ETHICS

Testing the limits

A professor admits he was a prostitute

D’ARCY JENISH December 11 1995
ETHICS

Testing the limits

A professor admits he was a prostitute

D’ARCY JENISH December 11 1995

Testing the limits

ETHICS

A professor admits he was a prostitute

For several days last week, Gerald Hannon was receiving dozens of phone calls daily at his spacious, sunny, 16th-floor condominium in downtown Toronto. But the freelance writer and part-time journalism instructor let his answering machine take the messages. Some came from supportive friends and even strangers. But most of the calls were hate messages—“I’m going to cut your b—s off,” said one, while someone even threatened to kill him. The calls started after media revelations that, while teaching at Ryerson Polytechnic University, the longtime gay-rights activist had written favorably about adult-child sex and also worked as a male prostitute.

Faced with that last bit of news, Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse suspended the 51-year-old Hannon indefinitely, with pay, and ordered an investigation into his conduct. Hannon responded that his suspension was an attack on academic freedom. “A university is not a European health spa,” he said. “Students do not go there to bathe in the waters of received wisdom. They go there to debate ideas.”

Many of Hannon’s students agreed. Several attended a Nov. 27 news conference, along with their former instructor, his union representatives and several academics, to denounce the university administration. As well, Ryerson’s two student newspapers ran editorials supporting Hannon’s right to teach provided he was not using the classroom as a platform to promote his personal views. Lajeunesse refused to comment beyond a terse news release stating that Hannon was prohibited from contacting his students or entering the campus until the investigation was complete— by Dec. 22 at the latest. But Ontario’s education minister, John Snobelen, and fellow Conservative MPP Gary Carr both expressed their disapproval of Hannon’s behavior. “What the province should do is have some standards of conduct,” Carr said. “Set them, let everybody know and live by them.”

Slight, tweedy, sporting a moustache and wire-rim glasses, Hannon is no stranger to controversy. He first achieved notoriety for his views in late 1977, when an article he wrote entitled “Men loving boys loving men” appeared in The Body Politic, a now-defunct gay monthly. The piece stated his belief that, in some cases, sexual relations between adults and children are acceptable, even ben-

eficial, for youngsters. Toronto police laid obscenity charges against him and the company that published the paper, which led to two celebrated trials, both ending in acquittal.

Then, in July, 1994, Hannon wrote an essay for Xtra!, a gay biweekly, in which he compared child sex rings to organized hockey. “Both involved children and adults,” he wrote. “Both involved strenuous physical activity (adult coaches taking the role of the adult lover). Both involved danger. Both involved pleasure. Yet we approve of children’s

hockey and deplore child-sex rings.”

Those statements did not receive wider attention—although some Ryerson journalism instructors were aware of them—until The Toronto Sun wrote about them on Nov. 14. Ryerson began an investigation of Hannon’s classroom conduct—but only suspended him after the Sun ran another stunner on Nov. 25: Hannon’s admission that he works part-time as a prostitute. (The article was illustrated with a strategically cropped photo of Hannon playing a nude, gay-love scene in a low-budget film scheduled for release in 1996.) Hannon said that he started hooking to support himself in 1987 after The Body Politic folded, and continued even after becoming an award-winning freelance writer. “I had friends who were hustlers and they told me there were markets for older guys with good bodies,” he said. “I thought I’d give it

a try, and to my surprise it worked.”

Some of Hannon’s former students insisted that he should be judged solely on classroom performance, rather than lifestyle. Cathal Kelly, 23, a postgraduate journalism student, said that Hannon was open about his homosexuality but never used his teaching position as a podium for propagating his views. However, other students maintained that Hannon’s beliefs, particularly about “intergenerational sex”—his euphemism for pedophilia—make him unfit to teach. “His comments, especially those around pedophilia, are very disturbing,” said student council president Paul Cheevers. “He’s definitely pushed the limits of academic freedom.” However, several faculty members from other institutions, as well as the Writers Union of Canada, insisted that the suspension was a thinly disguised attack on academic freedom. David Rayside, a political science professor at the University of Toronto who spoke at Hannon’s news conference,

maintained that the Ryerson administration was using personal conduct as an excuse to suspend someone with unpopular opinions. “That goes against the core of what a university is about,” he said. Ryerson journalism instructor Don Obe, who recommended Hannon for the job, agreed. “The university has capitulated,” he said. “They’ve rolled over in the face of a smear campaign.” Despite such shows of support, Hannon’s provocative lifestyle and opinions left the Ryerson community deeply divided. “I told students and faculty to figure out the issue that’s most important to you, and make your decision on that basis,” chairman John Miller said. “But I also told them that whatever you decide, it’s going to be messy. There are parts of your decision that you’re going to hate.”

D’ARCY JENISH