One of the great figures in the intellectual and political history of Toronto’s gay and lesbian people has died.
Rick Bébout is best known for his role in The Body Politic collective in the 1970s and ’80s, and for his writings then and since on gay life in Toronto.
One of thousands who had fled to Canada from the United States during the Vietnam War, in 1977 he joined a small group of Toronto lesbian and gay activists who were publishing The Body Politic, a ‘gay liberation journal’ that had soared to prominence both in Canada and abroad.
Particularly interested in design, he brought the resource-poor publication to an astonishing level of graphic sophistication, while also contributing to its unique voice by writing in its pages.
But his interests extended well beyond sexual politics. Like many other refugees who have settled in Toronto, he was passionate about the city that had embraced him, editing in 1972 The Open Gate: Toronto Union Station, a book that helped prevent the destruction of the iconic building.
Despite his interest in mass politics, he was intensely private and writing was the medium in which he conducted much of his life, particularly in his later years. Notably, he carried on a decades-long correspondence with novelist Jane Rule. (Their letters are being prepared for publication by a US scholar.)
Living with HIV since the mid-1980s, Rick suffered an apparent stroke on Jun 4 and died this morning of HIV-related illnesses.
A larger appreciation of his life is forthcoming.
In May 2008, Gerald Hannon, an early member of the Body Politic collective and a board member of Xtra’s publisher Pink Triangle Press, interviewed Rick on camera. Watch part one of the interview below, and check back on Xtra.ca for more clips: