Tuesday, 23 December 2014


My column on past year’s heroes and zeros originally ran in the January 2015 issue of Fugues magazine.

Here is my 19th annual column of the past year’s heroes and zeros. 

Hero Pope Francis, for encouraging a Synod draft to state “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.” 

Zero The Vatican and Pope Francis, for backtracking on the Synod’s “Homosexuals has gifts” statement after coming under furious assault from conservative Catholics. 

Zero Luca Magnotta. Enough said. 

Zero The organizers of Ottawa’s Capital Pride, who ran that city’s Pride festival into the ground with an $106,000 deficit in 2014. 

Hero Toronto, for hosting the world at their kick-ass World Pride 2014 festival. 

Heroes Brewers Guinness, Heinekin and the Boston Beer Co. (maker of Sam Adams beer), for pulling out of the New York and Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parades because both parades refuse to allow LGBT marchers. 

Zero Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, who finally died. Good riddance.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


Jett's white Melody Maker guitar has been covered with various stickers over the years, including "Gender Fucker" and the black and blue Leather Pride flag

She may sing otherwise, but the truth is Joan Jett does give a damn about her reputation. That’s why we know so little about her, and so much.

She cemented her legend status with her 2006 comeback studio album Sinner on the Vans Warped tour when fans and critics alike re-evaluated Jett’s hugely important place in rock’n'roll.

"It’s very humbling that anybody will accept you at all," Jett told me at the time. "It’s overwhelming. I tend to deflect it because I don’t know how to deal with it."

This week Jett was among those announced in the 2015 class of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "I'm flabbergasted," Jett told Rolling Stone. "It can be really hard sometimes to assess myself. I'm living it and it's hard to step back and see the larger picture in terms of what the music industry thinks of me."

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


Janis Joplin (Wikipedia)
With news this week that the long-awaited Janis Joplin biopic Get It While You Can will begin shooting in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2015 starring Amy Adams as Joplin and with Dallas Buyers Club director and Montreal native Jean-Marc Vallée at the helm, I thought this was a good time to remember Joplin by some of those who knew her best, from many entertaining all-star interviews I've done over the years.

Donald K. Donald

For instance, legendary Montreal impresario Donald K Donald – a.k.a Donald Tarlton – got into the rock promotion business by accident backstage at the old Montreal Forum one night in 1968 when rock legend Joplin puked all over the shoes of Tarlton’s mentor, renowned local promoter Sam Gesser.

“It was the beginning of the rock’n’roll era and Sam had a hard time relating with the culture,” Tarlton, then 25, told me some years ago. “He hired me as the stage manager. Janis was drunk and threw up all over his shoes. Sam was horrified, looked at me and said, ‘Donald, you can take over all the rock stuff.’ And that was it. I became the rock promoter of Montreal.”

Tarlton’s memory of Janis backstage is one of many Joplin anecdotes I’ve collected over the years. So, 44 years after Joplin’s death (from an accidental heroin overdose, on October 4, 1970), I’ve dug up a few.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


The 24-foot long painting Welcome to the Studio: An Allegory for Artistic Reflection and Transformation by Kent Monkman

Montreal’s McCord Museum this week acquired Welcome to the Studio: An Allegory for Artistic Reflection and Transformation by Kent Monkman, an internationally renowned out-and-proud Canadian artist of Cree ancestry.

The work was created in 2013 as part of the Museum’s Artist-in-Residence program and was exhibited from January 30 to June 1, 2014.

Monkman’s massive 24-foot-long painting focuses on the relationship between photography and painting and was inspired by the work of William Notman, one of Montreal’s premier 19th-century photographers, and French painter Gustave Courbet, leader of the realist movement.

Welcome to the Studio also comprises more than 30 portraits by Notman, chosen from the McCord Museum’s Notman Photographic Archives of some 600,000 photos.

“The project started [in 2013] when we started looking at photographs, which I began to study six months later,” Monkman told me earlier this year. “It took about two months to do the painting.”

