Sally Field

"You like me! You like me!"
(Sally Field, on at last winning an Academy Award)

Do you love me?

Myth popularity

Like us! Love us! Dump us?...

"Acceptance." Rights played as a numbers game
(You bet your life!)



Bob G

Bob on the barricades
Bob Gallagher, bath raid demo marshal, 1983. From public action to Public Relations?

"Gallagher advocates a media campaign that would boost public support for gay marriage. Though there have been no discussions yet, he thinks that US gay lobby groups might be enticed into donating to the cause. 'If we had gay marriage in Canada, they would have a hell of a time keeping it from bleeding over into the US,' says Gallagher. 'If we had $1-million US, we could saturate the media in Canada and move our support from 55% to 65% within a year.'"

"Marital disputes: The Liberals buy time on same-sex marriage"
Xtra!, August 8, 2002

Bob Gallagher is a fun guy. I've known him since the early '80s, hanging out at The Body Politic, best buddy to brilliant dyke pervert Sue Golding. And at packed house parties: I fondly recall once finding myself sprawled across Bob's bed among boys variously en deshabillé, kibitzing languorously into the dawn.

A disciple of Michel Foucault, god of deconstruction theory; guide on his Toronto tours of bars, baths, and "asses swaying in the sun" on Pride Day. A key force in the Right to Privacy Committee after this town's big bath raids: perennial marshal of mass demos, sudden sit-ins, and oppressors (in effigy) going up in flames.

Bob is now executive assistant to Olivia Chow, with husband Jack Layton among the most vocally progressive members of Toronto City Council. And he has still been out on demos -- demanding "same-sex spousal benefits" in the '90s, since then gay marriage.

The right to respected coupledom and "Gay Family Values" might seem for Bob a rather tame front, after manning the barricades to defend guys cruising in towels (if that). But it was, he apparently felt, the final frontier of Gay Rights and Equality.

With the Campaign for Equal Families (later made the Foundation for), Bob worked with co-coordinator Louise Stuart, two other paid staff, some 100 volunteers and more than $93,000 (all raised in just 10 weeks) to roll the "spousal rights" bandwagon boldly to the doors of Queen's Park.

Those harbouring doubts as to the wisdom of this drive scurried out of the way, most holding their tongues lest they be charged with "letting down the side." In June 1994 "our side" lost: Ontario's legislature voted No to social benefits for same-sex couples.

Protesters packing parliamentary halls shouted "Shame! Shame! Shame!" The Globe and Mail reported that chant as "Same! Same! Same!" -- getting it not quite wrong: defeat had come despite diligent efforts to cast gay people as safely "same."

With EGALE, the Ottawa-based "national" lobbyists of Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, and (to some later chagrin) the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario, the Campaign had "vigorously sought support within the mainstream Canadian family, through the distribution of thousands of postcards directed to the prime minister," featuring a photo of, as Bob Gallagher put it, "a nice little dyke family."

Doing your own
little thing

And having no little effect

Domestic arrangements beyond conjugal coupledom have been a hallmark of gay life. Even a model for lives beyond. Many non- (or "alternative") family households have sheltered rich, varied, & vitally enlightening relationships. As I've said: It's how we raised our kids. See:
Baby steps
(In On the Origins of The Body Politic; go to "Jearld Moldenhauer had moved...")

For one of Bob's own "little bubbles" & the lessons it offered a Very Good Boy, see:
Sky Gilbert
& Buddies in Bad Times
(In Diva Diaries; scroll to a shot of "Best Buddy" Sue Golding)

"The wholesome, reassuring appeal to the mainstream," Tom Warner has since recalled, was deliberate, strategic and, according to Bob, "subversive."
"Bringing queer families into the tradition of the family is far more disruptive than staying outside in our own little bubble, doing your own little thing, which doesn't really affect anybody else."

So much for decades, even centuries, of people inventing ways to be free, living beyond the bounds convention. Silly, no? It's so much easier to just fit in. Or at least to give it a respectable try. Appearance is everything (or as your mother no doubt scolded sloppy you: "It reflects on me!")

Maybe Bob's "nice little dyke family" just needed prettier models, a sweeter baby, a skilled art director, a professional photographer, fine airbrush work, and full four-colour printing on gold-embossed 80-lb glossy stock. Or "priority placement" in the "exclusive media" of a "selected demographic." It's all, after all, just a matter of smart, focussed, maybe focus group-tested and consumer-research backed "target marketing."

Bring 'em up to American standards! And bring on the US bucks....

