I came across an article featuring an interview with Angela Davis Fegan, an artist and LGBTQ activist, in which Fegan condemned the gay rights movement for what she views as its domination by white, straight-acting gay men. She cited the movement for same sex marriage rights with its prescient concern for the legal and financial status of same sex couples to illustrate her complaint, asserting, “the push for marriage was largely about granting real estate and tax benefit rights to straight-acting, white, gay men.” (as cited in POPSUGAR) I am a masculine, white, gay man and view the gay rights movement and the legalization of same-sex marriage in particular as a good thing for all people who experience same-sex attraction and same-sex couples regardless of their sex, race or ethnicity. Fegan is not alone in her condemnation of the gay rights movement for the alleged domination by “white, straight-acting gay men.” Amrou Al-Kadhi, a gay drag performer, is critical of “the glorification of Olympic Poster boy Tom Daley and Academy Award winner Dustin Lance’s relationship. Whilst it is a sign of progress that a gay relationship is celebrated nation wide, it is done in a manner that is “digestible” for a PG audience — a straight-acting Disney-fied gay couple (both attractive, white, masculine), giving gay men a pretty unobtainable ideal of success.” (as cited in i-D Magazine) This made me think about why I took up with the gay rights movement as a masculine, white, gay man beginning in 1989.
It was following a visit in the spring of 1989 with my friend and confessor, Father Basil Zion whom I met as a student at Queen’s University in the mid-1980s. Father Basil was a Russian Orthodox priest who was on the faculty at the Queen’s Theological College. He held liturgies for Saint Gregory of Nyssa Parish in his own home. We became friends after my graduation in 1986. Father Basil was sympathetic and supportive of gay people and encouraged me to be true to myself in accepting my gayness. Upon my return home to Ottawa, I looked up Gays of Ottawa, a gay rights group founded in 1971. I was aware of its existence years before when I was in high school. I remember a news report in 1980 in which members of Gays of Ottawa protested outside a movie theatre where the feature film Cruising was playing. Gays of Ottawa published a monthly newspaper from 1972-1995, Go Info. I remember the first time I saw an issue of Go Info. It was during the summer of 1982 when I worked in a bookshop in the Glebe district of Ottawa. A young man came in to pick up a copy. I remember feeling astounded as I smiled at him, while trying not to look too intently, thinking “wow, a real live gay man!”
I started attending social events at the GO Centre located over top of a laundromat 318 Lisgar Street. It was there I met Alvin with whom I embarked on a long term relationship in the Autumn of 1989. Alvin and I remained together until the mid-1990s when we parted company. We remain friends to this day. While we were together we attended social events and discussion groups at the GO Centre. There was a men’s discussion group on Monday nights where gay rights issues such as gay men’s health, dating, relationships, sex and crucially AIDS and how to protect yourself from exposure to HIV were talked over. We also attended a couples group. I remember one session in particular where a lawyer addressed the assembled gay and lesbian couples. She provided invaluable advice on what same-sex couples could do to protect their legal and financial affairs as couples as same-sex relationships did not have the same legal standing as heterosexual couples at the time.
I even had a fleeting acquaintanceship with one of the founders of Gays of Ottawa and pioneer of the gay rights movement in Canada, Charlie Hill, a curator at the National Gallery of Canada. This was in 1990 when I worked at the National Gallery Library before leaving to enroll in library school in 1991. As Christopher Moore noted in “Queering the archives: the collections of the CLGA #2: “Charles Hill (who had earlier been with Canada’s first post Stonewall gay group, the University of Toronto Homophile Association), Gays of Ottawa (GO) remained for many years the focus of gay activism in Ottawa.” (Christopher Moore’s History News) Yes, Gays of Ottawa figured prominently in the gay rights movement in Canada, but by 1989 there were elements of the movement who think like Angela Davis Fegan and Amrou Al-Kadhi who took issue with what they saw as undue emphasis on straight-acting, white, gay men in the gay rights movement. The board of Gays of Ottawa agreed to rename the organization ALGO (the Association of Lesbians and Gays of Ottawa) in 1989 in an effort to address these grievances. It was a noble effort, but ALGO folded in September 1995.
Gays of Ottawa and its advocacy is a memory, but I continue as a white, masculine, gay man following in the footsteps of men like Charlie Hill who pioneered gay rights advocacy in Canada. The fact is issues such as gay men’s health, dating, relationships, sex and crucially AIDS and how to protect yourself from exposure to HIV remain pertinent in the present for gay men. Moreover, there is no exception for straight-acting, white, gay men. For this reason, I remain unyielding in maintaining my focus on gay rights as I experienced it with Gays of Ottawa in 1989 as a white, masculine gay man and frankly, I am satisfied there is nothing selfish or untoward of me in doing so.
Posted by Geoffrey