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In Memoriam
 
In Memoriam: Laurier LaPierre (1929-2012)
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/18/12
Last updated on: 12/18/12
 
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Laurier LaPierre, an influential broadcaster and Canada's first openly gay Senator, died on December 17, 2012 in Montreal. A former McGill University history professor, he came to national prominence as co-host of CBC Television's controversial current affairs program This Hour Has Seven Days in the 1960s. After declaring his sexual orientation in the 1980s, he became a gay activist. He was appointed to the Senate in 2001 by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. He served until reaching 75, the mandatory retirement age for senators, in 2004.

LaPierre was born into a poor family in Lac-Mégantic, Québec. He attended St. Michael's College, where he earned a B.A. in 1955. He received a Ph.D in history from the University of Toronto in 1962. He subsequently wrote several books about Canadian and Québécois history.

This Hour Has Seven Days, a current affairs program that mixed news, interviews, documentaries, commentary, and satire, often raised the ire of critics and CBC executives and he ultimately was fired for expressing his political views.

His co-host on the program, Patrick Watson, remarked that in LaPierre "There was this extraordinary combination of the serious journalist and historian, and the playful challenger of conventionality and stuffiness, and he was able to range though both in a single interview with extraordinary skill and grace."

After coming out publicly in the late 1980s, he became an activist with the gay rights group EGALE.

While in the Senate, LaPierre became a passionate advocate for the rights of aboriginal peoples, as well as for glbtq rights. He also repeatedly expressed support for former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's vision of a Canada in which bilingualism flourished from coast to coast.

He sponsored Bill C-250, which protects glbtq people from hate speech and propaganda. In 2004, when the bill was being debated, to make a point he sent emails to an avowed Christian who opposed the bill, stating, "You people are sick. God should strike you dead!" and "In a book that is supposed to speak of love, you find passages of hatred. You should be ashamed of yourself for reading such books!"

LaPierre ultimately apologized for the emails, but he had effectively made his point about the dangers of hate speech and the seriousness of hate crimes.

As Matthew Hays points out in the Canadian gay magazine Xtra!, LaPierre published an article in the magazine in 2009 in which he recalled the elation he felt when Pierre Trudeau decriminalized sodomy in 1969.

"Free at last," LaPierre wrote. "That's how I first felt when I heard the news." But he was quick to add that "unfortunately, the feeling did not last very long . . . At first, we all thought the bill had decriminalized homosexuality . . . However, it soon became clear that [it] had only decriminalized certain limited actions."

"We've come a long way since Trudeau partially decriminalized gay sex 40 years ago," LaPierre continued. "We have built community, come out in droves, connected with each other, demanded and obtained equal rights. We even won the right to marry.

But, he added that while "Gay kids today are adjusting and coming out more easily, . . . many teachers still think like Queen Victoria and many young people still grow up with the message from parents, teachers and religion that sex is sinful and gay sex is worse."

If our society is to truly liberate sexuality, gay and straight, we have to talk about sex, LaPierre contended. "We need to discuss the essential value of expressing the totality of our bodies, of our attractions and desires."

LaPierre was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1994.

He is survived by his long-time partner, Harvey Slack, two sons from an early marriage, and several grandchildren.

In the video below, LaPierre addresses the 2001 Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

 
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