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Purdy and Kennedy

A battle for same sex rights

U of C professor joins fellow activists and speaks out

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The night began at Metro Boyztown, a gay bar in Calgary, and was opened by a brief video clip from The Santa Clause 2. The five minute scene portrayed Tim Allen as Santa Claus, proposing to the future misses Claus played by Elizabeth Mitchell. Following this, the lights came on and the guest speaker began his lecture. Incredibly calm and beset with a striking charisma, Kevin Alderson, author of Same Sex Marriage­--the Personal and the Political, opened his book launch with a brief yet memorable line.

"We are all raised to believe in fairy tale weddings." His point is that most people have the opportunity to make that fairy tale come true, while homosexuals grow up realizing that their dreams will never maternalize.

The pains and grave injustices suffered by the homosexual community are widespread. They are also the basis for Alderson's third book, which he co-authored with Dr. Kathleen Lahey.

The book is more directed at heterosexuals than homosexuals. Lahey's portion outlines the legal and political aspect of same sex marriage, while Alderson's focuses on the personal. Alderson hopes the stories of 22 gay couples throughout Canada will inform the heterosexual majority about the hardships of same sex unions.

"When I started doing these interviews, I got really passionate about the topic," says Alderson.

He recalls breaking down during one interview when he asked one of the couples what it felt like to be the first gay pair to have their union recognized in British Columbia. Alderson was overwhelmed as the man replied, "it was the first time in my life that I felt like I was being treated as fully equal."

This led him to write with extreme passion, while trying to relay the emotional depths of 44 gay individuals. The finished result--a successful and informative book on same sex unions.

Alderson, who came out in 1993, currently works as an Assistant Professor in the Division of Applied Psychology at the University of Calgary. His passion for defending gay rights has garnered him immense respect, as was evident by the crowd's reaction to his forceful words. During his presentation, he vocalized his strong belief in the legalization of same sex marriage and his dissatisfaction with the way that society has acted toward the queer community.

"People live in fear so they don't come out. And then when they do, they're knocked down for it," says Alderson. "The heterosexual community needs to do its own work. Each individual needs to look inside and see how much prejudice they've applied to gays and lesbians."

Alderson also spoke of specific events in the last 50 years, depicting the non-acceptance of homosexuals in Canada.

In 1965, Everett Klippert was imprisoned for being gay and was described by the Canadian Federal Court as a dangerous sex offender. It was not until 1973 that homosexuality was de-classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, and just last week a female couple in Lethbridge briefly kissing on the lips at a local pub were told immediately to stop by a staff member who deemed their behavior unacceptable.

Not only did Alderson describe these events as extremely unjust, he blatantly disagreed with the persistent arguments banning same sex unions.

Regarding the promiscuity, family and religious arguments, Alderson had only two things to say.

"That is all a load of shit," he proclaimed, erupting a cheer from the audience.

"It is time to let gays and lesbians show society that they're capable. Not doing so is continuing to treat grown adults like children."

He also pointed out that the fight for same sex marriage is not a fight against religious institutions. Once gay marriage is legalized, certain religious groups can then choose to marry homosexuals, thereby expanding religious freedom. He emphasized the urgency for people to understand the issues and the arguments before making decisions.

Personal Enlightenment

Alderson's book, Same-Sex Marriage--the Personal and the Political, and his general ideology are applauded by the gay community and supported greatly by prominent individuals such as Keith Purdy and Rick Kennedy, both of which attended his book launch.

Following Alderson and Lahey's book premiere, I was fortunate enough to speak with the humble yet incredibly powerful couple. In many ways, this was my first opportunity to witness exactly what they had written about; a first hand experience watching and listening to two individuals speak about their trials and triumphs as two homosexual men. The interview hit me hard and allowed me to realize, for the first time in my life, the difficulties that homosexuals face.

Purdy, who has been with Kennedy for 14 years, is currently running for the position of MP of Calgary South Centre in the upcoming election. The pair have filed two human rights suits, one in 1999 and one in 2004. Their first case, seeking gay equality within the workplace was won, while their 2004 fight for a marriage licence is ongoing.

Considered the "power couple" in Calgary's homosexual community, both Purdy and Kennedy recall being together and knowing that it would be a long time before their's could be recognized as a legitimate union before the government.

"It was so frustrating," said Purdy.

"We just wanted to make a real commitment to each other and I don't understand how that creates a degradation to society."

In 1992, Purdy and Kennedy partook in a civil ceremony before family and friends and although Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec have passed laws permitting same sex marriage, Purdy foresees a long struggle before he may legally marry his partner in Alberta.

"Every day we are reaching milestones and those milestones need to be recognized," proclaimed Purdy.

"Things are changing, just not as fast as we'd like but you have to be patient," he added.

Purdy places a large emphasis on educating the public, and applauds individuals such as Alderson for making the move to do so. It is the actions and positive mind frames of activists such as Kevin Alderson and Keith Purdy that provide much of the gay community with the hope they need in the battle for equal rights.

In the eyes of all three men, all it takes is a little knowledge and a willingness to understand homosexuals and accept them as regular individuals.

"Much of the hetero community has wanted to keep us invisible because they are afraid to realize that we're just as good of people as they are," said Alderson.

"Categorizing people into these little boxes isn't good for anyone."--A lesson that I learned in a single evening of open conversation and communication.

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