It's so hard to fight "nice." Especially for homos, I think. We are, even in these finer times, somehow subliminally still aware of all the little hairline cracks in the ice on which we walk. So when those forces we have learned to fear suddenly up and want to make nice, well -- we feel good about it. We want to be nice right back. You feel like such a jerk otherwise, so out of step socially, so, well, gauche -- a state few self-respecting homos would risk.
"Nice" is the challenge presented by police chief Julian Fantino's second annual Pride Week Reception, held June 18 at Wilde Oscar's, a gay bar on Church south of Wellesley.
The invitation was nice -- the crest of the Toronto Police Services Board, in gold, on a medium-weight, cream-coloured card, requesting one's presence "in recognition of Toronto's Gay and Lesbian community," with an RSVP, no less, to constable Judy Nosworthy, herself distinguished by being one of only a handful, she says, of out gay people on the force.
The food is nice. (The cash bar is not -- look, if we can afford those helicopters, the coffers would probably extend to an open bar.)
Fantino is more than nice. He is classy. He has grown considerably in sophistication, in public ease, in media savvy since first we met some six years ago, when I covered the so-called "London kiddie-porn ring" for the Globe and Mail.
Gone is the starchy, stolid, deer-in-the-headlights persona he conveyed when out of his depth -- and back then he seemed out of his depth a lot.
This afternoon he's not afraid to wear the colourful beaded necklace somebody hands to him. He jokes with high-drag mayoral candidate Enza Supermodel, accepting her present of a bright pink dress shirt and a single high-heeled shoe, his quips spontaneous and lighthearted. He remembers my name, six years later. He scolds me, classily, for tracking after him vulture-like with notepad in hand. (He's right. I'm wrong. I hate that.)
He circulates with ease, a handshake here, a winning smile there, a few moments of gravity and serious discussion if that seems called for.
God, it's nice. It's all so nice. The force has even thought to bring along "Blinky," the cutely anthropomorphized police car, to sit on the street for the delight, presumably, of any children who might happen by.
Even the intimidation elements are discreet and reasonably well managed -- although I do think three officers on horseback are perhaps two more than is strictly necessary, and the eight or so officers across the street happen to be lounging pretty much in front of the entrance to the Spa on Maitland, which some of us see as a bit comically indelicate, given the history of police interaction with gay bathhouses in this city.
That history, of course, is not nice. So I am pleased to see U of T professor David Rayside, whose own niceness credentials are impeccable, zero in on the chief with the tough questions about the police raids on the Bijou (a sex club) and the Pussy Palace (lesbian night at the baths) that have been vexing police/gay community relations for months.
If Fantino thinks this isn't a very nice topic to pursue at an afternoon reception, he doesn't show it. He says both sides are working to resolve the problem. That hopefully relations will improve. "But," interposes Rayside, "you have to speak out on these issues."
Fantino counters with the notion that his very presence here is a kind of speaking out, that he can't be expected to "turn a switch that would address all the issues," that the force is making a "significant commitment." And then he is swept away on a passing cloud of niceness exuded by other well-wishers in the crowd.
Later, in his speech, he'll say that there is nothing "pretend" about his presence here, that his commitment to better relations is "real and tangible," that there are "goodwill" and "honourable intentions."
Perhaps. The fact remains, though, that the aforementioned raids happened on his watch, after a period of relative calm under the previous chief, and that simple fact is quite enough to undermine protestations of goodwill. Not that it isn't important that Fantino turn up for events like this one. It is. He should get to know this community, hands on.
And it's even all right for these receptions to be nice if, as one observer there tells me, "the smiles and the goodwill on a nice evening like this don't gloss everything over."
Always the danger, one could not help but think, as Julian Fantino's 90 minutes with us ends, and his limo sweeps him away and Church Street returns to abnormal.
You can tell he and his mounted entourage have been here, though. There's still horseshit on the street.