Looking back over these columns as they have unfolded to date, I realize that I may have given the impression that the gay ’70s in Vancouver were all about clubs, tubs, drag shows, drugs and orgies. There was a lot of all of that, but it wasn’t the whole story. It just happened to be what I found most interesting.
In retrospect I might have come up with a less flamboyant opening line for my first column in the Georgia Straight, on June 3, 1970, than “Well Darlings, here we are… we have ARRIVED IN PRINT!”
I then simpered on for 18 inches of type about the drag shows at Champagne Charlie’s (“a bit of an old nellies roost,” I called it), the hustlers at the Castle, the “fruit basket” all-night White Lunch cafÃ©, and the “beautiful gladiator a go-go” at Faces.
The blowback was immediate. “Offensive and insulting to a large segment of gays” stated one letter to the editor, which went on to suggest the column would “limit the readership to the more faggoty types.”
Roedy Green was, at the time, circulating his own mimeographed letter with instructions on how to explore the local gay scene, advertised through a discreet ad in the back pages of the Straight. He wrote to us that my “nelly, wrist-flicking mannerisms of speech reinforce the straight guy’s stereotype image of the homosexual guy as a fairy.”
And, my favourite, from someone who actually complained to the BC Civil Liberties Association about me: “This column deals almost exclusively with the most decadent and pathological behaviour of a very small number of homosexuals (most of whom hold and reflect the attitudes of a generation now hopefully close to death) and attracts unnecessary and undesirable attention to all homosexuals.”
So I had my detractors.
But many of those detractors were busy planting the seeds of political awareness and activism that grew, amazingly quickly, to be the Vancouver Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Alliance Towards Equality (GATE), Lambda Vancouver, the Canadian Gay Activists Alliance, and the Society for Education, Action, Research and Counselling on Homosexuality (mercifully abbreviated to SEARCH).
These pioneers formed a commune in a Carolina Street house that had been named, with some foreshadowing, Pink Cheeks by the previous occupants. They held a “kiss-in” in the Castle Pub when staff began meting out homophobic abuse. And just a year after the first QQ column appeared, they rallied at the courthouse in support of a group of gay men and women from Toronto who were in Ottawa presenting a list of “demands” to Parliament.
All this, and more, I faithfully recorded in my weekly jottings. But I also continued to camp and vamp and celebrate the lip-sync divas, keep an eye on who was rolling around in the backrooms of various tubs, and dish the dirt about the queens and hustlers and all my other dearest newfound friends.
Because, to be honest, I didn’t get it.
I attended a number of early GLF meetings in their Chinatown loft and joined in a couple of the famed spaghetti dinner fundraisers at Pink Cheeks. But somehow the shows at BJ’s held more appeal than parsing the finer points of post-modern deconstruction theory and trying to get my head around the angry polemicists seeking to explain the differences between the Marxists (the GLF), the Trotskyites (GATE) and the untitled but decidedly neo-conservative faction led by Dick Rulens.
I tried. But it just didn’t work out. So it was back to the clubs.
So it came to pass that eventually a contingent of outrage and sanctimony from the GLF showed up at the Georgia Straight offices to demand that I be given the royal boot. The Straight collective, recently shaken by a brief takeover by an equally outraged group of women and fearful of another coup, voted all but unanimously to suspend me.
The only voice raised in my support was that of environmental and nudism activist Korky Day, who had the peculiar idea that there ought to be room in the alternative press for a number of voices.
I don’t recall how long I was out of print. No more than a few weeks, and then I was sneaked back in to share space with a GATE-produced column, which lasted only a few months. My advantage was, and continues to be, that I didn’t have to confer with a collective to decide what I thought.
But those were eventful times for an important movement. There are quite a number of survivors of that movement, and some of them are still talking to me. My next few columns will be devoted to some of their historical recollections, and we’ll get back to the fun stuff later.