It wasn’t the cold that first told me I was in a different place. It was the friendliness. Oh, sure, Vancouver has its share of friendly folks, too. But the third time it happened on my first full day in Ottawa, well, I knew I was in a different space.
And that the people of Ottawa are in a different headspace than those I’d just left on the West Coast. Three times in one day people started up conversations with me at traffic lights. Three times in a sub-zero day.
That’s unlikely to happen in Vancouver, a beautiful place with beautiful people. But people who ignore total strangers.
The welcome has continued as I’ve sat over coffee with some of this city’s activists and culture workers. I’ve found people so very welcoming and eager to share their contacts and suggestions. One thing’s for sure: people care passionately that Capital Xtra, their homegrown gay newspaper, succeeds in its mission to spread the gospel of free gay love.
Gay life in Ottawa has undergone bedrock changes in the past three decades. Those with power used it to catch and fire civil servants in the early ‘60s. Now, official committees include gay representatives working hard to make this a welcoming, safe place for us to express our love and lust, work in peace and build our culture.
Well, that’s the movie version. In real life, the job’s only half done.
Sure, Ottawa’s a great place to be gay. We’ve got a queer bookstore, two bathhouses, a couple of famous glory-hole palaces, gay bars, queer parties, a Gay Pride Parade, queer studies at the universities. We’ve got youth groups, campus groups, sports teams and a nudist group. We’ve got AIDS groups, a social service agency and, soon, a queer centre. We’ve got gay spirituality and SM ecstasy.
We’ve got so much in Ottawa. But we ain’t got something: we ain’t got law.
That’s right; We’ve come a long way through the court system. But more than 35 years after Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously said that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation, we find that the state is still in the bedrooms of the nation. Many of us don’t even know we’re breaking the law when we’re engaged in many sexual acts. You’re breaking the law every time you have a threesome that includes anal sex (a strap-on counts, women).
You’re breaking the law every time you go deep into the bush to have sex. There could be a police raid any time you’re in a bathhouse, or using a sex- club’s glory hole.
Aah, but not in Ottawa you say? Our police don’t enforce those stupid laws. They understand about consent and have higher priorities.
Hey, you know Ottawa better than I do. But you know that’s exactly what the gay community of Calgary thought before their bathhouse was raided in 2002. Like Ottawa’s , their gay community had phenomenally good rapport with the police.
So, what’s that got to do with this being my first column as Managing Editor of Capital Xtra? Well, everything. Because we build great gay cities from the local landscape, the clay and rock, the brick and marble, the ideas and energy. From people and place. We fashion great gay cities by deliberately and consciously creating the cultural, political and legal circumstances that nurture them. Our community is doing this in Ottawa the city and on Parliament Hill. To create our own space, and to feel comfortable in all places, we need both local change and a national framework to make it all possible. I pledge that we at Capital Xtra — in newsprint and on our xtra.ca website — will do our best to bring you the news, views, listings and profiles that help you consciously create your own life out of the clay of Ottawa, the stone of Parliament Hill and the rivers of our community.
* Gareth Kirkby is the new Managing Editor and Associate Publisher of Capital Xtra.