Tag Archives: Calgary Sun

Bill Wuttunee remembered

The Calgary Chinook Fund supports charitable organizations providing services, programming, and education, for and about the LGBTQ2 community. They also annually present a hero award. Notably, this year’s hero was consequential to our historic human rights struggle. At their October fundraising dinner, the hero award was given to Bill Wuttunee, posthumously, in the presence of family and friends. Here is what was said at the event by the Chinook Fund’s Gordon Sombrowski.

Oki

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the proclaiming into law, the amendments to the criminal code which partially decriminalized homosexuality and therewith began the process of change that has led toward equal rights for the LGBTQ2 community in Canada. In seeking who to give our Hero Award to this year, we wanted to recognize the fiftieth anniversary of the change to the law. In working with the Calgary Gay History Project and Kevin Allen, the Chinook Fund Committee happened upon an incredible man who was a stalwart ally and champion for the gay community in Calgary and who has all but been forgotten. Unfortunately, we did not discover this man until after his passing. However, this evening we are joined by his daughter Nola, son Nisha, and family and friends.

I am thrilled to announce that our Hero Award Recipient for 2019 is William (Bill) Wuttunee.

Bill Wuttunee lived his life by the following words he expressed at age 85:

“Get active in your world to make it better. Don’t sit by and wait for others to do it.”

The lawyer, activist, and humanitarian from Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan co-founded what today is known as the Assembly of First Nations. The first indigenous lawyer in Western Canada, Wuttunee, also helped to secure voting rights for status Indians.

Yet the life of one of Canada’s true pioneers began in humble circumstances. Raised on the reserve in a family of 15, Wuttunee survived the residential school system. After moving to Battleford, Saskatchewan, to finish his last years in school, he won a scholarship to attend McGill University.

His presence there gave him the distinction of being one of only two First Nations people to attend university at that time; years later, he would also become the first indigenous lawyer to appear before the Supreme Court of Canada.

We honour him today because Wuttunee was one of our allies as an early and proud champion of LGBTQ2 rights at a time when others went out of their way not to help us. Wuttunee was Everett Klippert’s lawyer. Thus he gained the distinction of defending the last person in Canada to be prosecuted for homosexuality — his work helping to lay the groundwork for Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s later famed phrase in 1969, “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”

This came about because Bill Wuttunee decided in the 1960s to set up his own law practice in Calgary handling criminal cases and family law. He said, “I didn’t know anybody here. I came here because the weather was nice and the people seemed nice, and I’ve never been sorry. Alberta has been good to me, and good for my family.”

In 1966, Bill opened a branch office in Yellowknife, where one of his cases was to defend Everett Klippert in the case that led to changes in the law against homosexuality.  Charged with “gross indecency” because Klippert admitted to having had sexual relations with four separate men, he was sentenced to “preventive detention” as a dangerous sexual offender. He served five years, while his appeal worked its way through the courts to the Supreme Court, where it was finally dismissed in a controversial 3-2 decision: meaning imprisonment for life.

Then Tommy Douglas raised the issue in the House of Commons, and within six weeks Pierre Trudeau introduced changes to the Criminal Code, decriminalizing homosexuality. Bill Wuttunee proudly shared that, “Trudeau cited the Klippert case when he said that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”

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William Wuttunee in 1967, 39 years old.

However, Bill Wuttunee did not only work on high profile cases like Klippert’s for our community; he was also known for handling small local matters. Courtesy of the Gay History Project I found this wonderful statement by Bill in his own words.

Paul Jackson, city editor of The Albertan (which became the Calgary Sun), in November 1969 wrote: A Growing Cult, Homosexual Club Thrives in Calgary. Jackson quoted Bill Wuttunee as follows:

“They, homosexuals, are all members of a minority group. Like all members of minority groups, they have been subjected to persecution. My job is to see that they get the same rights as any other Canadian citizen. After all, they are not breaking the law.”

Wuttunee was to continue to be a champion for human rights to the end of his life, and even In his early 80s, Wuttunee sat on the Oversight Committee for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the organization responsible for resolving thousands of residential school claims.

Dear supporters of the Chinook Lesbian and Gay Fund, it is my privilege and honour in this year of the fiftieth anniversary of decriminalization and in the spirit of reconciliation to ask you to rise in honour of William Bill Wuttunee, our Hero!

The gathered audience leapt to their feet for a tremendously long, heartfelt, standing ovation. Nola Wuttunee, a former APTN host, as well as actor, musician, and film producer, rose to accept the award and shared memories of her father. There were several moist eyes in the room, and we felt the warm glow of a shared humanity.

Chinook Fund and Nola

Chinook Fund Members: Tony Hailu, Michel Bourque, Chris Post and Gordon Sombrowski with Nola Wuttunee (centre).

{Wishing you a reflective holiday season and a happy new year!}

{KA}

 

Angels in America in Calgary

On September 19, 1996, Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) premiered Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Angels in America. Before even opening, the play attracted a wagon load of controversy. “Why are taxpayers still having to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars to a company that stages a self-indulgent production many feel is abhorrent? It is simply not right,” expressed the Calgary Sun.

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Image from ATP Theatre Program: Photographer Jason Stang

A number of Alberta MLAs were also on the record questioning provincial funding of ATP, which was $550,000 that year, about 1/6th of its operating budget. Calgary-Shaw Tory MLA Jon Havelock suggested that plays offending community standards should not receive public funding. He added, “It seems to me that in some instances people confuse sexual expression with artistic expression.”

Calgary-Fish Creek Tory MLA Heather Forsyth called Angels obscene and about ATP said: “If they can’t come up with better shows than this, maybe they shouldn’t be getting funding.”

