"Are you gay?"
It was 1983 or so, and my Carleton journalism professor, Roger Bird, had asked me if I was gay. I was surprised.
"Is that an issue?" I asked him.
"If you are writing an investigative series about gay people in politics, I think it is," Bird said, and he was probably right, as he was about most things. "Are you?"
"No," I said. I kind of laughed. "My parents thought I was, maybe."
"OK," Bird said. "Go write."
"Are you gay?"
It was 1979 or so. My dad wasn't angry or anything. He was just looking at me, asking if I was gay. We were in the kitchen, and the fridge was humming. Otherwise, silence.
I had written a number of pro-gay editorials in the school paper, my band had recorded a song that contained (funny) lyrics about gay sex, I went to gay bars occasionally with my punk pals, and most of my friends -- at Calgary's Bishop Carroll High School, which would later produce PC Premier Alison Redford, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, and indie star Feist, among others -- were gay. They were all in the closet, more or less, but my parents knew (or suspected) I hung out with a pretty gay crowd.
It was his business. If he wanted to tell someone, that was up to him.
"Are you gay?" Dad repeated.
"Seriously?" I said. I wasn't, but I was pissed off. "What if I am? Does it matter?"
"It matters," he said. I think he meant it matters in 70s-era conservative Calgary, where homophobia was rampant and gay-bashing not unheard of.
"No it doesn't," I said, then left, angry.
"Are you gay?"
NDP MP Svend Robinson had clearly been expecting the question, which is why he had one of his assistants present for our interview, tape recorder whirring away on the table between us. I was just a Carleton journalism student, and I was known to be pretty gay-friendly, but Robinson still looked terrified. He was gay, I knew he was gay, he knew I knew. But he still looked like he was ready to bolt from his own Parliament Hill office at any minute.
Svend Robinson speaks to guests during an election rally in Vancouver, British Columbia, Jan. 23, 2006. (Photo: Lyle Stafford/Reuters)
He gave a brilliant, passionate, thoughtful answer, but I don't have my notes anymore. It was a great answer, one that sounded like it had been turned over in his head a million times, one that didn't give anything away. But it didn't deny anything, either.
I wrote my story -- Roger Bird later gave me an "A" and said some nice things about my writing -- but I left Robinson's sexual orientation unanswered.
It was his business. If he wanted to tell someone, that was up to him. On that day, for that assignment, it wasn't going to be me.
"Are you gay?"
That's the question k. d. lang asked Jason Kenney:
She asked it, last week, because Kenney had proposed outing Alberta kids. Some media folks had asked him about school gay-straight alliances, and he said to them that parents should be notified when a kid joins one. Which, of course, has the effect of outing them.
Is the newly selected Alberta PC leader gay? I don't know. Many of us always assumed he was. None of us cared, either. It was his business. It was nobody else's business.
Over the years, I have known many politicians who are in the closet, going back to that long-ago encounter with Svend Robinson. I wish they didn't feel like they had to be. But, again, it's their business. It's personal.
Jason Kenney made the personal the political when he said what he said. It became important -- as lang pithily observed -- when Jason Kenney proposed one rule for gay kids, and an entirely different rule for guys like him. You know, like hypocrites do.
Jason Kenney shouldn't ever, ever use the law to take away the rights of kids, in Alberta or anywhere else.
I'm an Albertan, like Jason Kenney and k. d. lang. Growing up, I sometimes talked to my high-school friends about why they were in the closet. They said they feared the reaction of their families, or friends, or a future employer. Or they feared simply getting the shit beaten out of them. In other words, they had their reasons.
Jason Kenney may have his reasons, too. It's his right. But Jason Kenney shouldn't ever, ever use the law to take away the rights of kids, in Alberta or anywhere else.
When he tries to do that? Well, that's when people will start asking Jason Kenney if he is gay, too.
Because a hypocrite is a hypocrite, gay or straight.
Are you gay?
If you are, it's something to be proud about. If you are, I think it's from God. If you are, it's wonderful. If you are, it's your business.
Not hypocrites like Jason Kenney.
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