I don’t know what I was looking for when I walked into Baked Café for the Queer Coffee, advertised on ArtsNet. I knew I was going to interview Matt Koop-Pearce, the guy who created the event, but other than that, I think I was just curious to see who might show up.
While many GLBT folk live in the Yukon, gathering everyone at an event is difficult for various reasons.
It’s no real secret that a large number of gay and bisexual men in the Yukon remain closeted, either married or just not wanting to be seen in public.
GALA Yukon (the Gay And Lesbian Alliance of the Yukon), active in the past, had gone dormant. “I wrote every e-mail address on the Website,” says Koop-Pearce when I asked him about why he organized the event. “They all bounced back.”
Having been in the territory for only a few months, he wanted to meet others in the GLBT community.
Some say that GALA lost momentum after the big gay marriage push. Gays and lesbians reached their objectives: recognition, rights and societal acceptance in Canada.
Once, during my three-year immigration process, I came back to Canada to see my friends – afraid of losing touch – and the Globe and Mail, laid outside my hotel room door on July 20, 2005, read “For Better or Worse”, heralding the passage of C-38, the bill that legalized same-sex marriage.
Ironically, the “final word in the debate” before the vote that day came from one of our own, Ione Christensen, read aloud from her e-mail: “You have no idea what a difference it makes to the human spirit to know that you are treated equally under the law.”
I can only speculate what happened to GALA. Perhaps, afterwards, many members of GALA married, and maybe some, as is the cycle of the Yukon, just moved away. The need for an organization may not have been as important after 2005.
I walked into Baked, though, interested in just that thing. And I wasn’t alone.
As many as 25 to 30 people came to the coffee, chatted, and some of them signed a sheet talking about what they’d like to see in Whitehorse.
Some wanted a queer section of books in the library, a pub night, a book club, a queer film festival, a dance.
Stephen Dunbar-Edge, whose groundbreaking marriage helped legalize same-sex marriage in the Yukon, talked of re-awakening GALA and told everyone to look for an AGM on Dec. 8.
Koop-Pearce was thrilled. “I seemed to have tapped into some zeitgeist,” he said. “The Guild’s production of The Laramie Project in the spring, Nakai’s bringing up someone from Buddies in Bad Times [a popular gay theatre group in Toronto].
“It’s like … it’s time for the community to say hello to itself again.”
Koop-Pearce, who now works with youth through BYTE (Bringing Youth Towards Equality), talked about the importance of the community getting together to socialize and to normalize their experiences. “You look around and see other gay people and think, Hey, that’s great.” He was hoping to garner support for a more sustained community presence.
I asked him what people were saying about the coffee. “They’re happy. People already knew each other, but there are some new faces.”
We both talked about the lack of any way to really meet each other in Whitehorse. “Where do you meet gay people?” is almost the first question I hear from GLBT newcomers to the territory.
“Is there a bar? A club?” Dylan Griffith asked me, moving quickly to the absurd. “A store? Do you have an Ikea?”
We both laugh, but folks from Outside seem to have the idea that a common hangout is as important to the GLBT community as a church is to believers, a pub with live bands is to college students, or a fresh produce market is to chefs.
Someone had asked Griffith, “What do you do at those meetings of yours?”
“What do you think?” he answered, smiling. “We plot world domination?” Hardly anything as big. He wanted a dance. “There’s really no club for anyone— straight or gay. I’d be happy with one night a month.” (Not quite the dreams of those mad with power.)
Speaking for myself, I think meeting up with other GLBT folks helps me feel less alone, less weird and unusual. Meeting other “out couples” helps make the idea of gay marriage more familiar.
There’s nothing wrong with us, it reminds me. We laugh, yearn for relationships, for acceptance, to understand others, to do good in the world, to be spiritually aware, to have fun.
We don’t have to have a political cause to gather for coffee or a book club or a dance. I’ve heard all my life that it is “good not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together”. It comes from the Bible, whose audience, a group of Christians facing death, persecution, a lack of normalization – certainly a lack of familiarity in a pagan and Jewish world – seem awfully familiar.
Christians felt different, weird, and the author of that passage knew they needed a reason to keep their faith alive: “to spur one another on to love and to good works”.
It’s not so crazy that this might apply to every group of people. All of us need to spur one another on to love and to good works.
Sometimes, you can do that over coffee.
The next Queer Coffee will be Friday, Nov. 27, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Baked Café. Information is available at [email protected]