A million US bucks for PR flaks and ad agencies (as if lawyers haven't made millions already). Justice determined by opinion polls (with figures precise to a percentage point). You bet your life! May the richest side win....

And, you can bet, that is not "our" side. Focus on the Family Canada can play this game too -- mobilizing the bucks and brawn of Focus on the Family America. Or the forces of global faith. Three weeks after Bob floated his PR balloon we got this headline in the National Post: "Foreign bishops to back foes of same-sex union."

The Anglican Diocese of New Westminster BC had voted 63% in favour of blessing homosexual holy unions; eight parishes opposed had imported high clerics from Asia, Africa, and North Dakota. Their visit was hailed as "a sign of solidarity," meant to peak with a rally "expected to be so large that the Anglicans have had to borrow a Baptist church large enough to hold it."

On October 21 George Carey, retiring (if not shy) Archbishop of Canterbury told a Toronto audience that such debate was destabilizing world Christianity. The Globe and Mail reported him comparing "homosexuality with polygamy in Nigeria," a problem the Anglican primate there "is trying to deal with." (Perhaps even less pleasing to marriage mavens was another ex cathedra line: "This isn't a life and death issue. This angry, confused, world has such major problems facing it" -- reminding his flock that "every seven seconds, one African child under 10 dies of starvation.")

"Gay Marriage Yes or No?" risks becoming a long, loud, all too familiar (and to some clearly frivolous) debate on the legitimacy of our relationships. If we buy the idea that rights and justice depend on "public opinion," we lose. Even if we "win." This time. In time we -- and other people not always popular -- will likely go down to defeat.

Sweet land of liberty
Gay lobbyists' score (so far)
in the Great American Popularity Contest

In 1969, when Canada decriminalized sex in private between any two people 21 or older, homosexual acts were a crime in every US state except Illinois. In 2002, sodomy laws remain on the books in 15 states. Texas, Missouri, Kansas & Oklahoma ban only same-sex carnal connections.

Thirty five US states -- among them Michigan, Florida, Texas & California -- have laws specifically banning gay marriage.

Just 12 states & the District of Columbia have laws against bias based on sexual orientation. In Maine, gay people won legal protection in 1997; in 1999 it was repealed -- by popular vote. A second gay rights bill was defeated at the polls in Nov 2000.

Meanwhile, to the north:
In 1977 Quebec became the first non-civic jurisdiction in North America to ban anti-gay bias. Ontario followed in 1986; Yukon & Manitoba 1987; Nova Scotia 1991; New Brunswick, Saskatchewan & British Columbia 1992; Alberta (by court order) 1994.

In 1995 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled discrimination based on sexual orientation a violation of the Charter of Rights -- therefore unconstitutional.

During US Prohibition, the border did not stem the tide of bootleg Seagram's booze. It's proved a firmer bulwark against Canada's "bleeding liberalism."

Source for US facts:
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force

I've tried popping a pin in Bob's balloon, dropping him a note. (We've not talked much lately, though the last time I saw Bob at City Hall he was most helpful).*
"You're talking tactics worthy of PR-prone Tories. Or of the Alliance wrapping itself in 'populist' rhetoric, leaving issues of fundamental justice to 'democratic' referenda, its fate set by 'public opinion' -- ill- informed, simplistic, and in fact spurious. The concept is mere media fraud: Ask a stupid question; demand a Yes or No (or doltish Don't Know) answer; put numbers to the answers and voila! -- 'public opinion.'"

I included facts on the fate of gay rights in the Great American Popularity Contest (at the left). "That's some record for those vaunted professional lobbyists and, no doubt, snappy media campaigns. Compared to a country where anti-gay discrimination is illegal in every province, and federally -- and is unconstitutional to boot. Your suggestion denigrates that achievement. And how it was achieved."

I also tossed in a copy of the Law Commission of Canada's Beyond Conjugality, making clear that the real question is not "Gay Marriage Yes or No." It is: What role should the state play in the intimate lives of grown-ups with no kids?

I don't know if Bob knew of that report: thanks to the media -- locked in their simplistic frame of Yes / No "controversy" -- few of us do. I wanted to make sure he did. "The answers it suggests are truly progressive, even liberatory. They can no longer be ignored -- out of ignorance, or out of 'strategic' willfulness."

I haven't heard back. Nor have I heard anything more on begging for US bucks. Bob may be recasting his strategy. But I'd prefer to think he's revisiting his rich experience in public action beyond public relations, respecting people as citizens: able to see the world beyond pat formula; able to think for ourselves. And free to act: to be agents in our own lives, and in the world we share.

