February 11 - 17, 1999, Vol. 18, No. 24

Gerald Hannon

p. 30.

Grateful gays gaga over Norm Gardner

Professionals titillated at getting audience with a man of power

Homosexuals can be so horrible. Maybe it's that certain aspects of our sex lives have predisposed us to the practice of what Frank magazine so succinctly calls "fart-catching," but we do have a tendency to be oozingly overgrateful when a Power condescends to notice us.

This tendency is much in evidence on Monday night, under the watchful eyes of a portrait of the young Queen Victoria, in the heavily chandeliered, white-and-gilt Victoria Room of the Sutton Place Hotel.

The occasion? A meeting of The Fraternity, featuring an address by Norm Gardner, city councillor and chair of the Toronto police services board.

Perhaps I've watched too many horror movies, but something called The Fraternity conjures up images of an organization of sunny middle-aged guys that turns out to be a front for a secret, malevolent cult in which unspeakable things are done to chickens.

Sunny guys

Don't get your hopes up. This Fraternity is an organization of sunny, middle-aged (OK, some younger, some older) guys who happen to be businessmen and who as an old cartoon put it, also like to put their wieners up each other's bums.

Now, this is by and large a good thing. Whatever one may feel about business, we appear not to be able to exist without some version of it, and it is right and just that sodomites and their minions should make their presence felt.

I discover it's a friendly group -- strangers actually come up and talk to me -- and though the overall tone may be a little too perky for my admittedly more restrained tastes, I recognize that perky is one of several legitimate business "modes" (which probably explains why the largest crowds in recent months were lured by the presence of Mr. Perky himself -- Mark Tewksbury).

Tonight, some 90 people have paid $20 ($25 for nonmembers) for a buffet meal, a chance to shmooze with their peers (all of whom are male, though not all of whom are white), an address by councillor Gardner and a reading by Shyam Selvadurai, author of the novels Funny Boy and the more recent Cinnamon Gardens.

Selvadurai is charming, attractive and talented, and he reads a moving section of Cinnamon Gardens in the engaging lilt of his native Sri Lanka. He is worth waiting for, and we do have to wait, because Norm Gardner is first on the agenda.

Gardner is introduced by a Fraternity member, and by the end of the introduction there is not a fart in the room left uncaught.

Anti-gay votes

We learn that Norm Gardner returned the Fraternity member's phone call within 10 minutes! That Norm Gardner did not hesitate to accept an invitation to address a group of men who like to put their wieners up each other's bums! That Norm Gardner did not even object to his name appearing in a listing in Xtra, the gay bi-weekly! That Norm Gardner was the first chair of the police services board to attend Pride Day!

What that Fraternity member doesn't mention is that, in 1994, Norm Gardner voted against same-sex benefits for city employees! Nor does he mention that when a Toronto Sun-inspired vendetta against arts grants singled out Buddies in Bad Times and the Inside Out Collective, Norm Gardner voted against both of them! That Inside Out lost its grant on a tie vote, so Norm Gardner could actually have made a difference! But didn't!

All of which might have constituted legitimate reasons for inviting the man to speak (Norm Gardner might have changed!), but, given that introduction, all we get is a bit of a boilerplate treatise on the workings and (yawn) budget of the police services board.

Though a few audience members can't resist joining the fart-catching frenzy, most are a bit tougher on him, asking questions about homophobia within the force ("Shouldn't be there," says Norm, "and I'll be marking that one down") and why an understaffed police force nonetheless continues to check backroom bars and nude beaches ("They're just making sure the laws are being obeyed").

Little embarrassed

When, post-meeting, I confront Gardner with his voting record, he does have the grace to seem a little embarrassed. He also talks about how his attitudes have changed over the years, claiming that he was never a homophobe, though in earlier years he was not ready, as he puts it, "to take up the challenge." Now he is. He is very comfortable with gay people. He says we are very, very friendly.

Well, friendly is one thing, and fart-chasing is another. The Fraternity has to get over its antique notion that anyone is doing it a favour by addressing one of its meetings. (That's not their only antique notion -- their president didn't want his name used in this article.)

Maybe once upon a time it would have been something of a coup to get a not-very-highly-regarded city councillor to address a roomful of sodomites, but courting the homos is on everyone's to-do list today. We have votes! We have money! We're are friendly! So maybe there is the wiener-in-bum hurdle to get over, but it's surprising how inconsequential that can seem when we also happen to vote and shop.

So, a friendly word of advise to a friendly organization. You've got Mayor Mel Lastman coming to speak on April 12. Just remember -- he needs you more than you need him. Hide the fart-catchers.

Toronto Police clippings... [Fiona Stewart]

Created: March 6, 1999
Last modified: March 8, 1999

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