Saturday, 4 October 2014


Bugs (pictured here with John Giorno) interviewed John Giorno for the January 24, 2008, cover story of Montreal's HOUR magazine

John Giorno remembers the moment he met Allen Ginsberg like it was yesterday. It was 1958, and they were both attending a reception at Columbia University where Giorno was a student and editor of The Columbia Review.

Giorno idolized Ginsberg, a Columbia grad whose landmark 1956 poem Howl is one of the principal works of the Beat Generation, along with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch.

"When I first read Howl I was a 19-year-old gay man in 1950s America and Allen was the first writer to reflect my mind," Giorno recalls today. "I didn’t see Allen standing with his back to me, but his elbow was sticking in my rib. My girlfriend said, ‘There’s that poet you like.’ Well, he liked young boys and I was a poet and we started blabbing. He liked me. Then there was this [other] guy who put his chin on my left shoulder and it was Jack Kerouac! He’s tanned and three inches from my face."

Giorno laughs.

"I was just awestruck – On the Road had come out a year earlier. I was speechless. He looked like a tanned Marlon Brando! He leaned forward and spoke in my ear and I’m thinking, ‘Jack Kerouac’s lips have just touched my ear!’ I still don’t understand what he said!"

Giorno, now 72, would become lifelong friends with Ginsberg, Kerouac and later Burroughs, so much so that the internationally acclaimed poet has become known as one of the last living sons of the Beat Generation. "I’m a bit younger than all of them, that’s why I’m a son. But it’s one of those meaningless titles."

Saturday, 23 August 2014


Peter Tatchell getting arrested by Russian police at the 2007 Moscow Gay Pride march (All photos courtesy Peter Tatchell)

Bugs’ interview with Peter Tatchell originally ran in The Montreal Gazette.

Legendary British activist Peter Tatchell has been a thorn in the side of countless homophobes over the decades, everybody from the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, to the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

But arguably some of the biggest-name homophobes who despise him most are notorious anti-gay Jamaican reggae dancehall superstars such as Sizzla, who wrote the 2005 hit song Nah Apologize about LGBT activists – and in particular, about Tatchell and myself.

Peter Tatchell
Tatchell’s international Stop Murder Music campaign successfully targeted Sizzla who then told me in an explosive 2004 Hour magazine cover story that went global, “Once we stoop to sodomites and homosexuals, it is wrong! Wherever I go it is the same thing – burn sodomite, burn battyman … We must get rid of Sodom and Gomorrah right now.”

That sensational interview made international news, including on the pages of Jamaica’s national newspaper The Jamaica Gleaner where I was also trashed in an op-ed. Then in his song Nah Apologize, Sizzla repeats in the chorus, “Rastaman nah apologize to no batty bwoy!”

Tatchell clearly remembers that turbulent era when many dancehall stars were targeted by the Stop Murder Music campaign.

“It took a huge amount of effort and I personally faced many death threats, even had police protection at certain times when they informed me a hit man had been sent from Jamaica to kill me,” Tatchell says. “The upshot is today the prevalence of murder music is much less than it was. We hit them where it hurts them most – in their wallets, when all those concerts got cancelled around the world.”

You might not know it from his in-your-face political tactics, but Tatchell’s political inspirations are Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst and Martin Luther King. But there is no question that Tatchell – who staged the first-ever LGBT rights protest in a communist country, East Germany, in 1973 – is also inspired by the likes of Malcolm X.

Thursday, 19 June 2014


The LGBT Rainbow flag was created by Gilbert Baker in 1978

Bugs’ interview with Gilbert Baker originally ran in Daily Xtra.

The Rainbow flag is recognized by millions of people around the world as a symbol of gay liberation. But ask Gilbert Baker – the Rainbow flag creator and veteran American gay-rights activist – how he feels about his international phenomenon and he is quite modest.

Gilbert Baker (Photo via Facebook)
“The first time I saw the rainbow flag on a flag pole was amazing, but what makes a flag a flag is that it’s not mine; it belongs to the people,” Baker says. “It is torn from the souls of the people. So much art is all about branding, but mine – the Rainbow flag – it’s not about me.”

