Tag Archives: MCC

Remembering Mark

One of the moving aspects of working on local gay history is that—sometimes—the stories you are sharing of long dead activists come to life when living family members reach out and connect.

In April, I was writing a series about AIDS: reflecting on one pandemic while we move through another. I discovered the story of Mark Perry-Schaub, a thwarted Calgary ’88 Winter Olympics volunteer, who fought to regain his volunteer position after losing it, because he had AIDS.

After coming across the post, Ann—a relative—wrote to me. Mark died before Ann was born; this unknown Uncle left a haunting ache in Ann’s family.

Mark Perry-Schaub (photo courtesy of his family)

Ann explained: “I’ve always been drawn to learning more about Mark, and talking about him. That’s why I contacted [his friend] Dave McKeen when I was 16, and attempted to contact Doug McKay, Mark’s friend who’d been his roommate and cared for him in the final months (unfortunately McKay died in 2005 when I was a toddler). I’ve written a number of essays on Mark, and AIDS in general, for school… I just always wanted to know more, like as much as is possible without being able to meet him. I think being LGBT+ myself results in me being even more interested, like he could have been such a great supportive figure in my life. We could have been close.” 

Ann shared photos, news clippings, and fleshed out details of Mark from family stories. Mark, even appeared in an AIDS Calgary video: Respect Yourself Protect, Yourself. Although I had seen it before, I did not make the connection that the man named Mark in the video was Mark Perry-Schaub. What a surprise to see Mark animated again!

Mark in a still from AIDS Respect Yourself Protect Yourself

According to Ann, Dave McKeen told her that: “Mark had a heart of gold and even when too ill to really help, he was still volunteering his time and energy to help those in greater need; no one volunteered as much as he did.”

Mark died on April 1, 1988, aged 26, just weeks after the Calgary Winter Olympics concluded. His memorial service was held at the Metropolitan Community Church. Although his parents weren’t in attendance, his siblings were; it was a profound loss.

Ann shares, “it sounds like he was an amazing person. Of everyone, alive or dead, he’s the person I’d want to meet the most. I imagine he’d have been an awesome uncle.”

I think Ann is right…

{KA}

Australia vote evokes our own marriage debates

This week, Australians voted for marriage laws to be changed to allow same-sex marriage, with the yes vote claiming 61.6% to 38.4%. The debate was divisive (and at times nasty), the vote was expensive, and many within and outside the country critiqued the idea that a plebiscite is an appropriate tool for determining minority rights.

australia

Australians celebrating the yes vote. Photograph: Scott Barbour, Getty Images, in The Guardian.

In Canada, the road to marriage equality had many speedbumps, twists, and turns. Here in Alberta, our political leaders strenuously resisted changes to the definition of marriage, including agitating for a national plebiscite on the issue.

Here is a brief timeline of Canada’s (and Alberta’s) journey to same-sex marriage.

September 1995. Openly gay, Bloc Québécois, Member of Parliament (MP) Réal Ménard introduces a motion calling for legal recognition of same-sex relationships. The House of Commons votes 124-52 to reject it.

March 1998. Another gay MP, New Democrat, Svend Robinson introduces a private member’s bill to legalize same-sex marriage. It does not pass first reading.

May 1999. The Supreme Court of Canada rules in M. v. H. that same-sex couples in Canada are entitled to receive many of the financial and legal benefits commonly associated with marriage.

June 1999, The House of Commons overwhelmingly passes a resolution to re-affirm the definition of marriage as “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.”

March 2000. The Alberta Government passes Bill 202 which amends the provincial Marriage Act to include an opposite-sex-only definition of marriage. The bill also promises to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to insulate the legislation from any legal challenge based on Charter rights violations.

January 2001. Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Reverend Brent Hawkes attempts an end run for same-sex marriage by taking advantage of a little-used common law marriage protocol “reading the banns of marriage.” The Ontario registrar refuses to accept this marriage as legally performed triggering a lawsuit.

June 2003. The Court of Appeal for Ontario confirms a lower court ruling declaring Canadian laws on marriage violate the equality provisions in the Canadian Charter by being restricted to heterosexual couples. The court decides there would be no grace period for adjustment, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to recognize same-sex marriage. (It also ruled the MCC banns marriages legal). Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announces that the Federal Government would not seek to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

July 2003. The B.C. Court of Appeal makes a similar decision.  Same-sex marriages are now allowed in British Columbia.

March 2004. The Quebec Court of Appeals rules similarly to the Ontario and B.C. courts and orders its decision to take effect immediately. Now, more than two-thirds of Canada’s population live in provinces where same-sex marriage has been legalized.

February 2005. The Civil Marriage Act, Bill C-38, is introduced by Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government. He advises that it will be a free vote in the House of Commons. Many Liberals assert they will vote against the government on this bill. Then Calgary based Canada Family Action Coalition declares a boycott on Famous Players Theatres because of a ten-second ad that urges moviegoers to contact their MPs to say they support same-sex marriage

May 2005. Paul Martin’s minority government survives an impossibly close (153-152) motion of confidence, almost scuttling the legislation.

