I was born in Montreal in 1947, and grew up there alongside two brothers, John and Ron (an identical twin). I attended Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) for one year, and then completed (in 1969) my Honours B.A. at Carleton University in Ottawa. I then went to The University of Michigan for my M.A. and Ph.D., completing the latter in 1975.
My doctoral thesis was on the politics of language difference in Canada and Belgium. This work was a natural product of my growing up in Montreal during the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. My supervisor was the remarkable Robert Putnam, and I was his first doctoral student.
During my undergraduate and graduate student years, I was drawn to activism, and particularly to feminism and progressive critiques of social class inequalities. I was not yet ready to be completely open about my being gay, and paid remarkably little attention to the growth of a courageous gay liberation movement.
In 1974, I joined the faculty of the University of Toronto’s Political Economy Department (later Political Science). Within a few years, I became part of a feminist network of faculty members at the U of T., participating in the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women, and in the development of sexual harassment policies.
In my early years at the University, my intellectual work began taking in questions of political economy and gender inequity. These, and my earlier interest in language-based conflict, were combined in the 1980s preparations for my first book on a small town in eastern Ontario.
My first gay-related activism, in 1979, was with The Body Politic, a monthly magazine/newspaper with an international reputation. I worked first on fundraising, and on the management of a legal defence fund raised in response to obscenity charges. The massive Toronto police raids against gay bathhouses in 1981 intensified my community activism, and I joined the Right to Privacy Committee as the manager of their large legal defense fund. I became more and more involved over the next few years, also joining the Citizens’ Independent Review of Police Activities, serving for a couple of years as its secretary. By the early 1980s, I was fully “out” at the University, and elsewhere. Some years on, I met the man who remains my partner - Gerald Hunt (who for years taught in the Human Resources Management department at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management). We met through an activist colleague and long-time friend - Dennis Findlay.
In 1985, I began teaching a course in “sexual politics,” combining my interest in the politics of sexuality with long-nourished interest in gender. I was also more prepared to be a public figure in the activist community, acting as the coordinator of a coalition successfully pressing for the addition of sexual orientation to the Ontario Human Rights Code (1986). From this time on, I was open to media contacts, and and for some years was a source of commentary on questions of sexual diversity, as well as gender and the role of religious faith in politics.
The late-1980s brought a shift of my gay-related activism to the U of T campus. I participated in a number of initiatives, including the establishment of the Positive Space campaign, which has now spread to many other campuses and institutions across North America. In the early ’90s, I was part of a small group of faculty members who felt the need to expand curricular offerings on sexual diversity. Then in 1997, as Vice-Principal of University College, I appointed a committee to design an undergraduate minor in sexual diversity studies, which was then launched in 1998.
By the late 1980s, most of my academic writing was focussed on gay/lesbian politics, and in particular on the movement of sexuality issues into mainstream politics in Canada, the United States, and Europe. My first article reflected on the role of social movement activism in the campaign to add sexual orientation to Ontario’s Human Rights Code - a campaign in which I was intensely active. The second was a very early exploration of patterns in public attitudes toward homosexuality (with Scott Bowler). The third was on homophobia in England, following extended visits to that country during the period of high Thatcherism while my partner Gerry was working on his Ph.D. at Bath University. Following that work, I began research on the first of two large book projects analyzing LGBT gains and losses in North America and Britain.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was heavily involved in administrative matters in my home department of Political Science. For a brief but intense term, I was teaching assistant coordinator, and then graduate director and associate chair (until 2005), all under the remarkable leadership of Rob Vipond. For six months in 2001, I also served as Acting Principal of University College, filling in for Paul Perron. I have been happily associated with UC since the early 1980s, and until my retirement I was the “custodian” of a splendid office on the main front corridor of that wonderful building. (I now share an office designated for retired faculty still interested in being in and around the College.) I have a keen interest in the structure, as I do in architecture more generally (an interest I share with my partner and with my twin-brother, who is an architect and social planning activist in Montreal).
From 1999 to 2001, I was a member of the governing Council of the American Political Science Association, and pleased to be associated with a movement to broaden the scope of the Association’s academic journals, and the diversity of articles published through them. I had already been an active member of the LGBT caucus of the Association, and had co-authored a report on the status of sexual minorities in the Political Science profession. Some years earlier, I had also helped establish the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Studies Association, which for a time organized annual academic conferences. Before that, I had served on the board of directors of the Canadian Political Science Association, and in subsequent years I was involved in equity issues within the CPSA.
My most challenging administrative role within the U of T was the directorship of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. The Centre was created in 2004-05 to reflect the dramatic growth of the SDS undergraduate program, and our expanded ambitions for the future. I served as director until 2008, by which time we had created a specialist and major program at the undergraduate level, a collaborative graduate program at the masters and doctoral levels, and an active program of conferences, visitors, and public seminars. I served as Acting Director of the Centre in the second half of 2012, filling in for Brenda Cossman, who had so energetically filled the shoes I vacated as Director. The Centre named me Director Emeritus in 2013.
My academic work on sexuality has included some writing on the extent to which unions in Canada, the U.S., and Europe have taken up equity issues - following in the pioneering footsteps of my partner Gerry on labour’s take-up of sexual diversity issues. I have also been writing about religion and politics, in part as a result of needing to understand the politics of religious conservatism in North America and Europe. Along with two research associates, Jerry Sabin and Paul Thomas, I completed a book on Religious Faith and Canadian Party Politics, published by UBC Press (2017). Following that, I undertood research on Muslim response to sexual diversity in Canada and the United States, in collaboration with friend and colleague Momin Rahman (Sociology, Trent University).
I formally retired in June 2013, and decided that I would stop teaching at that point. This was not because I didn’t enjoy teaching, since at its best it is an exciting and energizing privilege. On the other hand, I have always experienced that part of my occupation as immensely stressful, frequently taking me on an emotional roller coaster reflecting what I perceived to be the quality of my classroom delivery. I wanted to be off that particular ride, and focus more on other things. Research projects I had already committed to kept me busy for several years, and more informal writing on social history would gradually take up time on their completion.
In 2014, I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a designation honouring overall academic achievement. Don Ainslie, Principal of University College, spearheaded the nomination with the support of the Political Science Department, and I don’t mind saying I was moved by being thought worthy.