Which is why when people discover who Baker is, the love he gets is pretty much unconditional.

“I’ve been a grand marshal in New York, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Key West, Vancouver, a lot of cities, and I never get tired of it,” he says. “Each and every time I find it emotional because people exude such love, wave after wave. People love the flag, and as creator of the flag, I get a lot of love.”

Saturday, 31 May 2014


Bubble butt! How to face the enema

Gay guys have been “manscaping” this since video revolutionized porn. But only after straight men got into the act (thanks to women demanding their boyfriends look more like Jeff Stryker than John Holmes) did some heterosexual editor or pundit sit down and invent a new word for it.

How do I know it was a straight person?

Well, frankly, fags don’t invent words like "manscaping." We invent terms like "Betty Bouffant" (someone with big hair), scare-do (a hairstyle that frightens children and the elderly), and Scare-ella (an unattractive person).

But I digress.

"Your people really don’t like body hair," my father cracked when he attended his first follicle-free Gay Pride parade many years ago.

(And when all he saw were twinkies and steroid queens guzzling from Naya bottles, he quipped, "Doesn’t anyone drink beer anymore?")

While body hair, thankfully, has made a comeback, on the eve of this summer’s Pride season I do believe one should not parade around town half-mowed. If you’re going to wax, scrub and pluck your way into some studmuffin’s bed, make sure he doesn’t get razor burn while giving you a blowjob.

I clip my chest and groin, and I wax my back, especially if I’m going to the pool. Last week at my Kuwaiti waxist, I was not surprised to learn that her number of male clients getting wax jobs is on the rise.

I even referred a straight friend (Hi Max!) to her after he e-mailed me. "Hey Bugs – not to stereotype or anything, but… I need to get waxed for the beach (going on vacation on Sunday). Any place you can recommend that, um, services guys?"

Actually, speaking of male hygiene, with the amount of barebacking going on at the tubs and via online connections these days, if you’re stupid enough not to use a condom, there’s more than just AIDS to worry about. If your partner is bottoming out and hasn’t douched, you may get "painted brown", and that’s just plain disgusting.

"I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there (either as a top or a bottom)," porn star Michael Lucas wrote on his www.lucasblog.com website. "All of a sudden, what was a hot fuck turns into a smelly embarrassment. Your nose starts to wrinkle and it hits you – first the smell, then the utter humiliation."

Lucas continues, "You know that pulling out now could be disastrous. What do you do? …Do you say something? Or do you continue to fuck, ignoring the big brown elephant that’s just squatted in the middle of the room?"

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


Joe Rose, who founded Dawson College’s Etcetera Club, was murdered on March 19, 1989.

Click here for Bugs' original story on Joe Rose in The Montreal Gazette, and here for an expanded  version in Fugues magazine.

The murder of Joe Rose will be commemorated at a demo outside the Frontenac metro station in Montreal, on International Day Against Homophobia, on May 17, 2014, at 4 p.m. Click here for the Facebook event page.
How the murder of Joe Rose politicized a generation of LGBT activists who changed the face of Montreal ...

Joe Rose had pink hair. That’s a detail people tend to remember about the young man who was stabbed to death in Montreal in the early-morning hours of March 19, 1989.

Rose had boarded the No. 358 eastbound bus at Atwater métro and was headed to the east-end AIDS hospice where he lived when he and his friend Sylvain Dutil were taunted and attacked by a group of teenagers.

“Faggot!” the teens shouted.

As the bus approached the Frontenac métro station, Rose, who was 23 years old, was kicked, struck on the head and stabbed to death.

Sunday, 27 April 2014



This interview with famed porn director Toby Ross originally ran in Three Dollar Bill on September 25, 2008. It has been updated. Ross has also just published his hugely entertaining Toby Ross and the 70's: An Erotic Memoir as an E-Book on Amazon.

I love porn and longtime readers know I believe porn is healthy. Over the years I’ve interviewed many of its players, old and new, from directors Chi Chi LaRue to Flash Conway, but few as insightful as director Wakefield Poole, whose 1971 film Boys in the Sand is generally considered to be the first widely available gay porno.