Not passive marks for the facile hype of "consumer expert" hit men.

To some, Bob's PR pitch likely seemed sensibly "real world." Many Canadians (famous for nothing if not self-denigration) see via the media -- even "our own" -- just one true, insistent, and glitteringly Real World. When we stop and look with our own eyes, we can be oddly surprised.

"...I'm bored with me. Like a lot of Toronto faggots, I've started to take my freedoms and pleasures for granted. ... What to do? High colonics? Shoplifting? ... Or shuffle off to Buffalo? ...

"When you tell a Buffalo fag or dyke you're from Toronto, the first thing they say is, 'Why would you come here?' The next thing they tell you is that Toronto, and Canada in general, is one big snowy Sodom. ... an entire nation just half an hour away that protects its queers with the Constitution and any number of human rights commissions, let alone is about to grant them the right to marry. Sodomy is still against the law in 14 states, and several states prohibit homosexual hanky-panky specifically.

"Going to America makes me feel guilty about my own spoiled whining, as if I've stumbled into a camp full of starving refugees and announced that I'm sick of crème brulé. 'If only,' you can hear Americans thinking, 'if only I had enough to be bored with.'"

R M Vaughan: "The American cure: Growing bored with Sodom North"
Xtra!, October 3, 2002

Stop compromising!
Just (bloody well) do it!

For a few finer points on the constitutional history of a country built on (vital if often grudging) compromise, see "Equality" in:
Platitude: attitude

Richard Vaughan may well risk boredom with a cute if unfounded cliché: "Gay marriage is inevitable." Others are thrilled -- if apparently unaware of the distinct political culture that has let them take even hoped-for rights for granted. This is from an acquaintance irked with federal failure to simply say Yes to Gay Marriage:
"Canadians love compromise, which is why we ended up with a toothless constitution with the 'I don't want to play anymore and I'm taking my football home with me' Notwithstanding cause.

"It's time to stop compromising with people's lives and become a Nike society. Just do it."

Do it! I want it! Even if you don't.... And I won't settle for anything less: "At the crux of the gay marriage debate, the issue is not about 'similar to.' It is about 'equal to.' Any 'solution' which attempts to skirt the latter by some ingenious variation is nothing more than an attempt to make the gay version 'less.' Marriage was good enough for mom and dad... why not me? ...

"'Same as' is not 'same.' Why choose segregation over one-ness?"






Appropriated oppressions

Don't hie yourself (however tempted) to the vomitorium. These glorified groans deserve some careful thought. Yes, it is gag-making: what must be the world's most comfortably oppressed class blithely borrowing the language of people long facing truly brutal oppression.

People suffering not simply offence to their dignity but lives locked in endless, rigorous, state-sanctioned, socially pervasive and deeply demeaning discrimination: their right to work or move or find a place to live; to assemble in public, to speak freely; to escape crushing poverty, to feed their kids -- even their right to live -- officially non-existent.

And that, we must admit, is not us. Or not most of us. Certainly not most respectably coupled homosexuals insisting on a right to be called "married."

But such borrowing, egregious as it may be, is not rare. History tells us that the people most vocally decrying their oppression were those who had broken free of their chains (or some shackles at least). Revolutions spring not from crushed souls, but from rising expectations: a sense of entitlement to that which, so far, official title remains to be won.

And from people who have at least won the power to speak -- if often at great risk. And, maybe, the power to be heard. Hyperbole can have its uses; even its excuses. And lately none works better (and not just on Oprah) than the agonized cry: "I'm a victim!"

Yes: sometimes we are. As gay liberationists long liked to say: "There is no hierarchy of oppressions." We said it to counter claims that, compared with more classic markers of social disadvantage and political impotence (race, gender, ethnicity, religion), "sexual orientation" was a frivolous issue. So, maybe, was sexuality in general (long not a "real issue" for stern straight men of The Left).

Yes: we too could once lose a place to live, our freedom of speech or assembly, our job, our kids -- even our lives -- to blind bigotry. Some of us, especially in some places, still can. But the indignity of a co-worker's wince when a man happens to call another man "my husband" is not the indignity of being queerbashed. Or lynched

Offended dignity can, surely, cause pain. But all pain is not -- as all our lives are not -- "the same."

"Second-class citizenship!"

"Separate but 'equal'!"

Up against "obscenity"
Michael-Mike Leshner-Stark (& babe): "Nice little fag family"? Photo (wrinkled; not they) from eye

First-class. Or No-class.
(Or beyond: to truly equal citizenship)
"At 54 years old, I am still going through the obscenity of having to ask for the right to marry. ... This is about the right to choose to marry or to choose not to. Gays & lesbians who say this is a worthless idea or not their fight are forgetting that it is critically important for us to eradicate any hint of homophobia in our laws or judicial arena.

"I want the real thing or nothing at all. I'm not settling for anything else."

Michael Leshner, in eye June 27, 2002

Perennial poster boy of '90s spousal rights and 21st century gay marriage, Crown Attorney and media fave Michael Leshner confidently leans on the perennial, if fraudulent, line of "Choice."

He also insists (echoing my irate friend above) that any "ingenious variation" on marriage that the state may invent would be "nothing more than an attempt to make the gay version 'less.'" Ostensibly equal, but "separate." That, he frets, is "second-class citizenship."

And, as the law now stands, Michael is right. The state bestows nearly every benefit of marriage on common-law couples -- but the status of "marriage." He and Mike Stark are surely coupled in law: they've been hitched for 20 years (their anniversary party played up on City-TV just last night, October 22). And hitched voluntarily.

The state, of course, also gladly bestows all the obligations of marriage on common-law pairs -- even involuntary ones. We could maybe call that "No-Class Citizenship."

If the Stark-Leshners won right of entry to the House of Matrimony as it now stands, they would indeed become "first-class citizens." But those of us in relationships beyond conjugal coupledom -- our mutual commitments just as real, but unrecognized as real by the state -- would still be second-class citizens.

And those stuck against their will in the House of Mandatory Matrimony would still be seen, and treated by their own governments, as no-class slobs.

Partnership registration as proposed by the Law Commission of Canada in Beyond Conjugality would wipe out classes of citizenship. Mandatory common-law status would not exist. Just the voluntary status, legally respected, of any people who declare themselves joined in mutual commitment and support.

No door would read: "Straights only." None would be a back door (down a dark alley?) marked "Gay." The one marked "Marriage" would lead to a church, temple, or mosque.

The government would offer just one door for people who want to publicly declare their mutual commitment. It would be open to everyone, without discrimination, including people married in religious faith who want their relationship recognized in law as well. That, truly, would be choice.

And truly classless citizenship: status connected with and protected by civil governments in a civil society. Not by religious institutions. The rite of matrimony would not make anyone a "first-class citizen." In the eyes of the state (citizenship truly its business), all citizens would be equal. Regardless of the nature of their intimate relationships. And that would be true equality.

As for dignity: that's up to you. The state would respect your relationship. And one of the state's more noble roles is to foster mutual respect among citizens. Your dignity depends on respect for the dignity of everyone.


"Anyone looking at the gay movement finds ironies at every turn. Homophile spokesmen ... are busily pushing us into the prison from which intelligent heterosexuals are trying to escape. We foresee future anthropologists turning to the pair-bonding of discreet homosexuals as the only means left available of examining the long-defunct institution of marriage.

"...we shall never deserve our liberation so long as we attempt to ingratiate ourselves into heterosexual favour by adopting the standards of the non-gay world."

Andrew Hodges
& David Hutter
With Downcast Gays, 1974

Get acceptable!

Myth popularity has long been with us. For a time, mythical hopes served practical realities. We could not have moved nervous politicians to pass human rights laws -- or even nobly "impartial" judges to apply them -- without helping them see there was public support for making Canada a more just society.

It was a huge achievement. And it was essential. Liberationists fighting for "gay rights" ever said that was merely a strategy: legal rights were not the final goal. They were the ground on which we might more securely stand -- to work for wider human liberation.

And now: There we stand. In Canada, at least, as victors -- if too many seem eager to stand as victims still, begging one more right. To be won in a popularity contest: if we can come up to snuff as "respectable," we will be respected; if we can make ourselves suitably "nice" and "acceptable," we will be accepted.

At least by nice people like us.

"The easiest way of all for the liberal to deal with the intractable otherness of homosexuals, and one which requires the minimum of reoreintation, is to reduce everything to the level of prejudice or discrimination. Then, confident that these twin evils have been uprooted, the heterosexual can continue to live happily in a world totally indifferent to the needs of gay people. The liberal conscience will be clear, but we shall still find ourselves living in a foreign land in which every social institution has been devised for a life-style alien to our own."

That was written in 1974, in a little Brit Gay Lib pamphlet called With Downcast Gays. We may be less downcast these days. We have pushed some social institutions to respect our lives; we have even made our lives, consciously or not, decent models for the lives of many people around us -- of any sexual orientation.

