The right twink in the right place at the right time…
The story of a gay boy growing up in Toronto during the birth of the Gay Liberation Movement
I put on a pink triangle button in 1968 when I was 14.
As a teen aged Young Socialist my button was demonstrating support for gay men and women fighting for our rights because being openly gay at that time left you open to ridicule, derision, and attack. Physical confrontation left many of my friends battered and bruised — even killed because of their sexuality. Things which continue to happen today — Perhaps with less frequency, but equal hatred and anger by a society which can feel threatened by what I and millions of others do in our private sex lives.
To me one of the greatest statements of the 20th century was made in 1968 by former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau when as the then Justice Minister he announced the repeal of “the sodomy law” that had criminalized same-sex relationships since the dawn of time.
“The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”
Pierre Eliot Trudeau as Justice Minister of Canada, 1968
Gay activists today aren’t prone to recall the radical, communistic roots of gay liberation. A seemingly embarrassing truth about our origin.
Early leaders of Gay Lib came out of the radical left where we were groomed by trade unionists, anti-war activists, and leftist peaceniks.
Personally, I drifted into it through opposition to the Vietnam war and my oppositional attitude towards just about everything in the 1960's.
I was a teen rebel and made no apologies about it.
My button was small, chic, and discrete: But you wore it at your own risk! Those were the times being gay was not something celebrated by mainstream society. Anything but…
I was never “a founder” of the gay movement in Toronto. No. Not at all.
Leadership on the streets was men like George Hislop, Gerry Hannon (who gave me my very first “out” gay kiss on the kids swings in Torontos’ Hillcrest Park under the stars of a warm summer evening that was magical), and Jerry Moldenhauer who more or less “tolerated me” as the naïve child I was.
They were fearless.
I took my place as “the cute twink.” The teenage boy in 1968 who had it figured out that I liked guys more than girls.
In hindsight I can understand Jerry not liking me when we met. It happened in 1972 on a cable TV show I hosted on Graham Cable TV/FM Community Channel 10 in what you’d now call the “Old Mill” (Bloor West Village chic) to the Jane Street and Woolner Avenue projects (Be afraid! Be VERY AFRAID!).
By then Jerry had perfected his Gaydar and KNEW THIS KID WAS QUEER!
It was pretty obvious.
“Pretty” was also the kid behind his contempt, but I wanted to be more than just a pretty face.
I already knew that “pretty” helped to get the interview, or get into the casting office. I wanted to be more, but “Pretty” & “Handsome” go a long way in any business. (No one ever got me on a casting couch, but boy did they try!)
I was a “geek” who knew I wanted to be in radio from the age of 5, meaning I began studying my craft in 1958 by listening to Toronto radio, watching people on television, and being pushy to get ahead in this business.
Being gay never helped much in radio until 2002 on NewsTalk1010, CFRB-AM. I was discussing “Pride” and spoke about the tremendous advances that have happened for gay people in that time since time began…
How it was unthinkable for two men to walk the street holding hands when I was a boy, let alone “kissing in public?”
I was thinking out loud when I asked: “How unthinkable in 1970 to think of someone on CFRB as “gay?”
“How wonderful could it have been to have someone to look up to as role models in media, on radio or television for gay kids ?”
“Think how strange it would be to hear someone on CFRB…My parent’s radio station…”Ontario’s Family Station!” To have one person say on the air that they are gay…”
“I just never thought it would be me to say it out loud and proud!”
I thought to myself that in 2002 this was about as exciting as a cold cup of coffee, but what the hell?
I’m known to live dangerously!
This, of course got a reaction on the phone lines as I described it later: “Like sitting in the dunk tank all night every night from then on. It didn’t matter what I was discussing on my show: “Fagbashers” were and still are everywhere.” I will add though that it’s now seen for all its ugliness in most places.
I remember one night reading poetry on my show. Something I’ve always done and going to a caller who sounded like a sweet little church lady. She invoked me with “Sodom and Gomorrah” by speaking her minute long Epistle and hanging up before I could respond.
I wasn’t embarrassed so much on the air by her words as by the shame I immediately felt for her. That by deriding me she was saying to every gay person that we are scum.
Where would this world be without the contributions of people whose sexual orientation offends you?
