About Canada: Queer Rights shows that Canuck queerdom is not all rainbows and wedding bells.
By Mark Ambrose Harris
Peter Knegt understands there’s no rest for the wicked. Associate editor at Indie Wire, part-time contributor to Xtra!, Exclaim, and Variety, one-time jury member at film festivals in Copenhagen and Reykjavik, and full-time supporter of Wynona Ryder, Knegt has a full but fabulous plate. Now, he can add ‘author’ to his list of credentials. As part of Fernwood Publishing’s series About Canada, Knegt has written a pithy guide called Queer Rights that documents the historical lineage of gay and lesbian life in Canada. Fresh from his TIFF interview with Madonna, I caught Knegt during a brief calm-before-more-storms to speak about his new book.
How did you take such a vast subject and make it succinct?
My main goal - and honestly the greatest challenge - was to make this book as inclusive as possible. This is really just an introduction that intends to lead readers into other directions. It was important to make it as comprehensive as 143 pages could possibly allow, and that’s a significant challenge. Basically, I tried to organize it in a way that would give some consideration to every subset of queer issues in Canada: Youth, health, the media, law reform, immigration, the religious right. These are all very important histories that remain quite problematic today.
You write “While same-sex marriage - in all its heteronormativity - may be legally available, same-sex sex is still clearly a point of discomfort.” How can this get better?
It’s tough. Of the legal issues that remain, many of them relate directly to actual sex acts. In my opinion, marriage is much easier for people to swallow, in that it’s a regressive step toward conforming queer sex into this heteronormative package. Sometimes I feel like significant progress regarding queer sex is still a long ways off, or that we might even be going backwards, especially with our elected politicians and their chosen judiciaries becoming more and more conservative.
What has to come first, changes in social values, or changes in the legal system?
Throughout the history of Canadian law reform with regard to queer rights, the narrative of what comes first has varied. But if we want things to change, two things need to happen: We need to get the Conservatives out of power as soon as possible, and even more importantly, Canadians who believe in things like a uniform age of consent law need to be vocal in their protest.
After having written this book, how do you view the role of oral histories in queer rights?
I ended up interviewing upwards of seventy people from across Canada, some on the phone and some in person. Hearing the stories of these men and women who had seen and done so much was intensely inspiring. I remember sitting across the table from activists like Tim McCaskell, Kristyn Tam Wong, and Gerald Hannon, and feeling floored by what they had to say. These people have devoted so much of their lives to advancing the rights of queer people at times when things must have felt relatively hopeless. As someone who began their official queerness at a time when so much groundwork had already been laid, it honestly made me feel lazy and apolitical by comparison. But it also pushed me into the research, and made it clear that there’s no greater way to learn about any kind of history than by simply speaking to the people that were a part of it. My book very much encourages seeking those experiences out. No matter what ends up being written down on paper, it’s never going to compare looking into someone’s eyes as they tell you their story.
About Canada: Queer Rights
by Peter Knegt
Fernwood Publishing, 2011
143 pages, $17.95 Join Peter Knegt at the Montreal launch of Queer Rights, on Monday, September 26, at Drawn & Quarterly. The author will speak about his experiences writing the book and answer questions from the audience.