When Canada’s most infamous anti-gay crusader invited me for lunch, I hesitated to say yes.
“Me and some friends are making gospel condoms,” says Bill Whatcott, referring to the anti-gay leaflets disguised as condoms that he and his followers distribute at Pride events and university campuses across Canada.
“You obviously don’t have to participate, but you can enjoy the food and interesting folks,” he tells me. “I can pick you up at 12pm and take you back by 4pm.”
I don’t relish the idea of spending my Saturday with a group of people who spread inaccurate and harmful messages about sexual orientation and gender. But then again, this backstage pass may offer a hint of insight.
Despite our differences, Whatcott has always treated me with respect when I’ve interviewed him in the past and he assures me that his friends will do the same.
“I can’t turn that offer down,” I tell him.
So on Sept 24, 2016, he drives me and one of his supporters, a friend he met at an East Vancouver church, to the home of a pastor in Delta who has agreed to host the gospel-condom-making event.
Our destination is a spacious but modest suburban ranch style house on a quiet side street, about an hour south of Vancouver. I am welcome to observe the meeting on the condition that I do not identify the participants.
Whatcott is currently facing a $104-million class action lawsuit. Toronto lawyer Douglas Elliott filed the lawsuit in August 2016 after Whatcott and a group of his friends disguised themselves as “marijuana-loving gay zombies” and infiltrated the Toronto Pride parade in order to distribute more than 3,000 of their fake-condom leaflets.
It’s not the first lawsuit Whatcott’s ever faced. In 2013, after several rounds in lower courts and tribunals, the Supreme Court of Canada found him guilty of hate speech for pamphlets he distributed in Saskatchewan, and fined him $7,500.
That didn’t stop him from sneaking into the Vancouver Pride parade a year later, where he and his supporters pretended to be members of the fictitious Calgary Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to distribute fake condoms filled with anti-gay leaflets there.
Whatcott subsequently left Canada to join his wife in the Philippines, only to return less than a year later after he went bankrupt and got sick — “Canada’s socialist healthcare wooed me back,” he told me in July.
Elliott is now seeking a court injunction to prevent Whatcott and his associates from crashing anymore Pride parades in Canada. He also wants the court to compel Whatcott to reveal the identities of his supporters.
“I’m the public face and name for this movement,” Whatcott says, as he lays out his fake-condom-making gear on the dining room table in Delta. “These people never signed up for that.”
As an evangelical Christian, Whatcott devotes much of his time and money to his anti-gay activism. On this particular weekend, he and his followers will produce more “gospel condoms,” as he calls them, to distribute during his upcoming three-city “Born Again that Way” tour.
This time, he promises to crusade openly as a “born-again-this-way” heterosexual Christian.
He says he hopes to educate students about the lawsuit he’s facing, and his concerns about its implications for religious freedom and freedom of speech.
Whatcott’s friend, a government employee, tells me he’s worried that public disclosure of his name and association with Whatcott would put his employment in jeopardy.
Likewise, the pastor, who is a minister in a local mainline church, says he wants to spare his wife and son any negative reprisals associated with his support of Whatcott’s activism.
“Many believers secretly believe these things but won’t say it out loud because they won’t be popular,” he says. He compares Whatcott to Old Testament prophets from the Bible who were often ignored, mocked and persecuted for their message.
“There’s nothing wrong with what [Whatcott] says as far as I can see from a theological view,” he says. “He’s not politically correct and he’s not with the times but I think that eventually in the future people will realize that he is correct.”
The pastor says that he does not provide Whatcott with financial support but offers to help in other ways, like turning his dining room into what Whatcott calls a gospel condom assembly line.
Around the dinner table Whatcott’s three assistants focus quietly, for the most part, on packaging their anti-gay leaflets to look like condoms. One man mentions the recent death of his parents, then matter-of-factly tells me that they are “in a warm place” since they failed to find God and be saved.
Whatcott folds the pamphlets while the pastor methodically measures and cuts a red plastic table cover into four by eight inch squares.
The pastor’s elderly father then helps seal the plastic squares into baggies, with the aid of two industrial heat sealers that Whatcott bought on Craigslist.
“The first time I did this, I had an army of Christians with home meat sealers that people use to vacuum seal elk,” Whatcott explains, “and those were slow so I started thinking there must be something better.
“So then I went onto Google and put in ‘meat sealer commercial’ and this thing turned up in the search engine. Praise God for that.”
Whatcott had initially planned to bike 100km to a business in Agassiz, BC, to retrieve the heat sealers.
“They were just trying to get rid of them and I didn’t own a car at the time because that’s when I went bankrupt after the gay activists boycotted my carpet-cleaning business and got it shut down,” he explains.
“So I was going to bicycle to Agassiz and then my dad said, ‘I don’t want my crazy son to get killed on the highway.’ So he went and drove and picked it up for me. I love my dad even if we don’t always agree on everything. I’ve got to be grateful for my dad.”
As the assembly progresses, Whatcott’s cell phone suddenly rings. It’s Kari Simpson, the conservative activist based in Langley, BC, whose many initiatives include opposing anti-homophobia programs in schools.
Simpson quickly gets to the point: she’s calling to denounce the lawsuit and offer Whatcott her support.
“She would have joined the gospel condom party if I had thought to call and invite her,” Whatcott tells me, after thanking Simpson for her support and ending the call.
After the baggies are sealed, Whatcott stamps them with a custom rubber stamp that reads: “zombie safe sex $5.”
The gospel condoms will be distributed for free, but Whatcott says the $5 price tag prevents people from throwing them in the garbage.
“It’s kind of like if you’ve ever seen those $1,000 bill gospel things,” he says. “They kind of look like real money when they are folded and people open them up and get the Gospel.”
He says his primary objective is to share the Gospel with as many people as possible — even if it means that he has to engage in deceptive behaviour.
“The Lord has wired my synapses a little different than most people,” Whatcott says, “and I spend a lot of time thinking how can I bring the Gospel to gay parades and counter the homosexual agenda in Canada.”
“Do you really think this is a productive way to spend your Saturday afternoon?” I ask.
“This is a productive use of my entire life,” he replies. “Absolutely. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Why would I be sitting watching a baseball game when I could be doing this?”
“I spend thousands on this,” he says. “If I stayed in nursing I would have had a house, an RV and a paid-off car. People say I’m strange but it’s strange people who make history.”