“When the local paper wants a quote from a gay activist they call me,” Michael Bugera grins. “All of a sudden I’m the face of fag in town, even though there’s a lot of fags who are doing a lot more than I am. Whatever, I’ll be the face of fags, sure. I’ve been an actor long enough. I won’t have any trouble with that.”
The 49-year-old White Rock resident recently founded his own Pride committee to bring together gays and lesbians in his neck of the valley. “There is no umbrella organization of services out in our area,” he says. “Everything is 40 miles away.”
But the battle is no longer in the city where most of the services are, he says. “The battle is out in the ‘burbs because that’s where we live. Sure, you can drive 40 miles and go to a club, but are you really living in your own community? You’re not living there you’re just sleeping there,” he charges.
“It’s really easy to be gay down in the West End or on Commercial Dr,” he continues. “It isn’t so easy to be gay in White Rock or Surrey or Port Coquitlam or Langley or Aldergrove or anyplace else. But that’s where we live and if we’re not open in our own communities then how out of the closet are we, really?”
Most at home in cowboy clothes, the blue-eyed Bugera is frustrated by the invisibility of his gay and lesbian neighbours. “I realize that a lot of them are assimilationists,” he says. “They just want to be like their neighbors and they don’t want anybody to know and they don’t want to stand out. They just want to live a nice little life and they just want to be part of the community.”
But “by doing that, we make ourselves totally invisible,” he says. “So that when something happens like this,” he shakes a newspaper over the table, “there’s no support.”
Bugera is pointing to a recent rally protesting same-sex marriage in his community. He attended, only to discover he was the lone opposing voice pushing for equality.
“A local MP and a Catholic priest from Cloverdale had 300 people standing on a street corner in front of the MP’s office,” he recalls. “They were organized and all holding nicely printed signs like: Marriage=men and women. All the crap,” he shakes his head. “What it basically comes down to is bigotry and homophobia.”
And where were his gay and lesbian neighbours? He doesn’t know.
“If 300 people are standing on a street corner and screaming and basically condemning us to hell, how can you not answer?” he asks. “It’s incumbent upon us to answer. Why is this allowed to go on? Where is the all the response? And where are all the fags and lesbians? Why aren’t we here? Why aren’t we screaming?
“Again, it’s our sheer invisibility,” he repeats. “Why aren’t we screaming? Because we’re separated; we have no power unless we’re bonded together.”
Bugera began planning White Rock’s first Pride Day celebration shortly after that rally. It’s now set for Aug 20. Bugera’s theatre company, Bad Alice Theatre Works, donated $350 to book Peach Arch Park for the day. (Bugera makes a living as a costume designer working in the film industry.)
“What I want is an awareness day and what I’m thinking is a family afternoon,” he says. “There’s a lot of gay men and lesbians with children. Let’s have some games. Let’s just be there-kind of a celebration of our own diversity.”
Five years ago Bugera was not an activist. “If people asked I would tell them, but I saw no reason to at that point. I was one of the assimilationists,” he says.
“Then I was held captive in my home for four hours while a group of four or five homophobic thugs, linked to a white supremacist group out of Langley, broke all the windows in my house. I went big and public with it because I just figured this can’t happen.”
Now, he challenges his gay and lesbians neighbours to be more visible and vocal, too. “Whether or not you come to meetings, just come out once in a while and show your support. Look beyond your comfort zone. Look beyond yourself and realize we still have work to do. We have a lot of work to do.”