Porn legend Toby Ross, circa 1976
Photo courtesy Toby Ross
“What changed, what I did, was the marketing,” Poole told me some years ago. “We marketed Boys like a legit film. We put an ad in The New York Times. My God, it was unheard of. I think the Times didn’t know what they were putting in the paper because later on they refused us.”

Turned out Boys is also the only X-rated porn film reviewed by The New York Times, not to mention the first porn film to include on-screen credits for its cast and crew (though many were assumed names). Boys was also the first porn film to parody the title of a mainstream movie, 1970′s The Boys in the Band.

Then came Toby Ross, whose 1975 classic Cruisin ’57 is one of the great porn films of all time.  

Monday, 14 April 2014


North America's premiere Madonna female impersonator Jimmy Moore of Montreal wowed Madonna's inner circle at the Bell Centre (All photos courtesy Jimmy Moore)

I remember once sitting next to New York drag legend Lady Bunny as we were watching renowned Montreal female impersonator Jimmy Moore doing a drop-dead impersonation of Madonna, when Lady Bunny leaned into me and said, “Wow, she looks just like Madonna! It’s all in the eyes.”

Madonna’s longtime manager Guy Oseary
and Jimmy Moore at Montreal’s Bell Centre

That’s pretty much also what Madonna’s longtime confidante and manager Guy Oseary told Jimmy Moore, who  wows audiences with his onstage impersonations of such divas as Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Lady GaGa and – especially – Madonna.

Frankly, the man IS Madonna.

And Moore was welcomed into Madonna’s VIP gold section when the Material Girl headlined Montreal’s Bell Centre in August 2012. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps died on March 19 at the age of 84

Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps died on March 19 at the age of 84. He died just before midnight in Kansas, suffering from 'health problems' related to his old age and was being cared for in a Shawnee County facility.

Nathan "Nate" Phelps
Three years ago, his son Nathan Phelps - who escaped the family and church 37 years ago, the minute the clock struck midnight on his 18th birthday - told me, "It’s an evil thing when a human being laughs at you during such a tender, painful moment in your life. They say sticks and stones can break your bones, but the reality is words do the most damage. It’s longest-lasting and often cannot be undone. When someone like my father deliberately steps in to injure someone else, that’s a pretty good definition of evil."

London's Daily Mail reports, "Nate Phelps said his father was excommunicated in August 2013 from the church for advocating more kindness toward its members."
Read my full Three Dollar Bill interview with Phelps' son, Calgary-based LGBT civil rights activist Nathan Phelps, by clicking here.

Follow me on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.


Monday, 24 February 2014


No Oscars for Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind The Candalabra

Bugs' op-ed on the 2014 Academy Awards originally ran in the February 2014 issue of Fugues magazine.

I don’t know how much more I can take of straight film critics and audiences fawning over how brave Jared Leto and Michael Douglas are as straight men for playing, respectively, a transgender woman in the film Dallas Buyers Club and a gay man in the TV movie Behind the Candelabra.

Don’t get me wrong: Both actors played their roles to the hilt onscreen. It’s just the way they’ve acknowledged the accolades offscreen that’s really rubbing me the wrong way. 

Will Leto and McConaughey clean up at the Oscars?
Lets start with Dallas Buyers Club. Leto’s portrayal of transgender woman Rayon was transcendent, and Matthew McConaughey’s outsized performance as the real-life Texan homophobe Ron Woodroof who loves rodeo, drugs, booze and loose women – and whose chance discovery in 1985 that he has HIV and a T-cell count of 9 – is also worthy of an Oscar.

“What is largely missing is the sense that Ron’s efforts are part of a larger movement,” the New York Times review of Dallas Buyers Club pointed out, while Variety swooned over McConaughey as “a redneck bigot who becomes the unlikely savior to a generation of gay men frightened by a disease they don't yet understand.”

Really? That’s not how I remember it. 

Au contraire, it was the LGBT community that saved everybody else’s ass.

