I have a few stories to share with you about New York City and what it was like for me to discover it at the tender age of 15. Let me preface my memories by first explaining how it was that I ended up there. The late 70′s and early 80′s were very important pivotal years for gay rights in Toronto. There use to be a a gay bar called the St Charles on Yonge St., Toronto’s main strip.
Somehow a “tradition” was started every Halloween when HUNDREDS of homophobes would line the opposite side of Yonge, directly in front of the bar, chanting and throwing eggs and water balloons at every single person coming out or going into the St Charles. We’re talking hundreds of people, and the cops refused to do anything about it. Can you imagine? The motherfuckers! Because Halloween brought out a large number of drag queens in all their regalia, they were an easy target.
This went on year after year! At 14 I wasn’t yet aware of the oppression or the hatred directed at the gay community, I mean I knew it was wrong and I knew it was there but I hadn’t yet articulated the seriousness of it. I also wasn’t aware of the history between the gay community and the Metro Toronto Police Force, I didn’t know anything about the years of constant harassment, or that it was encouraged by those who should have been discouraging it. And so by the time the “raids” went down the deep resentment and the justifiable mistrust the gay community had towards the police had already been established.
They’d taken so much abuse for so long and were just itching to blow. One more little push was all it would take before people started pushing back. The fuzz raided 4 bathhouses early one morning, smashing in doors, beating people and parading them in front of their fellow officers once they got to the station. Then the bastards released the names, the telephone numbers and the addresses of every single person caught in the raids. That was it.
The gay community fought back. From out of nowhere hundreds of angry man and women came from every direction, hurling bottles, rocks and sticks or anything they could get their hands on. By the time that demonstration of unity was over, Toronto’s gay community had found their voice. It was also during this time that Anita Bryant began spewing her hatred and her stupidity. She was on the news every night, shooting her mouth off and telling parent about the danger of gay teacher’s teaching their children!
She was obsessed with telling everyone that young boys who were vulnerable were easy targets for recruitment. Then something happened. Something so vile it threatened to destroy any progress, no matter how small, the gay community had made. Emmanuel Jaques was a 12 year old boy from Portugal who went downtown every weekend to shine shoes and make a little money for his family. He had the whole set up, the chair, the shoe polish etc.. then one day a man lured him to the roof of a sex club where two other men were waiting. They raped, sodomized tortured and murdered this young boy.
As you might imagine the entire country was horrified, as was everyone in the gay community. But it didn’t matter how much we cared or how sorry we were because this crime was just what the homophobic Anita Bryant’s of the world had been praying for…proof that gay people are sick pedophiles. It was in the middle of all this insanity that I decided to come out. This happened on a Saturday morning in 1977, when I was 14 years old.
On the afternoon of the following Monday my father told me to get in the car. I had no idea why or where we were going, I sat there silently with tears rolling down my face as we turned off the main road and onto the grounds of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. Telling me to get out, my father handed the nurse a small plastic bag of clothes through the open window of the car and simply drove away. He’s never spoken to me since, no one in my family has.
This was not Shady Pines, this was an industrial strength nuthouse with all the yowling screaming nutcases there to prove it. I’m sure you must be wondering what this has to do with New York? Well, it was from the hospital that I ran away to New York! I had eight long months to have a good look at the layout of Lakeshore. When my chance came I took it. So there I was on the streets of New York City at 15 years old. I have so much to tell you about New York. And I will.
But for now let me say that for all the living I’ve done in my life and for all the drama, good and bad, some objective truths I discovered about New York back then still remain. The West Village became home to me, the people, the sights and the sounds I experienced there were exactly what I needed. I did my best to forget the pain I’d left behind and New York was the perfect tonic. That city, specifically the gay community, swept me up in it’s welcoming arms and since then has never let me go.
I was a young scared broke homeless runaway from Canada and New York was all I needed to heal. And heal I did. I can’t wait to visit you and filling in the blanks. I’m sorry if anyone thinks I’ve been disrespectful by not focusing on just New York City itself, but I thought a bit of background was important because it demonstrates just how powerful New York is, that I could find solace in a place I’d never been to, a place I didn’t know.
That even after all the horrible things I’d gone through at home, New York and it’s people went a long way in helping me understand that I wasn’t the sick perverted fag my family kept telling me I was. New York City ushered me into a place of warmth and acceptance. I couldn’t wait to discover the people, the bars and the clubs..I use to love stopping at The Silver Dollar on my way home from the clubs, Oy vey, always lots of gossip and laughter! New York was a whole new world and I was ready for it.