I met him on a mountaintop purely by accident, but I knew it was meant to be.
It was dusk and my sweetie and I were hiking down Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper. I was loudly extolling the virtues of peeing outside when we suddenly ran into two guys.
Being the somewhat skittish creature that I am, I tensed. (My sweetie later told me that she was more nervous about being eaten by a bear than attacked by two strange men on an otherwise empty mountaintop.)
The guys seemed harmless. In fact, they were pretty nice. We made stranger-small-talk down the next part of the trail, helping each other navigate through the rapidly encroaching darkness.
At one point, the older of the two guys asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a reporter at a Vancouver community newspaper. Note that I didn’t say which one. Normally, I am as out as can be and rarely miss an opportunity to point out that I work for the gay paper. But, like I said, we were alone on a mountain and all.
So I did the evasive dance. And, it turns out, so did he-at least at first. His initial response was positive: he’d found another journalist to talk to. We talked shop for a bit.
Then something changed. My intuition kicked in, my gaydar beeped, my common sense spoke up. I just knew the two guys were a couple.
So I turned back to my new companion. “Actually,” I told him proudly, “I’m the staff reporter at Vancouver’s gay and lesbian newspaper.”
His smile lit up the trail. He pumped my hand. Turns out, he was a gay journalist, too. In fact, he was the founder of the US-based National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
I was talking to Roy Aarons.
Roy Aarons who, as editor of a prominent US paper, led the first nationwide survey of gay journalists, then came out to his peers while presenting the results in 1990. A few months later, he founded North America’s first gay journalists association around his kitchen table.
The rest of the hike flew by. We just couldn’t stop talking to each other. He wanted to hear all about Xtra West, our coverage, our mission statement, our sister papers and our parent company, Pink Triangle Press. He wanted to hear all about the Press’ pioneers who built The Body Politic in the days when having gay sex was barely legal-and dedicated their lives to exploring our culture, questioning our values, fighting for our spaces and building our community.
I, in turn, wanted to hear all about his experiences in mainstream newsrooms and the changes he’d witnessed in their coverage of gay issues-and the contributions he felt his association had made. I wanted to hear all about him and what it was like to push his peers to re-think their gay coverage, even as he helped pave the way for other gay reporters to come out more comfortably.
We talked for hours. We even went for dinner together after we finally made it back to the parking lot. Our partners were more than tolerant; they seemed genuinely happy to share our moment.
And it was a moment. Meeting Roy reminded me that I was truly part of something much bigger than myself. Not just an international gay community, but an international community of courageous gay journalists, eager to document and share our own stories, to challenge us where need be, to scrutinize our weaknesses, highlight our strengths, celebrate our successes and prod us to keep growing as a community.
Meeting Roy reinforced for me why it is that I have relished being this community’s reporter for the last three and a half years. Why it has been such a privilege, an honour and a thrill for me to record and share so many of our stories.
Why it will be an even greater privilege, honour and thrill to take the helm now, as managing editor, to continue seeking our truths, nurturing our growth and pushing us to set our love and lust free.
Why I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
When Roy and I finally parted company in downtown Jasper that night, he refused to say goodbye. “To be continued,” he smiled. That was last summer.
Roy Aarons died Nov 28, 2004. He was almost 71 years old.