By the way, I consider what I do in radio, television and writing to be an “art form”. My only academic achievement of note was a diploma from a “gifted student” program at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) in 1968. It may be hard to see “art” in today’s radio dial, but it does exist outside of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Really it does...
We met at a party in a co-op house run by the guys from “The Body Politic” on Marchmount Ave.
The guys who lived there were some of the founders of the gay movement and this was my first ever “GAY Party!” I’d never been with so many precocious and promiscuous guys in my life!
Sex started that night even before I got a drink. I got laid in the coat room, but I was being cruised by this prematurely gray guy and I had never been with anyone older than me in my life. I might have been easy, but for this guy I was playing “hard to get.”
To make a long story short: He got me!
Maurice brought out the radical in me.
Maurice was then living his life flying between Toronto and Vancouver. Flying in for an extended stay then going home to Vancouver where he lived with his wife and infant daughter. I only met Cynthia on the phone, but she was amazingly accepting of Maurice as a gay man and me as the Twinkie he slept with in Toronto.
Cynthia is Cynthia Creighton Flood. The daughter of the eminent historian Donald Creighton, of the University of Toronto. Maurice took me to a New Year’s Levee with the Creighton family in Toronto in 1974.
I was introduced to the giggles from their teenage daughters who knew I was Maurice’s new boy toy.
It wasn’t a secret and everyone was charmingly delightful.
I do recall Professor Creighton listening to me and sounding out my political opinions for a while then saying: “Young man, you are incredulous!” and not speaking to me again.
(I didn’t know until I got home and looked up “incredulous” to realize I’d been insulted.) I wasn’t “incredulous” when, in truth I was oblivious.
The Creighton’s were my patrons (They gave me the entree to become a professional writer). Bless them for getting me started!
I got my first article published because they introduced me to the editor of “The United Church Observer” magazine as a talented novice.
For this I remember my date with Maurice. The assignment was to interview Don Andrews of “The Western Guard Party.” A neo-Nazi, homophobic collection of outcasts who had recently stink-bombed a 1973 gay rights rally at the St. Lawrence Center in downtown Toronto.
We were riding the Carlton streetcar and Maurice kissed me goodbye!
He sent me off to meet the Nazis with my ever present tape recorder.
Normally, this man would never allow a PDA (Public Display of Affection). Maurice had taught me the gay etiquette of the time.
No PDA’s. Even on Yonge Street which was the gay village of the early days he shrank back when I tried to hold his hand. The Parkside Tavern on Yonge Street was an unnerving experience for me.
The Parkside had all the intimacy of the boys high school locker room at the old Weston Collegiate with none of the ambience. (Read: It didn’t smell as bad) Everybody was obviously gay, but the atmosphere was “a typically sad ‘gay’ bar” as described better elsewhere.
Even the leaders abided by the prevailing morals of the time. Maurice was all about getting rid of the stigma “gay” had in those days, but even he toned me down. I was out with reckless abandon!
He was afraid I’d get killed doing it!
I would never do that interview today, yet in hindsight I did the best thing I could possibly do with it.
I transcribed the man in his own ugly words.
Maurice approved of my plan or I never would have done it, but I wasn’t sure if I could pull off a straight guy routine in this SS barracks meeting. There was NO WAY I was “outing myself” despite the “fag jokes” and my Mauve sweater vest over pink shirt wardrobe. (All right, I wasn’t hiding either, but I did take off my pink triangle button on Maurice’s order!)
I came home unscarred every way but mentally.
Maurice wasn’t alone with his fear. I still feel shame that I hid at home from the first “Pride March” in Toronto. Too afraid to be seen in a march that drew jeers and anger — A world away from today!
I saw a picture the next day of Gerry Hannon in the Toronto Star (This was pre-scandal in what was to become a very controversial life), wearing a skirt and carrying a bullhorn! (I never knew Gerry to be “ashamed”)
My mother thought these early leaders of the gay movement in Canada were “the most charming boys in the world!” when I invited them over for tea on Trethewey. my birthplace in Weston, Ontario which was a whole other world from downtown Toronto…Inhibited, homophobic, and typical of the time.
