3 min

Gay Militia action condemned

Calgary invasion of Christian gathering was unacceptable

Credit: Xtra West files

Some eight to 11 people crashed an Apr 17 fundraiser being held by the Concerned Christians Coalition Inc. (CCC) in Calgary’s Coast Plaza Hotel’s ballroom. Before being removed by security staff, and before police arrived, the individuals-some wearing bandanas over their faces and camouflage gear-chanted “Rightwing bigots go away, Gay Militia here to stay” and pounded drumsticks together as some members of the CCC held hands and prayed while others gaped in amazement and fear.

Coincidentally, I was in Ottawa at this time for the annual Egale board retreat. Upon my return Apr 19, a reporter from The Calgary Herald called wanting to know if I had sent out an email prior to the CCC fundraiser encouraging a demonstration. I readily stated I had.

He then informed me that Stephen Boissoin, for whom the fundraiser was being held, was claiming “my” demonstrators had terrorized CCC members and “waded into the meeting brandishing sticks.”

I assumed the “sticks” were the handles of the placards the demonstrators were carrying and that Boissoin was engaging in his usual purple rhetoric. The dinner was being held to help pay for his case before the Alberta Human Rights Commission regarding a complaint lodged against him and his counteraction against the complainant.

It took me a day to discover there were two demonstrations. The outside demo had 25 people holding placards reading “Love Is Love” and “Hate is Not a Family Value.”

Individuals, along with members of the Calgary Unitarian Church and the Calgary District Labour Council’s social justice committee, were there to bear witness to the mistruths the CCC puts out regarding Bill C-250 and wrapped up peacefully, and without incident, by 6 pm. In fact, several CCC members even came out and spoke with some of these individuals and the atmosphere was apparently mutually respectful.

The second demo, that of the so-called “Gay Militia,” was a wholly independent action by what appears, based on a video taken at the time by a member of the CCC, to be queer youth, some of whom were laughing and giggling as they unfurled a banner, banged sticks, and chanted.

Nobody seems to know who the members of the “Gay Militia” were. None of them have come forward to claim responsibility or speak to the media. It apparently was left to me to do damage control for an action that neither I, nor those I was in communication with, had anything to do with.

And there was damage done.

Dave Rutherford, a local conservative call-in radio host stated on air that I was the “spokesman for the Gay Militia” and had refused to appear on his show. My refusal to appear on the Dave Rutherford Show goes back several years following his broadcasting of an AIDS joke told to him by a caller to which Rutherford responded with a chuckle and a comment of “Oh, good one!” He is very aware local gay activists will not appear on his show. Unfortunately, my absence allowed a variety of untruths about the incident and about C-250 to stand unchallenged.

If the “Gay Militia” had remained outside chanting and pounding their drumsticks I would have no problem with that and, in fact, would have supported that as their right to express opposition to the policies and statements of the CCC.

Freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of beliefs are valued rights in Canada.

Gate-crashing a private function, terrorizing people, and disrupting their event are an abuse of those freedoms, and an abuse of another group’s freedoms. It is this tactic that I, and Egale, have criticized.

Make no mistake: I have no sympathy for the views of the CCC or the Rev Boissoin, believing them to be poisonous. I want people like him to go away and allow us all to live in peace and harmony. However, to those involved in this action, and to those who would defend it, one must ask: If the situations were reversed and some masked radical Christian group dressed in army fatigues burst into a private function within our community, would that be okay? Would that be simply a matter of exercising their right to freedom of speech?

This “Gay Militia” action was juvenile and, in a post-9/11 world, potentially dangerous.

Looking at the video it is clear that several CCC members were terrified. All they knew is that a group of shouting, masked individuals in army fatigues had just burst into their function and taken over the podium. The CCC leadership makes a great deal of noise itself about how Christians are under attack by “Christophobes” and how Bill C-250 will criminalize even the mere criticism of the “homosexual lifestyle.” While those claims are in error, imagine the terror of ordinary members sitting at a fundraising dinner experiencing a situation like this.

Interestingly, neither local media nor myself have heard from anyone connected to this action. Those involved with the peaceful Egale-sanctioned demonstration at least had the courage of their convictions and did not hide behind masks. Members of the “Gay Militia” are stunters, nothing more, and they have compromised much of the serious work that has been done in this city.

* Stephen Lock is the male regional director (Prairies/NWT/Nunavut) for Egale Canada, the trustee for the Goliath’s Defence Fund, the producer/host of a semi-monthly queer radio show Speak Sebastian, and is a founding member of the Calgary Gay, Lesbian, & Trans Community/Police Liaison Committee. He has been an activist since 1979.