Between the Lines

Two Solitudes

Richard Burnett
Many years ago I had the great pleasure of meeting Canadian literary icon Hugh MacLennan, author of Two Solitudes, the award-winning 1945 novel whose title still remains a - granted, stereotypical - catchphrase defining English- and French-Canadian relations. In fact, I interviewed MacLennan twice and MacLennan turned out to be a charming, softspoken man.
The year was 1986, I was still a teenager, and one day when we discussed the sexual revolution, MacLennan - bless him - told me quite frankly, “Leaving out the politicians and the military and so forth, the greatest social revolution that ever happened in very recent years was the invention of the pill and the invention before that of antibiotics. That changed the whole attitude of young men and young women. The virtual elimination of venereal disease was something of a nightmare before. Fifty per cent of English people in 1940 probably had venereal disease - syphillis, gonorrhea, these AIDS I don’t know what they are. Nobody does seem to know what they are.

“Nevertheless, I had a friend who was a very distinguished doctor about my age,” MacLennan - who was 79 years old when I met him - continued. “He told me some fifteen years ago [around 1970] that he had only seen one case of syphillis in a Montreal hospital, except for homosexuals who had contracted it from Adriatic sailors on the docks. Now that is a prodigious change.”

I think MacLennan was an openminded man and free spirit, and would be saddened to see we still haven’t gotten a grip on AIDS yet. But I suspect the Nova Scotia-born author of Two Solitudes - who died on November 7, 1990 - would have loved to see what’s become of his adopted home, not to mention how Montreal has also become home to hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians, as well as a leading AIDS research centre.
Montreal, it bears repeating, only really broke free of institutionalized injustice after the MUC police raided Sex Garage, a queer loft-party held in Old Montreal in the hot summer of 1990. I know many veteran gay activists will make the case - and loudly, I might add, as if their credentials depend on it - that there was great social change in Quebec before Sex Garage. They point to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms - which in 1977 was amended to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and did absolutely nothing to improve the lives of gays and lesbians.

So, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Tolerance is not acceptance, it is hypocrisy.

Real hands-on, results-oriented change did come, however, in the decade following Sex Garage and that change is now duly reflected in the pages of Montreal’s daily newspapers, magazines and alternative weeklies. It is also reflected in the aspirations of all Montrealers, gay and straight. Just look at the coverage of Montreal’s bid for the 2006 Gay Games: Fugues and Hour broke the story last month, then Hour put gay bodybuilders James-Michael Lavigne and Joseph-Pascal Leblanc - dressed in Expos and Canadiens jerseys, puckering up - on the Gay Games cover of its annual sports issue (April 12) two days after Montreal’s bid was launched at Montreal City Hall.

The dailies all weighed in as well (April 11), though none - surprise, surprise - deigned to spotlight the games in their sports sections. Instead they all focused on the economic spin-offs the bidders promise. “Jeux gais 2006: retombées économiques de 150 M$” the Journal de Montréal trumpeted, albeit at the top of page nine. La Presse did a much better job, fleshing out the story on the cover of its MontréalPlus E-section: “Montréal convoite les Jeux gays de 2006,” the headline boomed, followed by the subhed, “Trois fois les retombées du Grand Prix du Canada.”

The French press didn’t play up 1992 Olympics gold medallist Mark Tewksbury, honorary co-president of the Montreal bid, and I think that’s probably because the Calgary-born Tewk is a Toronto boy. The English reporters, however, swooned over The Tewk, notably The Gazette which photographed him atop page A3 calmly meeting anti-gay protesters outside city hall. The story was slugged, “Champion puts in bid for gays: Poster boy touts city for Games.”

“There’s an intangible spirit in this city,” Tewksbury told reporters. “When you come from somewhere else and land here, you realize [Montrealers] know how to live, not just work. And this is a bilingual, multicultural city which is accessible, affordable, safe and inclusive. I just don’t see that in American cities.”

Ah, yes - MacLennan would have been proud.

The Gazette also went one better when reporter Mary Lamey wrote a feature-length Business Section coverpage insider’s look at Montreal’s bid, headlined, “Going For Gold: Montreal in running for 2006 Gay games and its economic spinoffs” (April 28). Lamey crunches all the numbers in a - pardon the pun - straight-ahead piece that clearly shows queer tourism now pulls in an ever-expanding huge chunk of the $2 billion tourism generates in Montreal every year.

Even Montreal FM radio station MIX96 got in on the action: it’s morning show lampooned Montreal’s Gay Games bid, playing up every gay stereotype. While some McGill students thought the spot was homophobic and subsequently filed complaints with the CRTC, I thought it was hilarious (I hear it was also scripted by MIX96’s gay entertainment reporter John Moore). Judge for yourself: the spot is archived at 96/new/audioarchive/Gay_ Games.ram. also weighed in April 11 with its TVA Question of the Day: “Appuyez-vous la candidature de Montréal pour les jeux gais de 2006?”

Of 8,963 voters, 41 per cent voted yes, and a disheartening 59 per cent voted no.

Those naysayers aren’t the only Montrealers upset over Montreal’s bid for the games: dépanneurs throughout the city stacked Hour’s April 12 Gay Games sports issue (with bodybuilders Lavigne and Leclerc necking on the cover) upside down, while some woman postered downtown Montreal lampposts with the same cover, with “Shame on Canada - pieces of shit” scrawled across the cover.

As one Hour reader, Christine Lalonde of Montreal, wrote in her letter to the editor, “On Saturday, April 14 I went to a dépanneur on Côte-des-Neiges to purchase a paper. At the same time, I picked up a copy of Hour. I had trouble finding Hour - although I often pick it up there - because someone at the store had turned the stack of papers around so that the back of the paper was facing outwards. I didn’t think anything of this at the time, and it wasn’t until I got the paper home and saw that cover that I realized why the papers had been flipped over. I believe they were turned around because someone at the store thought they were offensive - to him or his customers - and when I realized this I felt offended. This kind of censorship is homophobic, and I hope that someone at your paper will talk to the shopkeeper. When you do, tell them that this customer will no longer shop there.”

I think MacLennan, were he alive, would agree with Lalonde.

Richard Burnett’s syndicated queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine and The Ottawa X Press, as well as on the web at or at (click on the “scene” link and scroll down to TDB).