It was 1983 or so and my Carleton University journalism professor, Roger Bird, asked me if I was gay. I was surprised.
“Is that an issue?” I asked him.
“If you’re writing an investigative series about gay people in politics, I think it is,” Bird said and he was probably right, as he was about most things. “Are you?”
“No,” I said. I kind of laughed. “My parents thought I was, maybe.”
“Okay,” Bird said. “Go write.”
“Are you gay?”
It was 1979 or so. My Dad wasn’t angry or anything. He was just looking at me, asking if I was gay. We were in the kitchen and the fridge was humming. Otherwise, silence.
I had written a number of pro-gay editorials in the school paper, my band had recorded a song that contained (funny) lyrics about gay sex, I went to gay bars occasionally with my punk pals and most of my friends – at Calgary’s Bishop Carroll High School, which would later produce Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford, former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and indie music star Feist, among others – were gay. They were all in the closet, more or less, but my parents knew (or suspected) that I hung out with a pretty gay crowd.
“Are you gay?” my Dad repeated.
“Seriously?” I said. I wasn’t but I was pissed off. “What if I am? Does it matter?”
“It matters,” he said. I think he meant it matters in 1970s-era conservative Calgary, where homophobia was rampant and gay-bashing not unheard of.
“No it doesn’t,” I said, then left, angry.
“Are you gay?”
New Democratic MP Svend Robinson had clearly been expecting the question, which is why he had one of his assistants present for our interview, tape recorder whirring away on the table between us. I was just a Carleton journalism student and I was known to be pretty gay-friendly, but Robinson still looked terrified. He was gay, I knew he was gay, he knew I knew. But he still looked like he was ready to bolt from his own Parliament Hill office at any minute.
He gave a brilliant, passionate, thoughtful answer, but I don’t have my notes anymore. It was a great answer, one that sounded like it had been turned over in his head a million times, one that didn’t give anything away. But it didn’t deny anything either.
I wrote my story – Bird later gave me an A and said some nice things about my writing – but I left Robinson’s sexual orientation unanswered.
It was his business. If he wanted to tell someone, that was up to him. On that day, for that assignment, it wasn’t going to be me.
“Are you gay?”
That’s the question k.d. lang asked Jason Kenney: “You’re gay aren’t you?” she tweeted at him.
She asked it last week, because Kenney has proposed outing Alberta kids. Some media folks asked him about school gay-straight alliances and he told them that parents should be notified when a kid joins one. Which, of course, has the effect of outing them.
Is the newly-selected Alberta Progressive Conservative leader gay? I don’t know. Many of us always assumed he was. None of us cared, either. It was his business. It was nobody else’s business.
Over the years, I’ve known many politicians who are in the closet, going back to that long-ago encounter with Robinson. I wish they didn’t feel like they had to be. But, again, it’s their business. It’s personal.
Kenney made the personal the political when he said what he said. It became important – as lang pithily observed – when Kenney proposed one rule for gay kids and an entirely different rule for others. You know, like hypocrites do.
I’m an Albertan, like Kenney and lang. Growing up, I sometimes talked to my high school friends about why they were in the closet. They said they feared the reaction of their families, friends or a future employer. Or they feared simply getting the crap beaten out of them. In other words, they had their reasons.
If Kenney is gay, he may have his reasons, too. It’s his right. But Kenney shouldn’t ever, ever use the law to take away the rights of kids, in Alberta or anywhere else.
When he tries to do that? That’s when people will start asking Kenney if he’s gay, too.
Because a hypocrite is a hypocrite, gay or straight.
Are you gay?
If you are, it’s something to be proud about. If you are, I think it’s from God. If you are, it’s wonderful. If you are, it’s your business.
Not hypocrites like Jason Kenney.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.