GAY LIBERATION UNION
Charlie's photo of Matt in a self-defence pose: Body Politic cover, issue 63, May, 1980
Charlie and I took a self-defence course with the GLU in the late 70's, 1979 I think. The instructor at that time was a straight woman by the name of Susan who had a health food store called The Honey Pot. What made the experience exceptional was the after-class discussions and get-togethers at people's homes. They allowed people to become friends and to learn a bit about each other, specifically as gay people. They occasionally led to sex. They were grand.
As for the course itself -- can't say it ever did me much good. A part of it was given over to role-playing, i.e. gaybashers surrounding and attacking a potential victim. Said victim then practiced his newly acquired self-defence skills. Playing the victim supposedly helped you from freezing in a real attack but I always found it too disturbing, couldn't bring myself to play either role. I simply sat the whole thing out.
A few years later Charlie himself was attacked by a couple of guys in mid-afternoon on Yonge St., after leaving the Parkside. That incident makes its appearance in section Guy And Me. Among our friends there are few that don't have at least one story of gaybashing of some sort, some of these quite horrific.
As for me, well I've been harassed, chased, had my nose broken one time, another time my face battered so that I was hardly recognizable, another time been knocked unconscious, I've had a gun pointed at me (by a cop), a knife held to my chest (not by a cop), etc, etc. It never seemed to mean much to me. Certainly none of it is exceptional, or as horrific as what's happened to others. And on a personal level, none of it compared with the generalized destructiveness of growing up gay in a homophobic culture. And really, how much has that changed over the years?
One more letter of mine the Globe never published. This one's from 1985 following the murder of Kenneth Zeller in High Park in Toronto
Eight teenage boys set out in the middle of the night to "beat up a fag". That night five of them murder a forty year old man because they judge him to be gay. A newspaper prints an article in which people repeatedly assert these boys are not homophobic.
Question: If the murder of this man does not constitute an act of homophobia what, in this society, does?
Is homophobia such a common currency of the country that for people to admit its existence would be to admit their implication in it?
The presence of and publicity given such groups as Positive Parents (whose literature just happened to appear on the counter of Toronto police stations), the charges of harassment and sexual entrapment often leveled against the police by the gay community, the rush of high-minded newspapers to publish names of people involved in so-called "washroom" cases: none of these suggest a commonly held bigotry as part of the daily life of the province.
If a Toronto cardinal dismisses three staff members of a theological college because their views of homosexuality are deemed not sufficiently negative, this does not suggest the kind of institutionalized homophobia which might contribute to these boys' attitudes.
If the Armed Forces and the RCMP expel people from their midst for reasons of sexual orientation, well they are simply keeping the country strong.
What, about the atmosphere of day-to-day existence, could possibly be seen in the treatment by courts of gay parents in custody cases, or the refusal to allow even common-law status to gay couples?
What, after all, do these things have to do with the bloody and cruel murder of Kenneth Zeller?
Certainly there is not even the hint of public or private homophobia in the refusal to include sexual orientation in the Ontario and federal human rights codes.
So where, in this demonstrably non-homophobic world, could these five nice teenage boys have picked up attitudes which allowed them to go queer-bashing and which led to the death of a man?
It is truly a mystery and presumably people would like to keep it that way.