News
4 min

James Loney’s time in the closet

Christian Peaeckeeper's partner back in the picture

WHAT IF THEY GOOGLE ME? Dan Hunt, holding partner James Loney, is glad to have his partner back alive. Credit: (Joshua Meles)

By now, most everyone has heard the story of James Loney. A Canadian activist and Toronto resident, Loney travelled to Iraq in November 2005 on his third delegation to that country with the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT). Four days into his trip, on Nov 26, he and CPT members — US citizen Tom Fox, Brit Norman Kember and fellow Canadian Harmeet Singh Sooden — were kidnapped and held hostage by a group of Iraqis who called themselves the Swords Of Righteousness Brigade.

After four long months, and the murder of Fox, Loney, 41, and his two remaining team members were rescued by a multinational troop led by the British forces on Mar 23 of this year. He returned to Canada where he quickly became a media darling.

Yet there is a hidden piece to this saga. It’s a love story, really. It’s a tale of two men, friends since the late 1970s and lovers for years, who were forced to hide their relationship in the face of intense media scrutiny for fear that the wrong word or a misplaced gesture would cause the kidnappers to kill Loney for being queer.

Enter Dan Hunt. From their first meeting at summer camp on the shores of Lake Simcoe at age 16, to gradually becoming partners in the mid-1990s, Hunt and Loney have created an “evolving love story,” one they now live out in a community of people involved in the Catholic Worker movement — a strain of Roman Catholic thinking that emphasizes nonviolence, a redistribution of wealth and decentralization in society — in Toronto’s west end.

“During Jim’s captivity I was disappointed that this rich life of ours was hidden and unknown. I think it’s a beautiful life,” says Hunt. “It really counters the stereotypes of queers and who we are.”

This is the story Hunt has been waiting to tell since Loney was kidnapped.

In an effort to protect Loney’s safety, the media, family, friends and CPT cooperated in not releasing any information about his sexual orientation. Hunt stayed hidden, always on the sidelines, never giving media interviews. Articles that Loney had written about their relationship were pulled from the Internet.

“On the second day of my captivity I thought, ‘Oh shit, what if they find out I’m gay? What if they Google me?'” Loney remembers. He projected out a hope that someone at home would think to protect his orientation from being made public, but had a line in his head that he wanted to say if he ever got the chance to send a message publicly: “It’s best that we not talk to Dorothy about this.”

Hunt and Loney knew of the risks in the work of CPT, a faith-based organization that travels to world crisis areas to promote peaceful resolution of conflict and protection of human rights. In January 2003, while in Basrah, Iraq, Loney was a passenger in a car that rolled over, killing team member George Weber.

“The night before Jim left for Iraq he asked the question, ‘How will we spend the night together tonight if we knew it was our last night together?'” says Hunt. “We never really answered it. I held Jim as he fell asleep and really thought about it.”

Hunt says Loney’s commitment to social justice is part of the reason he fell in love with him.

“I would never ask him not to be who he is in any way; it’s a part of what I face for being in love with Jim.”

Says Loney: “I think that every relationship of love needs to give birth to something. For me, my hope in our relationship is that we are helping to give birth to peace in the world, justice for poor people, a place where people can be accepted for who they are.”

Yet during Loney’s captivity, Hunt was unable to share their love in public. The most frequently published photo of Loney — the one with his head tilted a little to the side — is actually a photo of the two of them with Loney’s arm around Hunt. Hunt was cropped out.

“I had to utterly disappear, sort of erase myself,” says Hunt. Though he had the support of family and friends, it was Loney’s parents the prime minister called, not Hunt.

“Having to go into the closet — which is a life and death closet, which is utterly suffocating — was to take on a whole other dimension of violence,” says Hunt.

Though he concedes it was necessary, Loney says the picture that ended up being painted in the media was one of this guy from small town, northern Ontario with a typical nuclear family.

“That’s not really who I am. That’s not the full picture of who I am,” he says.

In recognition of Pride Toronto’s theme of Fearless, Loney and Hunt were honoured as recipients of the Fearless award at its second annual gala on Jun 12.

“It’s a healing thing to be seen and acknowledged after for me being in a tomb basically, being in a prison and in handcuffs,” Loney says in an interview prior to the award. “Being in terror of being discovered as being gay in that context.

“Fear is something that every gay person struggles with or has struggled with, the fear of being who I am and what the cost of being who I am is. There is a dimension of fear that only queer people can experience.

“I think of all the people that have come before, the space that we have now has been won by much suffering. People who were bashed, who were fired, who were killed, just for being who they are — every one of those fearless acts has been a seed of freedom, a seed of liberation and we’re just starting to see the fruits of it now.”