Tag Archives: Chinook Fund

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.”

Wuttunee one

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}

 

Lois is a Calgary superhero!

Congratulations to Lois Szabo, selected as this year’s Calgary Pride Parade Grand Marshall.  We, at the Calgary Gay History Project, think Lois is a truly deserving ambassador. If you have not seen it, check out this lovely profile of Lois composed by CBC journalist Terri Trembath.

szabo-les-lois

Family Photo of Les and Lois Szabo: Source, Terri Trembath/CBC News

Lois was born in March 1936 and married her husband Les at the age of 18. They had two children before Lois realized her true sexual orientation. She came out as gay in the early 60s and renegotiated the terms of her marriage with Les in order to live together and raise their children.

Lois found Calgary’s larger lesbian community in the 60s at the Cecil Hotel, where there was a separate drinking room for women that gay women occupied.  Finding great comfort and joy in discovering her community, Lois became one of the founders of Club Carousel, Calgary’s first community owned and run, private members club.  The Club was incorporated in 1970, as the Scarth Street Society; there were approximately 600 members by 1972. Weekend attendance could top 350 revelers in the small underground venue – no straights allowed.

Lois Szabo Carousel Club 1972 copy
Lois at Club Carousel in 1972 with a little pomp!

Club Carousel was the first legal gay & lesbian club in Alberta and Lois was a key volunteer and board member for most of the Club’s history.  Using the Calgary club as a model, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Regina established similar societies.  Club Carousel also sponsored prairie regional gay conferences from 1970 to 1976.

Since then, Lois has spent a lifetime volunteering and organizing in Calgary’s LGBTQ community.  She currently volunteers for the Kerby Centre’s Lesbian Seniors Group, One Voice Chorus, and Calgary’s LGBTQ2S+ Legacy Committee.

Lois was recognized by the community in 2015 receiving the Chinook Hero Award given annually to deserving LGBTQ leaders by the Calgary Chinook Fund Endowment Committee.

Lois at Chinook Fund Dinner copy

Lois receiving the Chinook Hero Award, October 21, 2015, with (L to R) Natalie Meisner, Playwright; Jonathan Brower, Third Street Theatre; Gary Courtney, Chinook Fund; & Kevin Allen, Calgary Gay History Project.

Amusingly, we recently found this comic book cover, which would have hit Calgary newsstands around the time Club Carousel was being conceived.

Lois, we think you are Super too, just like this other Lois!

Supermans_Girlfriend_Lois_Lane_085

August 1968 DC Comic: “When Lois was more super than Superman.”

{KA}

2016 Hero Awards – Nancy & Richard

{My husband Gordon is part of the Calgary Chinook Lesbian and Gay Endowment Fund. Every year they give a deserving member of the local LGBTQ community a hero award – this year they gave two! Here is his recent speech addressed to the 2016 recipients, Nancy Miller and Richard Gregory. A standing ovation ensued. Gordon also has a history blog called Edwardian Fernie; check it out if you are interested in period architecture, culture and gardens! – Kevin}

“Where were you in 1988, when the first pride workshops were being held in Calgary, or in 1990, the year of the pride rally and where were you again in 1991 the year of Calgary’s first pride parade.

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-3-19-21-pm

Nancy Miller and Richard Gregory in 2015

If you were our Hero Award recipients, Nancy Miller and Richard Gregory, you were activists on the front lines of the gay rights movement in Calgary and you were leaders in organizing the rallies as well as the parades and not giving an inch to politicians and citizens who wanted to treat gay and lesbian Albertans like they didn’t exist; or if they did, like they were a lower order of citizen who were not entitled to equal rights. And not having equal rights meant you could be fired from your job, evicted from an apartment, refused custody of your children, refused service in restaurants and not ensured safety and protection when you walked down the street.

It was for many of us, like me, a time when our ability to pass, and our privilege, protected us from the vagaries of the police and their state sanctioned bullying of the LGBT community. It was a time when AIDS deaths were reaching record highs in Calgary, and the city’s response was ever greater hysteria and paranoia as well as hostility towards the gay community particularly in the form of violent gay bashings. After all what were baseball bats for? Many in the gay community were afraid and were even hostile towards activists.

