Talk about a rude awakening. For years Calgary gays have sat across the table from members of their police force. They’ve discussed, and made progress on, issues such as recruitment of gays and lesbians, a police presence at Pride and the Rodeo, gay-bashing, verbal assaults and even same-sex spousal assaults.
For years, until 3:30 pm on Thu, Dec 12, Calgary’s gays and lesbians thought they had perhaps the best relationship in the country between police and a gay community.
Then the Calgary Police Service (CPS) decided to teach their gay community otherwise, perhaps permanently destroying the relationship. Some 30 or more officers, led by the vice squad, entered Goliath’s Sauna and charged 13 people with being found in a common bawdy house and another two people (since raised to four) with keeping a common bawdy house.
They also hassled bar patrons next door at the Texas Lounge.
Calgary’s gay community spun its collective head for a couple of days trying to reconcile the facts of the raid with their impression of a relatively progressive police force.
Well, the head spinning is over, and the CPS had best get used to the idea that things won’t be the same for a long time.
The gay community, and its able leadership in such people as Pride co-chair Keith Purdy and longtime activist Stephen Lock, is demanding an apology from the chief, along with a commitment to respect gay culture and stay out of the sex lives of local gays and lesbians.
They’re joined by Egale, Canada’s national gay and lesbian lobby group based in Ottawa. John Fisher, Egale’s executive director, says, “it’s outrageous that in Canada in 2002 the police are committing resources to criminalizing gay sex. It’s a flagrant abuse of police power.” Egale is also demanding an apology from the chief along with all charges being dropped-at a bare minimum.
Calgary’s community has had a lot of support from gays across the country in the past couple of weeks. We can all imagine the horror of police barging in while we’re making love and charging us for that. We can all relate to anger over being told that our private spaces are not private. We all take offence to the idea of cops, the Crown and judges thinking they can tell us with whom, and where, and when, and how, we can have sex.
We at Xtra West and Pink Triangle Press wanted to do our part to support Calgary’s gay community and help them get the word out. Staff reporter Robin Perelle posted a breaking story on www.xtra.ca on Fri, Dec 13. A message was posted on Cruiseline and on squirt.org. I flew to Calgary, along with freelancer Jeremy Hainsworth (who used to work at the Calgary Herald daily), and we spent the weekend interviewing the gay community there. Robin tracked down other leads from Vancouver. Staff at our Toronto office, particularly Leslie Miller, Paul Gallant and Brandon Matheson, put in overtime.
On Wednesday, a Special Calgary Edition of Xtra West hit the streets of that city, the only gay publication to do so in the week after the raids. We’re proud to have helped serve the Calgary gay community.
We’re proud to help their leaders get the message out to the whole gay and lesbian community, and to straight allies. We’re proud to do our bit to let the cops know they cannot get away with violating gays and lesbians.
There’s great talent within the Calgary community. The leadership knows what to do and is busy doing it.
They’ve demanded a meeting with the police chief and the head of the vice squad. So far, as Xtra West was going to press, they’ve been rebuffed.
They’re lobbying the mayor and council. They’re using the police-community liaison committee and officer as forums for making it clear that Calgary’s gay community will not have its sexuality policed.
They’ve come to terms with the reality of their relationship with the force. The police appear progressive when they address issues like spousal assaults and gay-bashing, where they can treat the gay community as just one more minority group like blacks or Jews. But when it involves coming to terms with the reality of gay sex culture-well, the cops are clearly not there yet.
Calgary’s leadership seems determined to get them there, however. After all, what makes us gay is the fact we lust and love members of our own sex. We’ve developed our own culture around that same-sex desire and bathhouses are part of that culture. Police cannot separate our sexuality from our identity. They have to come to terms with it.
There may be a silver lining to this horror. This is an opportunity to challenge the antiquated and anti-sex bawdy house law, a federal statute. We can hope that somebody in Calgary will take this all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada so that we all can be safe from this outrage.
And it’s time we lobbied our federal MPs, including Hedy Fry in Vancouver, to wipe the remaining consensual sex-policing laws off the books. I’m thinking about the anal sex laws that make threesomes (and more-somes) illegal in Canada. It’s also illegal to get a friend to videotape you and your boyfriend having sex.
These laws are hold-overs from a past, deeply uptight, era. It’s time they all went. The Calgary community’s experience tells us that we’re all vulnerable to the whims of idiotic cops and Crown attorneys.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.