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Reaffirming Fundamental Values in Dark Times

Activist, scholarly, and administrative strands of my life have come together lately around Everett Klippert, the last Canadian jailed for consensual gay sex. Shortly after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Klippert’s sentence, the Parliament of Canada – it was the era of Trudeau père – partially decriminalized sodomy, in 1969. Events around Klippert have reminded me of the importance of building community and speaking up about fundamental values.

Fellow LGBTQ alumni and I had been planning a fundraising campaign to endow an entrance scholarship in the McGill Faculty of Law for students having shown commitment to working with marginalized members of LGBTQ communities. Its working name was the more generic Pride Scholarship, but we were happy to land on the idea of remembering Klippert. The compliance department within University Advancement insisted on obtaining consent from his next of kin, so I tracked down Klippert’s niece. We had a long talk about her favourite uncle.

For several months, then, our committee of volunteers has been reaching out to LGBTQ alumni and sharing news about the effort through social media. It’s indisputably a grassroots effort. Individual gifts range from $50 to $10,000, many from first-time donors. Law firms Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, Juristes Power Law, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison have matched donations from their lawyers, in whole or in part. I am struck by the change in professional culture, as I remember discussions with students about a decade ago on whether or not to be “out” when applying for jobs. Now, firms (at least some) tout their efforts towards diversity.

While I am grateful for all gifts, a couple are especially touching. An alumnus’ mother has donated. A straight businessman – whether or not he would describe himself as an “ally” – responded privately to one of my tweets. He gave $5,000, saying that our initiative’s statement is important in the current environment. Our exchange came shortly after the synagogue massacre in Squirrel Hill and anti-immigrant rhetoric was rising during the final days before the U.S. midterm elections. One might also think about American efforts rolling back trans people’s rights. Or about the Quebec government’s promise to legislate regarding religious symbols worn by teaching and other public servants ostensibly in positions of authority.

Though the Klippert initiative resonates specially for me as a gay man, it fits into a larger strategy on McGill Law’s part. For instance, two of this year’s reunion classes directed their fundraising towards establishing bursaries for Indigenous students. The Class of 1983 will name its bursary for a former dean, the late Rod Macdonald. Such awards directly help their recipients. We hope they also send a broader message of inclusion.

I mentioned that the Klippert initiative has joined several strands for me. In September, I appeared on Egale Canada’s behalf before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The hearings bore on Bill C-75, the government’s proposed reform to the criminal law. Among other things, it will abrogate section 159, the Criminal Code’s provision on anal intercourse.

I expressed concern that the bill should reach further, for instance, repealing provisions on bawdy houses. The pardon mechanism doesn’t reach far enough either. In other words, the bill as drafted won’t fully translate the guarantees of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms into law. These reforms will follow the first Trudeau’s liberalization of the criminal law in matters of morality by a half-century. In my scarce hours of research time, I hope next term to write a paper about that earlier reform’s legacy.

In what has sometimes appeared a dark autumn, marked by forces of intolerance and hatred, I have been grateful for precious moments of solidarity.

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