Carole Pope and I go way back. In 1984, I was on a first date at a Rough Trade concert in Halifax that led to a 14-year relationship with my first partner. While he and I danced our way through the ’80s, Pope was often there along the way, whether in concert, in spirit, on vinyl or on CD.
In the summer of ’85, working as a community outreach worker for the Gay Alliance Of Equality in Nova Scotia, I decided to come out to my parents – in my own way. I wrote them a nice letter and popped it in a mailbox at the Halifax airport just minutes before boarding a plane for my first visit to Quebec. I hesitated before letting go of the envelope, hoping everything would be okay when I returned.
That was a summer of firsts. Within hours we were in the heart of Montreal’s gay nightlife. Then I went on alone to Toronto to attend my first gay rights conferences, the world gathering of the International Gay Association and Sex And The State, timed to coincide with Pride celebrations.
Walking through the Montreal airport a striking figure ahead caught my eye; glistening dark hair, black suit jacket (with shoulder pads, of course) and a confident stride.
“That guy stands out,” I thought. “I bet he’s gay.” Rushing to my gate, imagine my surprise when I realized the guy was actually Carole Pope.
Daydreaming in my airplane seat, I noticed her coming down the aisle. In an instant she was seated beside me. Carole Pope. First-date gay icon High-School-Confidential Carole Pope!
I had to say something. Anything. “I saw you in Halifax last year…” pause “… with my boyfriend.” “That’s nice,” Pope politely responded. She was tired and soon settled into the novel she was reading. I continued a one-sided conversation in my head, making mental notes so that I could tell friends who I had sat next to. Even back then she was one of our community heroes.
I remember the conferences and Toronto as a place and time when the word “liberation” seemed to carry more meaning for gay and lesbian people. The city’s gay and lesbian rights movement was energizing and empowering. There was a sense of rights due, changes to be made. The future held much promise, but we’d have to fight for it. Marching in my first-ever Pride parade, I found a community and a sense of place.
The circumstances of life kept me away from Toronto and it was not until ’93 that I returned for a second visit. I attended most Pride celebrations here through the ’90s, but it wasn’t until last year that I went in the Toronto parade a second time.
Marching along the route, memories of 1985 flooded back. I realized I had made an enormous mistake in the intervening years: My participation in Toronto’s parade had been purely as a spectator.
I’d be standing there with camera-snapping suburbanites, crushed against barricades that prevent anyone with a spontaneous burst of pride from joining the parade en route. But I rediscovered that the best part of Toronto’s parade is found in the middle of the street, marching with friends and strangers.
Though it lacks the political energy and activism of earlier years, we should take great pride in the size and strength of our homegrown world-class celebration. During Pride the streets belong to us, our sexual culture, our music and our heroes and icons.
I suspect a lot of Xtra readers have their own Carole Pope stories. Entertainer, hero and icon, it’s fitting that “Our Pope” graces the cover of Xtra’s 2005 Pride issue and that she was honoured at the Pride 25 Awards Gala And Dinner on Jun 21.
This Sunday I’ll be putting on my marching boots, cranking up some “All Touch” or “High School Confidential,” and heading out to celebrate the 20th anniversary of coming out to my parents, my first visit to Toronto and my chance meeting with Carole Pope. Two decades later, I think we’ve both improved with age.
Happy Pride, Carole! Thanks for the memories.
Happy Pride, everyone!