June 2005. Bill C-38 passes third reading in the House of Commons in an extended debate well into the evening of June 28th. The vote total is 158-133. The Prime Minister allows the Liberal backbenchers a free vote but whips his cabinet into voting for the bill causing Minister Joe Comuzzi, a traditional opponent of same-sex marriage, to resign from cabinet. The voting breakdown is:

Party For Against Absentees Total
Liberals 95 32 4 131
Conservatives 3 93 2 98
Bloc 43 5 6 54
NDP 17 1 1 19
Independents 0 2 2 4

Calgary Centre MP Lee Richardson is one of only a handful of Conservative MPs who vote in favour of Bill C-38. Stephen Harper controversially claims that “the law lacks legitimacy because it passed with the support of the separatist Bloc party.” NDP MP Bev Desjarlais is stripped of her position in the NDP’s shadow cabinet for voting against it. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein opines that the Alberta Government might opt to stop solemnizing marriages entirely, suggesting that the Government would issue civil union licences to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

July 12, 2005, Klein concedes that expert legal advice suggests that refusing to marry same-sex couples had little chance of succeeding in a court challenge. “Much to our chagrin,” he adds.

July 20, 2005. Bill C-38 receives royal assent after passing in the Senate the previous day. The law affects Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, the only jurisdictions in Canada whose courts had not yet decided in favour of same-sex marriage.

December 2006. Prime Minister Stephen Harper brings a motion to reopen the definition of marriage with his Conservative minority government.  The House of Commons defeats the motion 175-123. Prime Minister Harper declares the issue concluded.

Epilogue:

In a recent interview, former Prime Minister Paul Martin acknowledged his conflicted voting history on the issue. Martin noted that he opposed same-sex marriage in 1999 but later realized that he had not given sufficient consideration to the question. He related a personal anecdote of close family friends who have a lesbian daughter. She was happily partnered in Vancouver. He emphatically said: “What right do we have to deny happiness to people?” This personal revelation helped make Canadian history.

{KA}

The Golden Age of Gay Bars in YYC

Calgary was booming in the 70s. The city’s population increased about 50% in those 10 years. Club Carousel, the only gay club at the beginning of the decade saw its popularity wane as commercial gay bars opened in the city. The owners and operators had more capital to invest in their emerging discotheques, and the growing gay community flocked to them.

The Parkside Continental ran from 1973-1986 and was located at the corner of 13th Avenue and 4th Street SW (where Shelf Life Books is currently). The Parkside was named after a famous gay tavern in Toronto. Vance Campbell, a businessman and gay bar owner from Vancouver moved to Calgary to start the Parkside with local partners.

In the early years, there were provincial regulations about food being served with alcohol at bars. Rudy Labuhn, who was initially a DJ at the club and then manager, remembered that when the Parkside began they served 50 cent burgers to all drinkers.  He explained that the Province also limited the amount of recorded music that could be played. Fortunately, a straight bar called Lucifer challenged those rules successfully ushering in the age of disco to Calgary. Interestingly, the bar would end most nights with a song that was decidedly more downtempo: Broadway singer Maureen McGovern’s song, “The Continental.”

Vance
A grainy image of Vance Campbell in front of the Parkside Continental from the Body Politic, Sept. 1980.

The Parkside expanded upstairs creating a second bar called The Green Room. The Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch in April 1976 was founded there; their first coronation followed in January 1977 at the Holiday Inn Downtown. Drag legend, Sandy St. Peters who grew up in Calgary and lived and performed across Canada, entertained occasionally at the Parkside. After a big Saturday night at the bar, she would run across the street to campily welcome churchgoers arriving Sunday morning for early service at the First Baptist Church. In addition to drag performances, Eartha Kitt famously did a highly regarded concert one night in the Green Room.

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Sandy St. Peters (1953-2001). Image Source: YouTube

Vance Campbell proved to be a divisive figure at times publicly opposing the local gay activist community, which revolved around Gay Information & Resources Calgary (GIRC), headquartered only one block away. He was described by the Body Politic in 1980 as one of the power brokers in the gay community “confident enough of his position to write to the mayor and counter GIRC’s claim that Calgary could face a gay rights march.”

Another reason perhaps why Campbell felt powerful was he was an owner of Calgary’s other gay bar of note: Myrt’s.  Opened in 1976, the sign on the building said Myrt’s Beauty Parlour and was located at 808 9 Ave. SW (now a parking lot). This gay lounge and disco were initially open Friday and Saturday nights for men only. As its popularity grew, it operated six nights/week and became a mixed club, reportedly played the best music in the city.

Parkside Discotheques

Advertisement in GIRC’s 1977 publication, “Gay Moods”

A hallway off the dance floor led to a 150-seat theatre known as the “Backlot” which also served as an after-hours bar. The gay community was encouraged to use it as much as possible; it was the venue for emerging theatre artists, Imperial Court drag shows, Mr Butch Calgary “Slave Auctions” and, on Sunday mornings, Metropolitan Community Church services. Myrts’ final song every night was Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.”

Butch Bucks

Butch Bucks from a Calgary Slave Auction in 1978. Donated to the YYC Gay Archives by Terry MacKenzie.

The bar closed on New Year’s Eve 1981/1982 as the building fell victim to boomtown redevelopment. Myrt’s and the Backlot briefly moved to 17th avenue before it closed again. One former patron broke into the site and retrieved the neon “Backlot” sign. The preserved sign now hangs over the door of the contemporary Backlot bar on 10th Ave. SW.

Backlot

Neon sign at the Backlot Bar, 2017. Photo: Kevin Allen.

{KA}