Sex and politicians. It’s a natural mix, on paper, if not in person (Hello, Giorgio Mammoliti? We thought you liked the gays, now. Oh dear, you’re not returning our calls).
A gay-positive city is a city that’s not hung up about consensual sex. Even if park sex or bathhouses aren’t your favourite things, we all get a little overexcited from time to time and we need politicians who take a laissez-faire approach, regardless of how they conduct their own sex lives.
We decided to throw a few sex questions at selected city councillors and candidates — the ones who returned our calls, at least — to see who flinched.
* What do you think gay and lesbian activists have brought to Toronto in terms of sexual attitudes?
* What do you think the city should do about bathhouses and establishments that allow sex on the premises?
* How should the city deal with public sex in parks or washrooms?
* What’s your position on raising the age of consent to 16 from 14?
Michael Walker (St Paul’s)
Gay and lesbian activism? I can think of some who have made this a progressive city or reasonably so, like George Hislop, Brent Hawkes, Kyle Rae. Gay issues are front-line issues now. I think these issues have been pushed hardest by gay activists here.
Bathhouses and backrooms? If in the law, there’s been nothing done that’s illegal, why would we be out looking for trouble? The city has succeeded because it’s quite liberal.
Public sex? It would certainly embarrass me. I’m not sure where the line is on that. I would certainly listen to the leadership of the gay community or any other community.
Age of consent? I don’t know why [the federal Conservatives] would be pushing that. I think raising the age of consent will create problems.
Joe Mihevc (St Paul’s West)
Gay and lesbian activism? I think the activism has broadly and deeply enriched Toronto. Toronto in the 1960s, ’70s was almost a Victorian city. Gays and lesbians brought a kind of dynamism to Toronto the puritanical.
Bathhouses and backrooms? I think it really is up to the patrons and the owners. I think the issue is consent. Do it with consent and do it safely. The state does not belong in the bars of the nation.
Public sex? I would have difficulty with that. I think parks are meant for everyone. If I was with my young children, I don’t think they would understand that.
Age of consent? I haven’t really given it that much thought. I think that would have to be talked through with psychologists and so on. I don’t know when people are starting to have sex.
Adam Giambrone (Davenport)
Gay and lesbian activism? I left Toronto when I was 18. I can’t say I was really engaged in this thought until my last year of university.
Bathhouses and backrooms? The police shouldn’t even be involved. Whatever people are doing between two consenting adults is no concern for me. It shouldn’t be a concern of the cities.
Public sex? The key word here is discretion. What two people are doing in a bathroom stall in a park doesn’t concern me. But people shouldn’t leave used condoms behind. That’s gross for anybody.
Age of consent? My sense has been that we need to leave it [where it is now, at 14 for most nonexploitive sex]. You begin to block people’s access to public health. Toronto Public Health is against it.
Pam McConnell (Toronto Centre-Rosedale)
Gay and lesbian activism? When I was at the school board, we were able to establish the Pink Triangle Program. We were able to challenge homo-phobia and put in safer-sex education. Same-sex benefits, approving same-sex marriage has put Toronto on the map.
Bathhouses and backrooms? In the Pussy Palace and in the bathhouse raids, there were homophobic underpinnings. The way in which people were being harassed was unacceptable.
Public sex? I don’t know how to answer that question. One of the things we’ve said is that there needs to be community policing. The sexual norms of a community are able to be dealt with in a respectful way.
Age of consent? I don’t support raising it. I think it’s fine the way it is.
Helen Kennedy (candidate, Trinity-Spadina)
Gay and lesbian activism? I think we’ve been front and centre on a lot of issues. The agreement between the police and the community is that the police will have a more training on sexual issues. If you look at the Hislop case, it’s not so much to do with sex, it’s to do with relationships. I’m not sure we ever want to be part of the mainstream, because it’s a different culture.
Bathhouses and backrooms? It shouldn’t be an issue, it shouldn’t be a priority. There’s so many other issues the city should be addressing, like homelessness, poverty, the Port Authority.
Public sex? Oh, Jesus. We have to respect each other’s spaces. If two adults are in a park, you better be careful. I don’t think police should be going around looking for people having sex.
Age of consent? I think that’s crazy. I don’t think it was on anyone’s radar until [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper got elected.
Adam Vaughan (candidate, Trinity-Spadina)
Gay and lesbian activism? What you’ve seen in the past 25 years is tremendous leadership from the gay and lesbian community. You start with George Hislop’s candidacy and John Sewell as mayor.
Bathhouses and backrooms? To me, [policing them] doesn’t advance the rights of people. I’d like to see the police taking a much stronger stand in making sure the neighbourhoods where gays and lesbians live are safe. When politics starts to regulate the lives of individuals, what we tend to see is shame.
Public sex? I’m at a loss for an analysis that supports it because it’s not my choice. To deploy the courts and the police — it’s not that substantial an issue. As long as you’re being discreet, I could care less. As long as my two-year-old doesn’t have to walk through the park and ask me, “What’s this?” and it’s a used condom, I don’t care. That’s a litter issue.
Age of consent? I think criminalizing the behaviour of people does nothing to address the power dynamics. If you’ve got a young teenage boy or girl who’s being victimized, they need access to rape counselling or housing. And to cave into a dialogue that feels like a ’50s-type mentality. If you’re a 14-year-old and you want to have sex, that’s not going to stop you.
The following councillors did not respond to requests for an interview: Giorgio Mammoliti (York West), Jane Pitfield (Don Valley West, running for mayor), Joe Pantalone (Trinity-Spadina), Sandra Bussin (Beaches-East York) and Paula Fletcher (Toronto-Danforth).