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Edmonton Sun Editorial Cartoon: September 15, 1996

ATP’s producing director, Michael Dobbin, rejoindered that MLAs were wrong to attack the play without seeing it first, and he criticized their community standards argument. At the theatre company’s Annual General Meeting, just days before the play opened, he expressed equal outrage: “I say, back off! I say, let the ballots be counted at the box office! That’s the only censorship that I’m prepared to accept.”

Calgary’s reactions to the controversy were polarized; there were dozens of articles and editorials in the Calgary dailies extremely for or against. A conservative radio call-in show buzzed with furor, and ATP itself fielded a number of strange or hostile phone calls, including one who pledged to “shut the show down – we are not going to stand for it in this City.”

There were heartfelt published defenses of Angels in America too. A well-known educator, Dariel Bateman, wrote a guest column in the Calgary Herald on September 13th. She described the play as: “a glorious opportunity to stare down despair, to make sense of things, as we must.”

On of the most fascinating developments was when the Calgary Herald’s Don Martin managed to get protesting MLA Havelock to actually see the play with him. He summarized the experience in an article titled: Angels in America: The sequel: It’s easy to be a critic before the house lights dim, published on September 27th. As the play progressed, surprisingly Havelock became engrossed. At one point he felt compelled to spontaneously applaud; he loved it. He wrote, “thoroughly enjoyable” on a comment card before he left.

Alberta Report Cover, October 7, 1996.

The conservative and sometimes inflammatory publication, Alberta Report, made Angels in America its cover story on October 7th. It took the ATP promotional image of an angel and altered it for its cover, making it sickly: thinning muscles and adding skin legions.* Alberta Report writer Kevin Grace opined that Angels “is an artistic failure but it bears a powerful revolutionary message. While it elevates the belief current in the ‘AIDS community’ that victims of the disease are holy martyrs, homosexuals and AIDS victims are only one division of Mr. Kushner’s vaster army: one that seeks to destroy the very concept of the law – on earth and in heaven.”

He sensationally concluded his three-page article with: “those who see Angels in America as mere entertaining, diverting theatre, should know what they are getting into. In hell, the Marquis de Sade is smiling.”

Ultimately, ATP found themselves smiling. The controversy put extra bums in seats and attracted almost $50,000 in individual “Angels Consortium” donations. The play doubled expected ticket revenues and was sold out in its final weeks – setting audience records for the company.

{KA)

* Photographer Jason Stang filed a lawsuit against Alberta Report for altering his image claiming the publication: distorted, defaced and mutilated his work.

 

 

Mayor Ralph Klein’s Gay Rights Tempest

Former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, had a high-profile disdain for gay rights: denouncing  the advent of same-sex marriage in Canada as well as publicly disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected human right in Canada. In both cases it was the Government of Alberta, under his leadership, who supplied an active legal resistance to both issues.

However at the beginning of his political career, he seemed a different person. Elected as Mayor of Calgary in October 1980, he touted himself a “people’s mayor.” And in the early months of his mayoralty that included gay people too.

On January 10, 1981, Mayor Klein stopped in at the 5th annual coronation ball of the Imperial Court of the Chinook Arch (now Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch – which held its 40th coronation earlier this year). He was invited by Bruce May, then president of Gay Information and Resources Calgary (GIRC). Klein gave a 15-minute cameo appearance, where he made a speech praising the good work of GIRC and exclaimed that law-abiding gay people were welcome in the City of Calgary. The 500 people in attendance gave him a three-minute standing ovation. Consequently, Klein was one of the first mayors in Canada to have made such an address.

The Calgary Sun, one of the city’s newspaper dailies, took extreme umbrage that Klein appeared at a gay event and for days wrote damaging and hostile editorials and columns.

On January 12th, the Sun’s banner headline was, Klein backs gay rights. Mayor Klein and his Executive Assistant, Rod Love, went into full damage control, attempting to find a favourable spin for the story. Two days later, associate editor Michael Shapcott wrote a scathing editorial titled, Pink Herring – here is a quote:

Mayor Ralph Klein can backtrack all he likes, but he can’t undo the damage from his foolish decision to show up at a homosexual rally and speak approvingly of “gay rights.”

What the heck was the Mayor trying to prove?  And what’s all this nonsense about “gay rights?”

[If] Mayor Klein’s talking about a homosexual’s privilege of doing any perverted act in private between consenting adults, no matter how repugnant it is to most of us, then he’s stating the obvious.  As long as homosexuals, or people who practice any number of bizarre things, keep it to themselves, they can do practically anything their filthy minds conceive (just leave the kids alone, please).

Fact is, though, when homosexuals talk about “gay rights,” they really want society to pat them on their heads, coo a few encouraging words and tell them that they’re all nice and normal.  And Mayor Klein should know that by attending their convention, and mouthing a few approving words, he’s playing right into their hands.”

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Calgary Sun Editorial Cartoon: January 14, 1981

On January 15th, the Sun wrote a column, Klein for gays, but….  In it, staff writer Peter Miller quoted Mayor Klein extensively as he awkwardly qualified his support for the gay community. He explained that gays should not ask for or expect any special rights or privileges, nor hold demonstrations or parades in Calgary because the protests would offend straight people. He also did not condone gay prostitution nor gays drawing young people into homosexual activity.

That would not be the last time that Klein changed tack politically.  At one time a liberal supporter, he switched teams to become elected as a conservative MLA. However, the Calgary Sun’s sustained attack in 1981, appeared to give Klein a scare that would set the tone for his relationship to gay rights during the rest of his political career.

{KA}