a supplement to
What We Did And Why We Did It
(from the cheap seats at the revolution
a monologue on TAG in the 1970's)
N.B.: TAG, Toronto Area Gays by 1990 has become
Toronto Area Gays and Lesbians, TAGL



(Peter on his high horse)

This is just me indulging myself with a look at the present and things in general. A compendium of my personal opinion, I plunge once more over the well-worn edge of that particular abyss.


Charitable status is meant to increase the flow of donations and grants. In the seventies and early eighties TAG had been reluctant to take the necessary steps towards that status (i.e. incorporation---setting up corporate officers, a board, constitution and so on.) The form had seemed too much a contradiction of what the group felt it stood for. Times change, groups change, financial realities change and now it's trying for this charity classification.

Much of the impetus for this has been the Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal. The Appeal issues tax receipts for a lot of the money it raises (i.e. donations solicited to the LGCA Foundation as opposed to the LGCA itself), and as a result these particular donations can legally only be passed on to charitable organizations. It's worth asking, in passing, to what degree this leads to a government determination of which of our activities will be adequately financed, of which concepts of community will flourish. In any case this tax ploy further pressures gay organizations to go the incorporation route.

If there really is no way we can function without using the Junior Chamber of Commerce as our model for changing society, what concrete steps do we take to ensure that we control rather than are controlled by this process? (As a historical aside it's worth noting that the destruction of CHAT (Community Homophile Association of Toronto) as a viable forum for community debate occurred as part of the process of incorporation. Whether it was in any way crucial to that implosion is part of another discussion. Claims can be made for other, later organizations that handled the process more successfully. Whatever the case, there's no lack of history lying around for anyone who wants to sift through it.)

Incorporation, boards, by-laws, and so on, all these rituals of commercial practice, arrive with a certain amount of dubious baggage. On a certain level, it's a matter of whether the thinking these things represent is so pervasive that it determines our understanding of the purposes of our organizations. Beyond that, there's obviously some question how the form affects the substance over the long term. It's no great revelation to say a legal facade easily takes on a life of its own, particularly if it's inherited by a changing and/or growing membership that may not have been involved in the debate that it emerged from.

It's a telling and typical detail, not something incidental, that charities must keep political and other forms of advocacy within bounds that are subject to government definition and review; likewise that legal liabilities are assigned to a certain subset of people within an incorporated group.

The tack this kind of thing takes, the imposition of a particular structural approach, is meant to channel social action along certain lines, to cause institutions to evolve in certain ways. A lot of subtle and not so subtle adjustments accompany this shift of ground. So far there has been little public consideration of where all of this leads us, how it affects our overall development. This has been left for individual groups to debate in isolation and work their way through as best they can. We could quite easily end up playing in an entirely different ball game and not realize it until long after the fact. It wouldn't be the first time a community had its priorities rearranged in an attempt to conform to government regulations and desires.

All of which brings me back to the Appeal. It has supplied a lot of money to promote concepts (The Toronto Counselling Centre for Lesbians and Gays---a possessor of charitable status) which see the professional social worker as the proper person to handle and supervise the counselling of gay people. Although TAG serves a vastly larger group of people than the TCCLG and does so more efficiently and economically, it has received minor backing in comparison. (Extracting figures from various sources and guesstimating, I'd say TAG deals with roughly forty times the number of people at probably one tenth the cost, provides each hour at less than one fifth the expense. And in terms of hours I'm not even factoring in the group sessions TAG runs. When looked at in terms of total budget versus people served, it costs the Centre more to deliver its assistance to one person than the price of a suite of rooms at the Royal York. TAG could exist in perpetuity on the interest alone if this money could be banked.)

But put aside questions of priorities and economics for the moment. Simply ask where in this is the analysis of what we are trying to achieve as a community. After all, it is gay people's rejection of the idea that problems and issues in gay life are the preserve of the professional, their refusal to allow their issues to be appropriated by "experts", that TAG was a product of.

A wholesale importation into gay community work of the professionally controlled and defined relationship of "agency" and "client" makes unjustified presumptions about the structure and history of the community. Viewing gay people, gay parents, gay youth (it is TCCLG policy not to deal with anyone under sixteen without written permission from parents), gay couples, people coming out, people in isolation, etc. in the context of a "clientele", turning them into "casework", defuses the potential for creativity and self-definition inherent in regarding them as members of a community with common interests and problems.

The context in which we deal with the situations of individual gay people has bearing on the community as a whole. There is no real extension by the Centre into new or different areas here, it basically handles the same types of problems gay counselling networks have traditionally dealt with. (Where it does reach beyond these things, there is no sense of focus to its attention.) What it is saying though, is that professional social work training and/or an academic certificate is the way to arrive at an analysis of these problems.

I'm not implying that those people who do manage to gain access to the help the Centre offers, do not receive any benefit at all. But there are many questions. Could those who volunteer at the Centre be more useful as a more direct adjunct to what happens elsewhere in the community? With the same or even fewer resources, could a lot more be done for a lot more people? Could what is done, be done at less cost, and by a more integrated group; using a less formal approach and an adjusted concept of themselves?

These and other questions relate to the structure that has been erected around these activities. Why does this structure exist? What does it say about the way professionals are prepared to interact with non-professionals? What attitude does it represent in terms of the way the community should organize itself generally? Is it satisfactory to be building replicas of traditional institutions? There is a lot going on here. Do we dare look the gift horse in the mouth?

