Tag Archives: Windi Earthworm

A Windi Month in YYC

During February here, the chinook winds blow… In honour of this blustery month, the Calgary Gay History Project focuses on activist and musician Windi Earthworm (b. 1950) and his impact on our city. This week, we will update Windi’s story from Our Past Matters. Then, over the next few weeks, we will explore more about the activist’s life—details that have blown in since the book was published in 2018.

Windi Earthworm circa 1979.  Photo: François Couture from kersplebedab.com

Windi Earthworm, an American gay artist and activist, moved to Calgary in 1973. He was notable for his gender non-conforming dress and street music. He also was a dedicated agitator who had the conviction of his beliefs. For example, Windi chained himself to a marble pillar in the Palliser Hotel during a Progressive Conservative party convention in 1976 to protest the absence of legislation protecting homosexuals from discrimination.

Windi grew up in Seattle and was filled with wanderlust. In the summer of 1973, he swept into Banff and got a job at the youth hostel. He began a relationship with his coworker, Calgary artist John Evans, who at the end of the season invited Windi to move back with him to Calgary. They lived in an apartment in the Thomson Brothers Block on Eighth Avenue. Through mutual friends, Windi met People’s Liberation Coalition’s Myra “My” Lipton in 1974, and they made a powerful connection. Despite both being gay, My married Windi the next year, so he could remain in Canada. After the ceremony, they went for falafels with their marriage witnesses to celebrate. My later moved into the Thomson Brothers Block herself, where she and Windi saucily broke the wall between their two apartments, creating a new internal doorway. 

Windi sent this wedding photo to his friend Rex Leonard in 1975.

Later, Windi and My were part of a four-person protest group who took guerrilla action against an anti-gay skit. The sketch was included in the nightly performance of a band called The Dandies in the Four Seasons Hotel’s Scotch Room. One evening in June, when the skit was about to be unleashed, Windi and his friends rushed the stage; My took over the microphone. They explained to the surprised audience why they were offended. As the hotel bouncers dragged them away, they asked the manager if she had ever been to a gay bar. When she replied, “no,” they told her they were going to invite all of their friends and turn the Scotch Room into a gay bar the following night if the performance was not changed. It was changed.

The success of their intervention made them critically aware that Calgary needed a gay activist group, particularly since the People’s Liberation Coalition had gone dormant. Gay Information Resources Calgary (GIRC) started shortly thereafter. The group’s first chairperson (on paper) was Windi Earthworm. 

Activist Doug Young (1950-1994), in a 1980 interview, remembered Windi hanging out in the Kings Arms Tavern in the mid-70s, and always thought him a bit strange with his long blue jean skirts. He noted that Windi did not stay long at GIRC as the other people who helped set it up thought he was crazy and eventually squeezed him out.

Quebec Filmmaker Claude Ouellet recalled meeting Windi in 1976 when he was a young person hitchhiking across the country. Finding himself in Calgary, without money, he ended up meeting the troubadour on the Eighth Avenue Mall. Windi at that time was taking in street kids who needed shelter. Windi sheltered Claude and his friend for the night in his apartment. Claude thought the denim skirt and cross-dressing flare was courageous for Calgary in 1976.

Later in the 1980s, when both lived in Montreal, Claude made a documentary about Windi as a year-end film school project. At that time, Windi was central to that city’s Anglo-anarchist left. He often was hassled by the Montreal police, or worse, for being a strolling musician, despite being licensed to be. He was also seen occasionally in press coverage being dragged away from peace demonstrations.

Claude Ouellet’s documentary about Windi: “Ragged Clown.”

Described as a caring, unique, and challenging person, Windi died from AIDS-related causes on July 16, 1993, in Victoria under the care of My Lipton. Windi’s courage and artistry are remembered fondly on a memorial website: “There’s a Fire Truck on My Ceiling: Windi Earthworm Remembered.”

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1978: a Windi blowback for Anita Bryant

The Calgary Gay History Project has written before about gay activist Windi Earthworm and anti-gay rights crusader Anita Bryant – but separately. In fact, they had an antagonistic encounter in 1978. That year, Anita swung through Canada as part of Renaissance International’s Christian Liberation Crusade. She made a tour stop in Edmonton on April 29th. 40 Calgary activists hurried north, joining activists there, to protest her cross-Canada tour.

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Anita Bryant in the May 1, 1978 edition of The Albertan

Windi and his friend Myra “My” Lipton went independently of the loosely organized “Calgarians against Anita” delegation. They decided direct action was required to disrupt Bryant’s auditorium of 6000 supporters. My remembered: “We got in under the guise that we were students doing a study about the spaces people meet in. We scoped out the stage and decided on our spot. I helped Windi chain and lock himself.”

My then went into the seats to find a spot to generate a call and response disturbance with Windi, but she turned back when she noticed audience members hassling him. She asked Windi if he was OK. He replied, “Yeah, except these really kind Christian folk are ready to hang me,” by the chain around his neck.

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Windi Earthworm in the May 1, 1978 edition of The Albertan

Anita eventually appeared at the Northlands Coliseum under heavy police escort. Windi screamed: “You have me in shackles, Anita!” She replied, “I love you, and I know enough to tell you the truth so you will not go to eternal damnation.” Windi called back, “You love me so much you want me in prison.” The heckling continued intermittently throughout the event. The courageous Calgarians were detained briefly afterwards for questioning by police and were permitted to leave.

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Before GIRC. YYC gay support in the 70s.

The Calgary Gay History project recently posted about the origins of Gay Information and Resources Calgary (GIRC). However there was an earlier, somewhat short-lived group, “A People’s Liberation Coalition” (PLC), which pre-dates GIRC.

Started in early January 1973, the PLC aimed to serve the local gay community by offering information and counselling: the peer support model which carries through to this day. Their office was located at the Old Y (now CommunityWise) in room 314, and they attempted to have office hours from 7-11 PM, seven days/week.

After its founding,the PLC announced their intention to sponsor “a mixed boogie” at a local community hall.

An Australian gay activist named Brian Lindberg who travelled through Western Canada later in 1973 described the movement in Calgary as going through a difficult period. He wrote:

The gay information centre was staffed by only a few people (one in particular) who continued to maintain the service even though little assistance could be obtained. Considering the population size of Calgary, I was surprised not to find a well organized gay liberation movement.

Some of the people involved, in PLC were activists, Windi Earthworm, My Lipton, Len Girivitz and Jeannie MacKay, who as a group were later responsible for GIRCs founding in 1975. We know that some of the PLC liberationists came from the University of Calgary. My Lipton, a lesbian feminist, was described in the student newspaper, The Gauntlet, as a “militant gay liberationist,” and was involved in the founding of a Gay Liberation Front chapter on campus in the Autumn of 1972.

Gay lib front meeting - first ad_announcement_Sept 1972

Little else is known at present about the PLC. At the Old Y they are not listed as one of the historic groups who had office space there.  If you know more, contact us: here.

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