Between the Lines

High School Confidential

Richard Burnett
Over 20 years after Canadian band Rough Trade took singer Carole Pope's classic track High School Confidential to the top of the Canadian pop charts, a real-life version of same-sex high school love - the case of graduating 17-year-old cutie patootie, Ontario high school student Marc Hall - made for sensational national headlines and TV newscasts for most of April and May. "Before I came out in Grade 11, no one really gave me a rough time," Hall states in a self-penned feature for Toronto's Fab magazine (April 11) where, incidentally, outgoing editor John Kennedy has been replaced by former National Post arts journalist Mitchel Raphael. "I suppose I've always had it - the walk, the facial expressions and everything - but people didn't say anything. I've never gotten into a fight in my life. I haven't really gotten any kind of homophobia. I mean, there will be a few people here and there, you know, but most of my grade support me and want me as a friend. It's a kind of small school, so there aren't really strong groups like jocks and the rest."

That, of course, didn't matter to Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic Secondary School in Oshawa. School principal Mike Powers forbade Hall from bringing his 21-year-old boyfriend Jean-Paul Dumont, a Radio Shack store manager, to the prom.

"Maybe now that I think about it, I should have just shown up [at my prom with JP]," Hall writes. "My boyfriend thinks this whole thing is really stupid. It's just going to the prom with him, you know - have fun with my friends and dance for a couple of hours. I mean, it's one of the most important things in my high school career."
Well, everybody - and I mean everybody - has gotten on the Marc Hall bandwagon: we're talking Ontario MPs, media pundits and even one Toronto radio station which offered to buy Hall his own prom, complete with tux and limo. The Life Network's trashy reality-TV show The Lofters, meanwhile, has already bought Hall a tux.
But as Canadian author Marnie Woodrow told me in an interview for my column Three Dollar Bill in Hour magazine (May 9), "I have to say that once the media grabbed the story I felt sorry for [Hall's] boyfriend. It takes so much just to go [to the prom] at that point. It reminds of [the] Queer as Folk [first-season finale] where the young guy insists his boyfriend come to the prom and the kid gets bashed. I can't help but think about that. So at this point I wonder what joy there would be in going to the prom?"

One media pundit who really doesn't get it is - go figure - the testy Jan Wong, who writes the "Lunch With..." column for The Globe and Mail.

"Marc Hall loves fast food and fast cars," Wong leads off in her April 20 column. "So the teenager arrives at Swiss Chalet in his lawyer's convertible green Jaguar, riding with the top down. Such is the lifestyle of the gay and famous."

Just when I thought Wong - like most mainstream media journalists - was going to harp on the gay "lifestyle" (and for the last time, people, it's a life, not a fucking lifestyle), she also suggests Marc should just show up at his prom unannounced with his boyfriend in tow. "After all," Wong points out, "the Catholic Church opposes premarital sex, but last year an unmarried girl attended the prom - seven months pregnant."

Wong spends much of the rest of her column describing Hall's coming out to his family, friends and schoolmates.
But then Wong destroys an otherwise mainly sympathetic portrait by invoking a reprehensible stereotype: "Marc thinks he'll be an accountant when he grows up. But why not the preisthood? After all, it's the one place the Catholic Church protects gay men and transfers them from parish to parish, no questions asked."

I just about flipped. Wong, who should bloody well know better, wrongly demonizes homosexuals as pedophiles when studies on the subject worldwide unanimously conclude the vast majority of pedophiles are heterosexual men.

To blame gay men for the current pedophile crisis rocking the very foundations of the Catholic Church worldwide is to resurrect the unfounded homophobic stereotype that all gay men are predators. Well, I say Wong should be ashamed of herself. Yes, it's obvious she wanted highlight the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church but, Jan, honey, just because you're of Asian descent doesn't make you a gambling addict, right?
Meanwhile, the more important question is how can Canadians balance the explosive mix of religion and homosexuality in our schools?

"On one hand, gay men and lesbians have the right to be free from discrimination, Brenda Cossman opines in a fab Xtra! magazine editorial (April 18) headlined 'Respect for bigots.' And there is no doubt that [two cases, the banning of gay titles in a public school in Surrey, B.C., and Marc Hall challenging the Durham Catholic School Board so he can go to his prom] both involve discrimination against gay folks. The books in Surrey were banned because of their gay themes. The Durham kid is not allowed to bring his gay date to the prom. This is discrimination, clear and simple."

But, Cossman rightly points out, "both also involve religious freedoms. Both involve firmly held religious beliefs of religious folks. And they believe that homosexuality is a sin. It's easy to respect the freedoms of those you agree with. But if you really believe in freedom, then you have to be prepared to respect the freedoms of the folks that you don't agree with."

Cossman says we could better strategize our court challenges. "We should be very careful before we start arguing that our rights to equality should trump their rights to religious liberty. The equality versus liberty game is a dangerous one - particularly for gay folks. Our courts are only too willing to let equality trump liberty. It means that struggles for sexual freedoms often lose to claims that someone's equality rights are at stake."

Which means Marc Hall may lose his case (the court decision was pending when I filed this column). As Cossman writes, "In Surrey, it is a public school, and public schools are supposed to be secular. While parents are entitled to their religious views, it is not a place where it is appropriate to impose those views on others. But, in Durham, the conflict is a little harder. It's a Catholic school, not a secular school. And Catholic schools are perfectly entitled to teach Catholic doctrine. And like it or not, Catholic doctrine just doesn't think very highly of homosexuality."

The Catholic community's highly publicized internal struggle over homosexuality shows that even if Marc Hall loses in court, he has already won.

Richard Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine as well as on the web at and (click on the ‘’issues’’ link and scroll down to Three Dollar.