I quote Nancy, who in a Metro interview acknowledged:

“I have to admit there were lots of people within our own LGBTQ community who were not happy with us. They didn’t want us to be drawing attention to the community. They had found ways to survive without rocking the boat too much and they were comfortable and felt safe there. They were afraid we were going to open a whole can of worms. Which of course we did.”

Nancy and Richard did not take the safe or comfortable route, though they might have, instead, they got busy organizing the lesbian and gay community so that finally by the 1990’s Calgary’s activists were working hard to establish gay rights through the Pride moniker. Some of you will remember that a pride rally or parade in the early 90’s was not the feel good happy events attended by tens of thousands like today. The organizers and participants, who numbered in the hundreds, were literally facing the prospect of physical violence from police and anti-LGBT homophobes as well as the risk of possibly losing their jobs, their homes and their families. It is no wonder that some opted to wear lone ranger masks or paper bags!

Our Heroes, Nancy and Richard, were not only involved with fighting for our rights through the idea of Pride, they were involved with CLAGPAG, the Calgary Lesbian and Gay Political Action Guild, an organization which is where we find the roots of Pride. This was merely one aspect of CLAGPAG and their activism. They were involved in the struggle for gay and human rights on many levels, including the Delwin Vriend legal battle. But it was not only with the big battles that our award recipients made a difference, it was the many smaller day to day skirmishes that also moved forward the struggle for our rights.

I found copies of the Calgary Herald in the early 90’s in which Nancy was out and proud and asserting the right to equality. The journalist wrote, “that Nancy Miller isn’t crazy about interviews, but she speaks up for the record anyway – for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she believes clear, honest, open dialogue is the only way to promote understanding.  For another, she doesn’t have a thing to lose.”

“She’s not afraid she’ll be fired for telling the world she’s lesbian.” She was not afraid to insist that, “We in the LGBT community contribute a lot to the city that goes totally unseen and recognized.” You have to remember by that time Nancy had reason to be afraid for she had been discharged from the Canadian Military for being a lesbian and had also had the courage to refuse to cooperate in the naming of lesbians and gay men in a military investigation.

For four decades, Nancy Miller has been advocating for social justice, human rights and reproductive choice. In addition to being involved with CLAGPAG, she has been an organizer of Take Back the Night marches, served as a board member for the Calgary and Alberta Status of Women Action Committees, Women Looking Forward, The Lesbian Information Line (co-founder), Planned Parenthood Alberta and the Calgary Sexual Health Centre (formerly CBCA). A proud feminist, today Nancy provides strategic communications, writing and video production services to progressive candidates, non-profits and small businesses.

Like Nancy, Richard Gregory was not only critical to developing Pride he was, in addition to being a leader at CLAGPAG, an Aids Calgary volunteer as well as board member, and in 1989 organized the Aids Quilt project’s visit to Calgary.

In 1995 he ran for council in ward 8 as the first out gay man in Calgary to run for political office. He was at that time also chair of the advisory committee of the social services program at Mount Royal College.

During those years he was also a committee member of the OXFAM-Canada Human Rights Initiative Project and worked for the Boys and Girls Club of Calgary.  Today he is the president of Alberta College of Social Workers Council. And is the department chair of the health and human services program at Medicine Hat College.

I want to close with something which Richard Gregory wrote for CLUE Magazine in 1994. He reported in the month of October that he went to an open house held by MLA Mark Hlady of Calgary Mountainview, given that there weren’t many people in attendance he spent a half an hour with a clearly extremely homophobic MLA, who even believed Alberta should opt out of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in order to avoid giving the LGBT community equal rights.

Richard quizzed him about his understanding of the charter, of the bible, its connection to human rights, the rights of LGBT citizens. I could only think the MLA must have been very happy when someone else finally showed up to take their turn. That month he also attended a conference on human rights in Alberta, and I will quote his take away message from the conference:

“I suggest we go to town hall meetings, confront them in their own territory, be really clear on what we want. There is no time like the present to demand equal rights in this province. Each voice must stand and be heard. I guarantee that if only half the gays and lesbians and members of the transgender communities in Alberta wrote a letter to the Premier – rights would be extended to us. Many people state they are not political – this is not about being political – it is about being equal and being treated as such. Don’t expect someone else to do it.”

Richard Gregory and Nancy Miller did not expect someone else to do it, they did it, and are still doing it and we are all the better for it and that is why they are our Heroes. Please join me in paying tribute to this amazing duo – they make us proud!”

{GS}