Fort McMurray - it's easy to forget when you're strutting down Church Street that the victories celebrated in the Big Smoke are mere fantasies in the hinterland. Think Alberta, but think specifically this oil town, a four-and-a-half-hour drive north of Edmonton, where I've been living for the past 13 months. Ever since that gay marriage decision came down a few weeks ago, Albertans and everyone else in Canada who relishes a good train wreck have been treated to the spectacle of Premier Ralph Klein threatening to launch constitutional nukes. At a local level, while Edmonton's mayor proclaimed Pride Week last week, he made it clear he didn't want to be doing so.
And closer to my adopted home, I've been watching a spectacle of my own unfold. A young gay kid in Fort McMurray was murdered nearly a year ago, the victim of a gay cruising tryst gone tragically wrong. The accused and the victim met on a gay Internet chat line, which seems apropos in a place where you probably wouldn't want to be loud and proud and out. Chad Bath, the accused, is alleged to have bludgeoned his young companion to death, hitting him on the head with a rock at least seven times.
Consider where this is happening. This oil sands city exists solely to feed and house workers and transport south the heavy oil that's mined and occasionally refined at giant plants north of McMurray. These are mostly big young manly-man men living in appallingly close quarters or visiting the city for the weekend after a couple of days working in the camps. Not exactly a gay-pos landscape.
There was no Pride Week proclaimed here. And McMurrayites seem deeply uncomfortable with the facts of the murder, whose trial wrapped up Friday. The newspaper I work for sat on the story after reporting the murder itself. The prevailing sentiment is that it would have been easier to report it if it had been a gay-bashing incident. After all, if it had been a bashing, there wouldn't have been any gay sex to write about.
Not that anyone needed the paper to tell them it was a passion crime. The rumour mill in a community of this size churns the crap out in record time. The victim's family, who didn't know their 19-year-old son was gay, had to endure the nastiness.
None of this is surprising when you consider how people like Ralph (everyone here just calls him Ralph) and Edmonton mayor Bill Smith were Sturming-und-Dranging about stuff you're celebrating back there in Toronto. In this land of big oil, big trucks, big money and hung-up men, there will be no feathers and boas. Count on it, because sometimes it blows in the hinterland, and not in the good way.