2 min

Failing the community?

Calgary gay centre's letter questioned

Credit: Gareth Kirkby

A letter circulating within Calgary’s gay community is causing more than a ripple of concern.

It’s really upsetting, says longtime activist Stephen Lock, pointing to the Gay and Lesbian Community Service Association’s (GLCSA) response to last month’s police raid against Goliath’s bathhouse.

For starters, the GLCSA won’t condemn the raid. All gay organizations have a responsibility to condemn this raid, Lock says.

“It’s important because this is not simply 13 men who were being bad boys. This hits at one of the most integral parts of gay male culture,” Lock explains.

“There’s a history of agents of the state and authorities harassing, raiding, causing problems for the gay community. If community groups don’t speak out against it, they’re siding with the aggressor,” he continues. “By not saying anything, they’re giving tacit approval to the raid.”

The president of the GLCSA disagrees. Rob Armstrong says his organization can’t align itself with any one opinion within the gay community because that would risk alienating the rest of the community.

“What our organization owes the community is a safe place where they can come to get information or resources or referrals, regardless of their own personal views,” he explains. “If we align ourselves with a particular interest group within the community then we do so at the risk of excluding others.”

That’s just a “wishy-washy” attempt to hug the middle of the road, Lock counters. And it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the role bathhouses play in gay culture and history.

The GLCSA letter begins with a reference to a “handful of very outspoken individuals” who denounced the police raids. It then situates these individuals on one extreme of the community’s spectrum.

Lock finds the implication upsetting. It basically calls the people who spoke out extremists, he says. But speaking out in defence of gay bathhouses and gay space is hardly extreme.

Armstrong says he never intended to say that denouncing the police raid is an extreme position. When asked if he, personally, denounces the raid, he says he can’t answer that question because he still doesn’t know the true motivation behind the raid. But if the raid was homophobic “I would absolutely denounce it,” he hastens to add.

The city’s foremost gay community organization, Pride Calgary, has publicly condemned the police raid.

Lock says other parts of the letter raise his hackles. He points to one section which talks about bringing the community’s concerns to the police in a “constructive manner… without widening the rift that has been opened by recent events.”

Says Lock: “The bottom line is, it sounds accommodationist and assimilationist to me.”

That’s not true, replies Armstrong. “We’re certainly not about accommodating any type of homophobia. But we do have a role to play and it doesn’t necessarily involve activism.”

The GLCSA can’t take sides here, Armstrong repeats, because “our goal is to have as wide appeal as possible in this very diverse community.”

That position is just plain wrong, Lock says. “They’re a gay organization. Of course they should take a side-and the side to take is that of the gay community.”

And that means denouncing the raid, he concludes.