Saturday, June 14, 2008

Anyone and Everyone

Flipping around the TV tonight after coming home late, I happened upon a riveting documentary on PBS called "Anyone and Everyone". It was made by a Colorado mom with no filmmaking experience after her son came out to her. As a film, it is no work of art, but the interviews it features, with parents and young adults from communities that have a particularly difficult time dealing with the issue of homosexuality - Chinese immigrants, Mormons, Catholics, Puerto Ricans, Cherokee, Baptist, and more - are so incredibly moving, it is impossible not to watch.

What unites these diverse stories is both the hopefulness of the parents who have embraced their children, and their incredible sadness when their extended families are unable to join them there, for cultural or religious reasons. It was absolutely gut-wrenching to watch a middle-aged Republican Mormon mom talk about how her eventual acceptance of her son's homosexuality created a deep rift with her own parents, who just could not bridge the gap and understand that their grandson, upon whom they had doted until he came out, was now a gay pariah in his own church. The division was so strong, that when their daughter was married, the grandparents could not be invited because the bride did not want to deal with their prejudice about her brother on her wedding day. The mom also described going to a funeral with her daughter for one of the girl's high school friends, a young man who had struggled privately with his orientation but who just couldn't come to terms and come out, and who finally killed himself from despair. She says that as she sat in that church watching the friends and relatives of this young man truly grieve his loss, she wondered if they understood how their powerful attitudes about homosexuality had constructed the societal box that eventually suffocated him.

It shocks me that such a film still needed to be made in 2007, but as one Seattle lesbian put it, not everyone gets to live in a big city on an American coast. This film is for those folks and their families. For the 25% of gay youth who are thrown out of the family home when they dare to reveal their true selves to the very people who should most protect them. For the 40% of homeless youth who are on the street because they have been abandoned by those who should love them. For the Matthew Shepards who are beaten to death by their peers simply because they are different. For the kids who get stuffed in lockers and called "fag" and "queer" in high school. And for the kids who despite all of this, are still able to be honest and true to themselves. And for the families who sometimes have to choose, and who choose their child over all others.

The trailer for this extraordinary film can be seen here:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Make It Stop!


This is what I'm talking about. Quick, how many aggravating features can you find in the photo?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Taking a bite out of history

This morning I joined friends for brunch at the Wildcat Cafe here in Name of Town Withheld. I love the Wildcat - so much so, that I have made it a point to eat there as much as possible, every summer for the past 19 summers. Today, however, I made the trip down to Old Town against my better judgment, because I intend to boycott the Cafe this summer, in protest of management's arrogance in tampering with a valued historic site.

The Wildcat Cafe is a landmark. It was the first restaurant anglo-Canadian settlers to these parts built, back in 1937. In the early days, bush pilots, prospectors, trappers and miners gathered at the Wildcat for a good meal after days or weeks out in the field. The hotel next door was where these guys usually stayed, and the Wildcat was the centre of the small Northern universe then expanding between the Wars.

As the city prospered, the Cafe fell into disuse, eventually closing up in the 1950s. It was about to be demolished in the 1970s when the Old Stope Association was founded by a group of volunteers to refurbish the Cafe and recognize its historic significance in what had been the commercial heart of the City back in the 30s and 40s. Since 1979, the Cafe has been open from Victoria Day to Labour Day, serving Northern fare to locals and tourists alike. Such is its place in Canadian history that a full scale replica can be visited at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

In 1992, the Wildcat was designated a City Heritage Building, and there is a bronze plaque affixed to its outer wall recounting its history to all passersby. The City owns the Cafe, and the non-profit Old Stope Association handles the operations side. The City also receives input from the Wildcat Cafe Advisory Committee, whose mandate is to promote the successful, cost effective
operation of the Wildcat Café as a living heritage dining establishment.

Every couple of years, the City puts out an RFP asking local business persons to bid to operate the Cafe. Last year, a fellow who markets himself as "Chef Pierre" and who owns several other Gallic-themed establishments in Name of Town Withheld, won a two-year contract. What has irritated me (and not just me, I'm discovering), is his insistence on Gallicizing the Wildcat to become "le Wildcat Cafe" in all his promotional materials, including menus and T-shirts, and his advertisements in the local paper.

I understand that he is doing this in accordance with his bigger "branding" approach, so all his businesses conform to the same French theme. And if this were a new establishment, I would have no problem with it, because I do like his other operations. No, what irritates the bejeepers out of me about this move is the complete lack of respect for the history of the place. French people have never played a significant role in the Wildcat's history. It's original founders were anglo-Canadians. At its most popular, in the 1940s, it was owned and operated by a Chinese fellow who did not change the name from its original. In fact, through all of its various incarnations, ownerships, and menus, it has remained steadfastly the Wildcat Cafe. Until now.

Had Chef Pierre bought the Cafe, perhaps I wouldn't take such offence to his arrogance, but he doesn't own the Cafe, the City does. It is already a brand - a tourist-friendly log cabin seen in hundreds of photos all over the world. There is no room for him to squeeze out a tried and true brand to insert his own. His failure to understand why people have their knickers in a knot is the most annoying of all. Perhaps in addition to boycotting the Cafe this summer, we should take to referring to all his other businesses by anglicized names - it wouldn't completely have the same effect, but I expect it would irritate Chef Pierre that we were messing with his marketing brand. Perhaps then he would come to understand some of what the fuss is about.

So where is the City in all of this brouhaha in the local media? Is it asserting itself as owner and insisting Chef Pierre conform? Nope. As per usual practice, the City has been incredibly quiet through the spring, making no public comment, and sitting on its hands while the citizenry objects. Surely a living heritage establishment deserves better than this abdication of responsibility by its public owners?

A parting word to Chef Pierre - for a man so interested in Gallicizing the North, surely you know that, if you're really serious about making the Wildcat French, it really ought to be "le chat sauvage" ? Do it right, or don't do it at all.