Tag Archives: Gordon Sombrowski

YYC Queer History be my Valentine

Legislating Love: The Everett Klippert Story has returned as a radioplay and podcast. To celebrate, the Alberta Queer Calendar Project and Sage Theatre are hosing an online Listening Party, on Saturday, February 13th at 4:30 pm. Participants will gather to listen to the episode, followed by a Q&A with members of the cast and crew at 7:00 pm {including Kevin and Tereasa from the Calgary Gay History Project}.

Legislating Love was written by Calgary author, playwright, poet, and professor Natalie Meisner. It premiered in March 2018 at Sage Theatre to critical acclaim. The play explores the story of Calgary bus driver Everett Klippert, who was the last Canadian convicted of being a dangerous sexual offender because of his homosexuality. The Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark judgment in November 1967 set a new bar for injustice: Klippert was given a life sentence.

The play is told through the perspective of aspiring historian Maxine, who is researching the story of Everett. She becomes fascinated with Everett’s case and with discovering the man beyond the headlines. Inspired and captivated, Maxine connects with a senior at a local assisted living facility she knows only as Handsome, one of Klippert’s lovers and perhaps the only person who can truly illuminate the past. At the same time, Maxine is navigating her own new relationship with Métis comedian Tonya. This heartwarming, multi-generational exploration of queer love tells the near-forgotten story of one of Canada’s quiet heroes and reminds us all that the past must be remembered as we work together for a better future.

The radioplay features the work of Jason Mehmel (director/production coordinator), Kathryn P. Smith (sound designer), as well as actors Jenn Forgie, Matt McKinney, Kevin Rothery, and Kathy Zaborsky. Details about the episode and the launch party can be found at sagetheatre.com.

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Shaun Hunter recently released an online literary map of Calgary; a product of her Historian in Residence time at the Calgary Public Library. Heritage Calgary is a partner organization in this residency and you can find the map on its website: here. Note: there are several queer spots to discover (I was delighted to find the Tegan and Sara house). Shaun has compiled an LGBTQ+ reading list that can accompany one’s geographic sleuthing.

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Finally, my own valentine, Gordon Sombrowski, has publicly released a new short story, titled Pigeon Droppings—set in Calgary—as a teaser to his upcoming collections of short stories: What Narcissus Saw.

{KA}

The Apple Tree – our first fiction!

Gordon Sombrowski is an acclaimed short-story writer. He is also the significant other of Kevin Allen, the Research Lead of the Calgary Gay History Project. Gordon recently wrote a narrative piece about the current pandemic, called The Apple Tree, that reflects on Calgary’s AIDS history. Just as AIDS had a powerful effect on gay male sexual behaviour, he muses that Covid-19 might change us as well – he says: “all pandemics leave scars.”

Apple Tree

Here is an excerpt from The Apple Tree:

Georgie looks out the window and plans his day. His Covid day. That is what he calls each day, Covid day one, Covid day two, now it is Covid day fifty-three. Every day so much like the next: breakfast, lunch, dinner, a walk down to the river, a walk around in the town park, a walk along the empty streets. All of it alone. Everyday Georgie is alone, but for the one day a week he drives to the grocery store, early when no one is there, he buys his groceries, his mask in place. But Georgie is not really alone. He has the internet.

Tom is the best of his many acquaintances, and he spends time online with them and Tom and with a bunch of the gang at work. He has organized to have a drink or dinner with Tom once or twice a week, and he always has drinks with his colleagues on Fridays, otherwise casual drinks or coffee with his other acquaintances all mediated by the computer screen.

Georgie has become an expert at internet socializing. He has discovered that he likes internet socializing, it is safe, and fills his need for company. It has not escaped his notice that this internet socializing, looking at a screen to see an image that is like the person, but is not the person, is a lot like pornography.

Click here for the full short story.

This is the first original fiction we have published on the Calgary Gay History Project’s website; let us know what you think! Happy reading.

{KA}

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}