Years later I told her that those wonderful boys she remembered so well were the same ones who founded the gay liberation movement in Canada.
They were smart, bright, and charming bringing her flowers when they visited.
I only wish I’d then told my mother I was gay.
Instead I told my darling sister Ingrid and her reaction sent me screaming for the closet again. I understand that she was afraid for me, because coming out in 1972 even if it was obvious was not easy. Her concern brought my fear of abandonment to the surface and I was afraid my family would disown me.
My ex-wife Kimberly took great offense at a story I wrote about our life together in Winnipeg in the 70’s. “Why did I have to talk about the anger and the violence?”
I had to explain to her that the first question I get asked most of the time is: “Why did you get married and have children?”
Even at that time I never hid when asked directly about my sexuality, but publicly I hid in plain sight. I’m a SAG or “Straight Acting Gay”. Bisexual, as I experimented on both sides of the sexual fence. But, openly unashamed about who I was with my friends and lovers.
It can be a scandalous attitude even today.
That ‘pretty boy’ I spoke about could play on either side of the fence sexually and I always did, but I had a preference and I never hid it.
I also found myself recognized in radio as a star talent and on my way to a career that’s led to where I am today.
I had a reputation after all.
People like their celebrities to have a little dirt on them.
Over the years as my reputation went to the awry leading to whispers about my unabashed behavior, the higher my listening audience rose. It seems to always happens that way. I got a reputation for drawing a crowd on the radio and I’ve never done it by being boring!
Neither has anyone else.
My daughter Kristina was a young girl when she once asked me “Daddy, what will you be doing in 10 years?”
I answered right back: “I’ll be famous.”
She snapped back and told me: “Being famous is not a job.”
Even she will tell you today that: “Being famous is a job”…and likely not one you’d like!
Still, I don’t think I’d do anything differently.
I have five lovely children and I’m proud of every one of them!
Growing up in Ottawa for my girls it was never easy being “Mark Elliot’s kid” but they were and even though I haven’t lived or worked in Ottawa for more than 30 year today. they sill are “Mark Elliot’s kids!
There were advantages of having a famous dad, but the downside was you had to share him with everyone else.
Better sometimes to stay home at dads house because he becomes “Mark Elliot” the minute he walks out the door.
I always wanted them to be proud of me, but that’s not what any child really wants.
They want you to be proud of them!
The greatest lie anyone famous says is the one that begins “I wish I could have spent more time with the children.”
No, you foolish narcissist. You took care of yourself and you had no shame about it even with your children.
They worry about me and my constant headlines.
They fear because I am an unabashed and unashamed smoker who’s had two heart attacks! (Please, keep it to yourself)…I know I will die of COPD, (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) if I don’t pop off with a stroke around 10 years from now by what I know of my families medical history.
They also worried when I fell in love with a boy of 18 until they saw how much commitment Jarrett Rainhard has to me sixteen years later.
Or, in other words: Me and Jarrett.
There are no apologies to make about an older gay man being with a younger gay man in a relationship today. In fact, within the gay culture we realize there’s nothing more natural.
I’ve always been scandalous, never sedate.
I’ve been described as “manic” by colleagues and friends, and I hope I always will be!
I’ve also worried that if I never write down these early gay experiences they will be lost forever with me when I die.
Before I finally “came out” as a proud gay man (at the tender age of 38, errrr!) in 1991 I was asked by a good friend: “What makes you proud and happy to be gay?”
I winced in pain at the question with the memories of having been the proud boy of my youth, and the now scared celebrity who feared telling the truth about who I am.
After all, gay celebrities haven’t always had an easy time in life.
Johnny was taken off the air at CKY the very next day! No announcement, no warning, and no second chance!
Today there is no shame in being who you really are! And I am proud to have been that scared little 14 year old boy with the pink triangle pin in 1968! It was a scary time indeed!
There are still too many places in this world where I would be made into fertilizer before I could say anything out loud or wear a pink triangle with pride!
Maurice Flood died of AIDS in San Francisco on Feb. 27, 1991.
So, whoever you are, and wherever you happen to be: Please remember and honor those who went before us and suffered through such terrible times.
We owe them respect for the pain they lived through and the struggle they led which has given us the lives and freedom we enjoy today!