Over the past few weeks, there has been a fair amount of coverage in this paper around the demand for a police apology over a series of arrests during the early 1990s of men charged with having sex in the washroom of the Village mall.
The issue has led to editorials and commentaries, letters to the editor from both sides of the issue and a series of resignations from the board of St. John’s Pride, from which the demand for an apology originated.
While it is important that we examine our history and acknowledge the impact certain events have had on our community, it is unfortunate those involved chose to take such an adversarial approach that fails to focus on today’s reality as opposed to the prevailing social situation at the time.
To begin with, the entire “Village washroom scandal,” as it was termed at the time, could have been handled better by all involved. The media, as has been acknowledged in an editorial from this paper, would have handled their coverage differently if this happened today. The management of the mall could have taken a different approach and banned those involved from shopping there in the future. The police were certainly doing their job in conducting their investigation; however, it would be naive to assume that there was no homophobic sentiment among its members at the time, considering that the Brian Nolan complaint against the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary — which was later upheld by the Police Complaints Commission — occurred in the same year as the washroom arrests.
During this time period, the AIDS crisis was ongoing and there was a lot of fear around this disease which was associated by many in our society with gay men. The Mount Cashel tragedy was still fresh in people’s memories and the abuse of boys by adult men also fed into a mistaken association with gay men which fuelled any homophobia that was already present. When a complaint was made by the parent of a boy that he’d been approached for sex in the Village washroom, it is not surprising that police responded in such a forceful manner and they would have rightfully been severely criticized if they had not.
On this point, I agree fully with the police in pursuing any complaint of child sexual abuse to the fullest of their abilities. While we as adults all have our “rights,” our most important responsibility is the protection of our children, and this is and should always be held paramount when weighing whose rights are respected in any situation. While I continue to fight the myth that homosexuality and pedophilia are linked in any way, I must acknowledge the primacy of protecting children, and while no pedophile was identified in this case, there was a child that was affected which started the investigation, and this comes first.
There have been a lot of positive changes since the early 1990s for our community, and we should put our energies into maintaining and further enhancing these developments. Back then, we were still a very marginalized group, which contributed to the decisions of these men to seek sexual contact in such a secret and marginalized location. This is no longer the case, and men who desire sexual contact with other men have access to a wide variety of avenues to meet this need.
Most importantly, our police force and the LGBTQ2 community have worked together to build bridges of understanding and co-operation over the intervening years which have led to the police wanting to be involved with our celebrations, having openly gay members serve within the force and actively recruiting new members from within our community. This progress is something to be celebrated during Pride, and banning police today would undermine the work of those who built these connections, motivated in part by the climate that led to the Village washroom arrests.
I hope that the new board of St. John’s Pride sees it this way as well.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at email@example.com.