City Scene

A political homosexual in Toronto the Straight

Cheryl Hawkes November 10 1980
City Scene

A political homosexual in Toronto the Straight

Cheryl Hawkes November 10 1980

A political homosexual in Toronto the Straight

City Scene

Cheryl Hawkes

George Hislop is an unremarkable man in his early 50s, an affable man with a pleasant, ready smile. An aldermanic candidate in this week’s municipal elections in Toronto, Hislop is a standard, slightly left-of-centre liberal politician who talks about day care and education, housing and tenants rights, parks and planning. He is also a homosexual—openly and proudly so. And he is one of the first avowed homosexuals in any Canadian election who has a chance to win.

Hislop says he entered the municipal campaign because friends convinced him it was time a homosexual tried to break into city hall, and that Toronto was the only Canadian city where it could be done. They seem to be right. Hislop is running in Toronto’s downtown Ward 6, which has a large homosexual population, and the insiders say his chances are more than good. Toronto’s gay community is visible and growing—a result of considerable migration from other Canadian towns and cities and considerable migration from local closets. Estimates of the number of resident gays run as high as 280,000.

The Body Politic, a gay liberation magazine with national distribution, is published here. There is a growing number of gay bars and restaurants, clubs and baths, boutiques, travel agencies and art galleries. There are also close to 40 service organizations in the city

aimed exclusively at the gay community: a gay Alcoholics Anonymous, gay Catholics, gay Anglicans, gay fathers, lesbian mothers, gay youth, gay Asians, gay anarchists and more. The Gay Community Appeal, turned away at the door by Toronto’s United Appeal, has taken to raising funds for a few of them. Helping them out is the Toronto Lambda Business Council, a collection of some 80 gay-owned businesses, which Hislop, a leader in the gay community for the past decade, helped set up in 1977. Lambda is an alternate Chamber of Commerce comprised of just a few of the city’s homosexual capitalists, and represents part of what President Richard Brown calls Toronto’s “gay establishment.” About a year ago his group launched a “buy gay” campaign, urging homosexuals to patronize their own when shopping for clothes, booking a holiday or calling a plumber. In short, homosexuality in Toronto is an industry.

But despite cries that Toronto is becoming “the San Francisco of the North,” Toronto is still decidedly heterosexual. Hislop’s candidacy in this election—regardless of his insistence that he is slave to no particular interest group, merely a candidate who happens to be gay—has made the existence of a homosexual community an election issue. Mayor John Sewell created the first waves nearly two years ago when he

declared support for homosexuals, arguing that it should be no more a crime to be gay in Toronto than it is to be black or Chinese. Sewell has now allied himself with Hislop’s forces. Arthur Eggleton, an alderman challenging Sewell for the mayor’s chair, has exploited much of the backlash to Sewell’s moves. He has raised the spectre of “gay power politics” in the city, allowing the fact that Hislop is backed by a number of merely progressive community organizations in Ward 6 to go largely ignored. While Bible-toting protesters march on city hall to warn against a homosexual take-over of Toronto, His-

lop’s own opponents in Ward 6 have been getting offers of help. Unfortunately, says the campaign manager for Gordon Chong, a 37-year-old dentist challenging Hislop, they’re from “gaybashers looking for someone who hates gays. We tell them, sorry, we aren’t anti-gay.”

But many Torontonians are. A proposal to the Toronto Board of Education this summer to form a liaison with the homosexual community bit the dust after fierce community opposition and a 15,000-name petition. Toronto gays recognize their precarious situation. “I want justice, not power,” says Gay Appeal Director Harvey Hamburg.“This is our chance to enter the mainstream of Metro politics.” Homosexuals in Toronto see themselves as just another of the many minorities in the city’s cultural mosaic and would like the rest of the residents to see them that way too.

“The gay community, I think, is one of the lighter, brighter aspects of Toronto,” says a homosexual schoolteacher grabbing an after-work drink at The Quest, one of the city’s oldest gay bars. “It gives the city its pizzazz and sparkle and provides a visible, alternative lifestyle. Eventually, whether you’re a homosexual should be about as important as what you had for breakfast this morning.”