But that is also my point: Dallas Buyers Club is a movie that should have been made 25 years ago – and with a gay hero as the main character – but that this film could only be made today with a straight hero tells you everything you need to know about commercial filmmaking in Hollywood.

Like I have long said, Hollywood is a four-letter town.

Steven Soderbergh faced the same hurdles in Tinseltown when he made Behind The Candelabra, the award-winning docudrama about Liberace.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


Montreal actor Jonathan Silver portrays Ira Slatsky in Oren Safdie’s new play Unseamly (All photos by Jeremy Bobrow, courtesy www.jtsilver.com)

“You’re like this beautiful sexy chick that has every guy in your class whacking off to you! ” says the fictional character Ira Slatsky in Oren Safdie’s new play Unseamly, currently playing at Le Bain St. Michel in Montreal.

You are forgiven if Slatsky reminds you of Safdie’s cousin, Dov Charney, the notorious CEO of American Apparel who has been the target of several lawsuits involving employees, most of which have been quietly settled or dismissed. In Unseamly, Slatsky heads a clothing company known for its risqué billboards, and is charged by a former employee of sexual harassment.

Silver portrays Slatsky
Safdie is one of Montréal’s best known playwrights across North America, son of famed architect Moshe Safdie, and he divides his time between his residences in Los Angeles and Westmount where he recently told the Westmount Examiner, “There really is a sense of coming home. Despite having all my plays done in New York, it was somewhat of an obsession to be produced here. In fact, in the early days of my career, I used to bring the actors from my shows up to Montreal and put up the plays in back basement bars – places like Le Bijou in Old Montreal or DeSalvio's Club on St. Laurent Boulevard - just to get the theatre community to see my work.”

I have long thought the way women are portrayed in fashion is the same way men are objectified in gay culture, which embraces sex and also puts a premium on youthful beauty. 

As American rock star Beth Ditto notoriously complained to London’s NME magazine back in 2007, “If there’s anyone to blame for size zero, it’s not women. Blame gay men who work in the fashion industry and want these women as dolls. Men don’t know what it feels like to be a woman and be expected to look a particular way.”

Except gay men do.

“Fashion is one of the few professions where gay men and women hold the reins of power,” Ditto told me. “It’s a shame we can’t be more empowering.”

For openly-gay actor Jonathan Silver – who lives, acts and teaches acting in Montreal – playing the role of Ira Slatsky has been enlightening.

Monday, 10 February 2014


Author RM Vaughan is the "bad boy of Canadian Literature" (Photo courtesy RM Vaughan)
This interview with Canadian author, playwright and poet RM Vaughan originally ran in Three Dollar Bill on August 21, 2008. RM Vaughan will read from his new book Compared To Hitler: Selected Essays at Montreal's Concordia Community Solidarity Co-Op Bookstore (2150 Bishop Street) on February 12 at 7 p.m.

I absolutely adore Dick. Heck, life just wouldn’t be the same without Richards. Fabulous Dicks like Burton, Gere, Branson and the Queen of Rock’n'Roll, Richard Wayne Penniman (a.k.a. Little Richard).

In fact, I love Dick so much I once flew to B.C. just to have a drink at Vancouver’s fabulous live music emporium Richard’s on Richard Street.

"Where did he go?" Dad asked Mom incredulously. (My folks, by the by, named me after that other fabulous homosexual, Richard the Lionheart.)

"Richard went to Richard’s on Richard," Mom replied.

Another night, dressed in drag at Montreal’s Jello Bar (I looked absolutely stunning in my brand new blond Beyoncé ‘fro), three men stood before me arms crossed as I exited the men’s room.

"Ain’t you Richard Simmons?" one himbo snarled.

"No!" I snapped, hands on my hips (thumbs forward, of course). "I’m Richard Burnett!"

Suitably chastened, they stepped aside as I sashayed past.

The best nightclub story of all, though, was told to me this week by yet another fabulous Richard, acclaimed author and Globe and Mail columnist (for now, though, until his bosses read this anecdote) RM Vaughan, who found himself in a, uh, novel position in France a few years ago.