The TCCLG isn't totally without possibilities. If, as I suggested above, it weren't directed by and biased towards professionals, if it were the work of people with a more varied background, with a stronger analysis of where the community should be going and where it has been, it could be a more creative force. If it were more controlled by the needs of the people it is trying to serve, if it pointed itself more towards specific areas of concern, and made much more use of group sessions and peer counselling (instead of just paying lip service) it could have more value.

Much of our trouble is a reflection of the dislocation that exists between large numbers of gay people and the heterosexual culture in which we exist. Beyond the sympathetic ear that phonelines like TAG provide, the best hope for dealing with this in a systematic manner is to find ways to bring people together on the basis of mutually-shared individual problems. Given a facility where people can get together, the question should be how they can be encouraged to think about the difficulties they face, and helped to construct solutions themselves. We should be trying to establish more effective models for this, ones which could easily and economically be copied; and which could contribute to building the community. The predictable and uninspiring suggestion offered by a group of gay social workers is, however, that we line up (minimum wait for an appointment as of writing this, Feb./89--four months) for counselling by gay social workers. It's not that good intentions are absent, but it appears to be a case of community requirements being interpreted to fit a pre-determined concept. As it stands this is time, human resources, and money (not to mention bureaucracy) arrayed in support of conceptual sterility.

Our concern for each other has been transformed within society into an attempt at assembly line processing and containment of problems. That kind of approach neither encourages links between people nor empowers them to any significant degree. We should be a lot more cautious in thinking this model can be successfully adapted to serve our particular needs. (Another alternative, I suppose, would be for the Centre to abandon direct work and redefine its major aim to affecting attitudes within the social work profession itself.)

On one hand, the support the TCCLG receives from heterosexually controlled sources, e.g. the United Way, if not a landmark is at least a sign of the inroads we have made. On the other, it raises questions not only about the possibilities opened up by this money but also those closed down---the changes the Centre can no longer make without jeopardizing this support. It isn't an attack on anybody's integrity to say that outside funding should not be allowed to shift the balance within our community, the focus, towards the TCCLG's concepts. I don't think there's any doubt the way the Centre itself presently operates is heavily influenced by this factor; or that the possibility of this kind of funding was decisive in how it designed itself. Everyone is free to deal or not to deal with this sort of thing as they see fit, but the nature of the beast has to be acknowledged.

I do wonder, though, if the Centre decides which particular needs it will serve and how it will serve them, more from the angle of whether these things will extend its funding base, than from the degree to which they are crucial to the community.

Social worker expertise would be of use to us at certain points but more thought needs to be given as to what those points actually are. There is an effort here to channel community work towards non-innovative, socially approved solutions, i.e. a traditional social agency (or an unadventurous hybrid thereof.) Whatever the altruism of those involved, what lies at the end of this particular road is the annexation, by professional interests, of our concerns... and of control of our issues.

Why be so critical of a group of people helping other gay people? of a genuine effort involving a great deal of hard work? A particularly galling factor, a major irritant, has been that despite an expensive infrastructure by gay standards, despite being incapable of serving very many people annually, despite being burdened with professional elitism, this approach has nevertheless siphoned off a major portion of the funds the Lesbian & Gay Community Appeal has directed towards counselling concerns over the decade.

The Appeal has not done enough to promote and solidify, to confirm the value of phone lines like TAG which have performed for the community for so long, on so little. These lines have always provided, and continue to provide most of the community's primary-level personal outreach. While in the past two or three years the LGCA has begun to take some steps towards addressing a previous deficiency, an imbalance in the allocation of its support, the question remains as to why it took it so long to recognize the obvious. In determining where its funds go, in deciding what our necessary institutions and traditions are, does it have any agenda, rational program for community development, ideas about the paths we should be taking? Money isn't neutral, how it's distributed has effects.

The way all these things tie together, for me anyways, is partially a repeat of what I was implying in the Preface to What We Did And Why We Did It, my essay on TAG. We seem to want things to change without having to deal with changing things. We don't want to look at ourselves, how we interact, how our relationships (both formal and informal) work, what values, besides the overtly politicized ones, we bring to what we're doing.

We don't need an idealogy of behaviour to which we should all conform, but on the other hand there aren't enough questions being asked, isn't enough developed thought about individual gay lives and the life of our community. This badly hampers our ability to speak about ourselves, to ourselves, with any sense we really know what we are talking about.

Whatever the things are that do flow from sexuality, there is an underlying issue. A gay perspective, no matter its cultural setting, by definition is different than a heterosexual perspective. That will always be so, and should be so. We cannot risk blurring that idea while we try for adjustments to things as they are, to a society which does not fit. It is our most important and powerful message because it gives gay people the license to be ourselves, and only there will we find our strength, our voice.

After centuries of deletion from history and vicious repression, we can't be expected within the space of a few short years to clearly delineate the boundaries of all these things, these ideas which are the expression of our existence. But we also can't ignore the urgent need to get on with the work. The more effort we put into it, then the clearer the full aims of our organizations and institutions will become, the more possible it will be for the community to withstand attacks, and the sooner we will finally open gay eyes on ourselves and the world. At the moment we haven't really woken up to what we have to say, are only adjusting where it hurts, turning in our sleep.