Yet we can still seek, as those pamphleteers put it nearly three decades ago, "to ingratiate ourselves into heterosexual favour by adopting the standards of the non-gay world." They may well be standards some of us like, free -- as long as we are truly free -- to adopt them.

But if we do, our motive should be simply to live as we ourselves really want to. Not to win anyone else's "acceptance." Not to be graciously welcomed into "their" world ("It's so good to see you! Now here's the rule book"), but to claim the world as our world too. On our own terms.

Love me! Love me!
(It's all about me!)

"To the gay movement, 'tolerance' was not enough, almost a dirty word. We demanded 'acceptance.'

"For some, this demand was a cry to the Great Unresolved Family: it's only human to want Mum and Dad to love you. But few fellow citizens are Family. We don't need to love each other to share a city. We don't even need to like each other, certainly not to approve of everything in each others' lives.

"All we need allow each other is some space, and a modicum of civil courtesy. Cities let us do that. Their mere 'tolerance' -- and their diversity, vitality, their sheer mad randomness -- is what makes gay life possible."

In the city & on the street
(In Promiscuous Affections)

See also Jan Morris on Yonge St "punks and Boy Georges downright touching in their bravado, so scrupulously are they ignored," near the end of
York's fort;
Toronto's reserve
(In One street; many stories: Queen)

"...what's allowed this marginal debate to take central stage ... is the value that marriage advocates and opponents have invested in the word 'marriage.' Both sides agree it means one sweeping thing: 'We like you.' 'We' being the people of Canada. 'You' being homosexuals.

"The 'we like you' definition ... compromises marriage advocates and, whether we like it or nor, all homos. By equating marriage with social approval, a deeper truth has been clouded: That gay men and lesbians don't need the permission of governments, churches or other institutions to be human and to demonstrate our value."

Paul Gallant: "Showdown at the chapel" (editorial), Xtra!, August 8, 2002

Demands for social approval -- "full acceptance," not "mere tolerance" -- have long been heard in gay politics. Andrew Hodges and David Hutter wrote in 1974: "Talk of 'tolerance' being 'genuine' or 'complete' is meaningless. Tolerance is extended to something regrettable. Why be grateful for it?"

We hear much the same line in all politics of multiple cultures and insistent identities. Writing about Toronto, famously multicultural, I found myself pondering the wisdom of "acceptance" as a political demand. Even oddly grateful for "mere tolerance." It can be extended not just to the "regrettable" but, in cities especially, to the unavoidable.

Tolerance is questionable as a virtue. But urban citizens are skilled in making virtue of necessity: were we not, the term "civil unrest" might take on daily meaning. We can't really avoid each other; we must at least put up with each other. There is something to be said for knowing when to leave well enough alone.

"Other people are not fodder for one's own desires -- to help, to hurt, to co-opt. They are not there to be 'made sense of,' neatly tagged for 'appropriate' treatment as threat, victim, or spectacle.

"They are themselves -- just there, in the world. Your world and theirs.

"We can't legislate acceptance, can't force other people to approve of us. But we can legislate tolerance: others must, at the very least, let us be and not do us harm."

There are worse fates than being casually ignored. Not that we don't hope some people will pay us attention, some even affection. And love.

But not everything about your life, even things you don't care to keep secret, must be everybody else's business. After all, they do have lives of their own (yes my dear, its sad but true: it's not really all about you). They may not give a hoot about yours.

And there will surely be times when you're happily relieved that they are not, in fact, hooting at you. Even in a popularity contest of "public opinion."

A call to "mere" tolerance? Heresy! Well, maybe. But this is far from a call to ignorance of each other. It is in fact a call for acceptance: of the right to a decent life in the world -- for all of us -- whether or not we are, in any given media moment, Miss -- or Ms; or Ms & Ms; or Mr & Mr; or Mr & Mrs -- Popularity.

* Bob Gallagher is still a fun guy. On October 22 I bumped into him by chance at a Second Cup. He apologized for not having got back after getting my letter. I put him onto this piece, nearly done, welcoming his comments.

Quotations from Bob: Tom Warner's Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2002). Bob on the barricades: The Body Politic, Issue 94, June 1983; photo by Chuck Grochmal.

See more on:
Michel Foucault's ideas (potted version), their impact on (at least a few) gay liberationists, philosophy over salted draft at the St Charles Tavern (and "a party with God") in Promiscuous Affections, 1983.




Go back to:
Ideas  in play  (List of contents)
Spouse  touting  (Introduction)
Gay marriage? Wrong question  (Lead page)

My home page

This page:
October 2002 / Last revised: October 31, 2002
Rick Bébout © 2002 /