only in the 20th Century, although it likely had earlier usage antecedents. It was first uttered in this context in a famous Hollywood film in 1938, called Bringing Up Baby starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. There is a scene in the film, in which Cary Grant’s character’s clothes have been sent to the cleaners, and he is forced to wear a woman’s feather-trimmed robe. When another character asks about his robe, he responds: “Because I just went gay all of a sudden!” This reference to cross-dressing (and, by extension, homosexuality) was unfamiliar to most filmgoers. The line can also be interpreted then as, “I just decided to do something frivolous,” but it was a coded reference to the rather large gay community working in Hollywood at the time.

California was also the birthplace of the homophile movement in the 1950s, a sort of polite, pleading for tolerance effort, that early gay activists employed. Homophile societies seeded themselves across North America. The two most prominent: the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were both code names for homosexual men and women respectfully.

Amusingly, Harry Hay one of the Mattachine founders reported that in the 1930s and 1940s, gay people referred to themselves as temperamental – which I am really fond of now in 2017.

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Harry Hay in 1937. Photo: LeRoy Robbins from the Bay Area Reporter

The word homosexual itself is a manufactured word and a mash-up of Greek and Latin roots. Its first known appearance in print is found in an 1869 German pamphlet called “143 des Preussischen Strafgesetzbuchs” written by Karl-Maria Kertbeny. He published it anonymously. His pamphlet advocated the repeal of Prussia’s sodomy laws. Kertbeny had previously used the word in a private letter written in 1868 to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a writer and forefather of the modern gay rights movement. Kertbeny used homosexual in place of Ulrichs’ term Uranian, which was the term he invented for his so-called third sex: men who had female brains and women who had male ones.

And of course, we are just scratching the surface of terminology past and present for queers, including names we call each other and those which are used against us. There are literally dozens of slang words. A sampling includes; dyke, faggot, molly, tommy, poof, pansy, Mary, limp-wristed, friend of Dorothy, butch, Kiki, muff diver, pillow biter, fairy, fruit and sod.

Like queer, perhaps it is time to reclaim some of them.

For myself, if I am looking for a change, I sort of like the ring of the Calgary Temperamental History Project.

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Before Gay Marriage in YYC

The Metropolitan Community Church was founded by Reverend Troy Perry in Los Angeles in 1968 and the movement grew quickly, addressing a pent-up demand in the gay community for spiritual services. Within a decade there were congregations all over North America including six in Canada: Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.

The Calgary MCC Church began in September 1977, with the arrival of Reverend Lloyd Greenway from Toronto. Church services were initially held Sunday Evenings at the Unitarian Church on 16 Ave. NW. Then in June 1978, MCC Calgary services moved to the Backlot, a 150-seat theatre at the back of a gay bar named Myrt’s at the corner of 9th Ave. and 7th St. SW. Sunday morning services at the Backlot commenced at 11:30 and a typical congregation would have about 20 parishioners, swelling to 50 or more when a celebrated MCC minister came to town. Troy Perry himself led the Calgary Sunday morning service on February 18, 1979.

Reverend Greenway proved to be a polarizing figure in the Calgary community, known for both his personal charm and charisma, as well as his unorthodox personal life. However, he became a leading figure in the community and a go-to commentator regarding gay issues in Calgary media.

In July 1978, Reverend Greenway conducted Calgary’s first MCC Holy Union between Bruce Grant and Russ Raymond. The two young men gathered their friends and families at the Unitarian Church to witness their marriage-like ceremony – 27 years before same-sex marriage would be legal in Alberta.

The Calgary Gay History Project recently interviewed Russ about this landmark event. He explained that at the time they did not care about the legality of the service, rather they were very interested in making a spiritual connection as a couple. Russ added that he loved the excitement of that day.

Although their relationship lasted but two years, their Holy Union was groundbreaking in its day. Russ has donated his Holy Union Certificate and photos of that day to the Calgary Gay History Project Archives.  Thank you, Russ, for sharing your story with us!

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Where are Canada’s Gay Pardons?

Good news came out of the United Kingdom this week as Turing’s law received royal assent. It was named after the now famous mathematician Alan Turing, who broke the German Enigma codes in World War II. He sadly committed suicide at the age of 41 after being convicted of gross indecency – the charge under which homosexuals were prosecuted in both the UK and Canada.

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Alan Turing. Photo: Sherborne school/AFP/Getty from The Guardian Jan 31, 2017.

Although Turing received a royal pardon in 2013, this bill extends to thousands of men formerly convicted of homosexual offences. They have been posthumously pardoned under a new law. Most of these men are dead now, but the UK gay community is heralding it as a significant victory. It also has been declared an anodyne to family members and descendants of those convicted.

We have a martyr here in Canada: Everett George Klippert, the Calgary Bus Driver who was unjustly jailed for most of the 1960s for being gay. The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson revived national interest in Klippert in February 2016, eliciting a pledge from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to grant a posthumous pardon.  In addition, we have our own thousands who were convicted under Canada’s gross indecency laws.

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Everett George Klippert – Family Photo

Edmonton Member of Parliament, Randy Boissonnault, was appointed last fall as special adviser to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues, and an apology is part of his mandate. Perhaps they need some inspiration?

In January, Brandon Lewis, UK Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, issued a formal apology on behalf of the government:

I want to take the opportunity to apologise unreservedly, on behalf of the Government, to all those men who will receive a pardon. The legislation under which they were convicted and cautioned was discriminatory and homophobic. I want to make sure that all who were criminalised in this way and had to suffer society’s opprobrium, and the many more who lived in fear of being so criminalised because they were being treated in a very different way from heterosexual couples, actually understand that we offer this full apology. Their treatment was entirely unfair. What happened to these men is a matter of the greatest regret, and it should be so to all of us. I am sure it is to Members across the House. For this, we are today deeply sorry.

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