"I went to this bar in Paris – a sex club bar, and I had a few too many and I realized at one point I was on the bar on all fours getting it from both ends," Richard shares. "I thought I came to Paris to have an Edith Piaf experience. Instead, I had a Jean Genet experience."

Apparently I’m not the only one who worships dick.

Monday, 3 February 2014


Brooklyn artist, writer and activist Avram Finkelstein co-founded both the Silence=Death and Gran Fury collectives (Photo courtesy of Avram Finkelstein)
Bugs' interview with Avram originally ran in Daily Xtra

Brooklyn artist, writer and activist Avram Finkelstein is a legend in the AIDS movement, for co-founding both the Silence=Death and Gran Fury collectives that changed the way the world looks at AIDS.

And while the simple catch phrase “Silence=Death” and the accompanying poster have become ubiquitous — a global anthem for AIDS activists — today Finkelstein reveals his Silence=Death collective had no idea its slogan would catch on like it did and come to symbolize a movement.

“Silence=Death was designed by a collective I formed with five other friends a year before ACT UP New York even formed,” Finkelstein says. “Our poster is closely associated with the movement, but we did not know we were surrounded by this community.”

The original catalyst for Finkelstein was the death from AIDS of his boyfriend Don Yowell in late 1984. “I come from a leftist background and politicized family, so I suggested we do a poster, and we ended up with Silence=Death,” he says. “We worked for six months on that poster. It is highly massaged. At the time, William F Buckley was calling for the tattooing of HIV-positive people, and we were outraged by that. By trying to picture what a tattoo would look like [on a poster], we decided we needed an abstract image, and that’s how we ended up with the pink triangle. Once people embraced [the poster], we referred to it — with gallows humour — as ‘the happy face of the ’80s.’”

Friday, 24 January 2014


Le Journal de Montreal's front-page coverage of the police raid on Truxx and Le Mystique

The historic Montreal police raid on gay leather bar Truxx in the wee morning hours of October 22, 1977, was the largest mass arrest in Canada since the War Measures Act. Police charged 146 men with being found-ins in a common bawdyhouse. Police also simultaneously raid the neighbouring gay bar le Mystique.

“More than 50 uniformed and plainclothes police from the divisional morality, mobile and technical squads carried off the raid” in the early morning hours of Oct 22, The Body Politic reported. “The heavily armed members of the technical squad entered with bullet-proof vests and at least two machine guns.”

The 146 men arrested were held for up to 15 hours at police headquarters “while ‘compulsory’ VD tests were administered.”
Andy Warhol's portrait of Conrad Black

The next night over 2,000 LGBT people blocked the corner of Ste-Catherine and Stanley in protest, and a few weeks later, on December 15, 1977, Quebec’s National Assembly passed Bill 88, banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The law also made Quebec the second jurisdiction in the world (after Denmark) to forbid discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation

Truxx was also the site where my first mentor, the late Nick Auf der Maur — famed Montreal boulvardier, former Montreal city councillor, columnist for the Montreal Gazette and the father of Melissa Auf der Maur (rock star with Hole and Smashing Pumpkins) — brought his old friend Conrad Black, the conservative Canadian-born former newspaper publisher, historian, author, columnist and convicted felon (in the United States, for fraud).

Nick gleefully recounted to me for my Three Dollar Bill column the time he bumped into Black in downtown Montreal one day in 1978, not long after the Truxx police raid.

“Let’s go for a drink,” Black suggested.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014


Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner get hitched

Emmy-winning couple Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner got married on New Year's Eve. Tomlin, 75, and Wagner, 78, have been together for 42 years.

The wedding, reported by columnist Liz Smith, does not come as a complete surprise: Just before the US Supreme Court struck down California’s marriage ban last June, Tomlin said she and Wagner – author of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, The Incredible Shrinking Woman and other Tomlin vehicles – might get married.

A few years ago, I asked Tomlin – who had spent much of her career publicly closeted – what she would tell  gay actor or performer seeking advice about coming out.