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social sciences

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Hawkes, Brent (b. 1950)  
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Hawkes has taken public stances to protest discrimination against glbtq people. For example, in 1981 he went on a hunger strike after the infamous police raids of four bathhouses frequented by gay men. In the course of the action at the private clubs, police caused extensive damage by breaking doors, shattering windows, and ripping down artwork before arresting twenty men for keeping a common bawdy house and more than 250 others for having been found therein. Almost all of the men arrested in the bathhouse raids were eventually found not guilty, but not before enduring considerable indignity.

Hawkes continued his fast for 25 days, ending it only when the city council directed Daniel Hill, the adviser to the mayor's committee on community and race relations, "to look into the disagreements between the police and the gay community," an important step because the city of Toronto took official recognition of its large glbtq population.

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In later years Hawkes continued his efforts to educate Toronto law enforcement personnel, lecturing at the Charles O. Bick Police College to make recruits aware of the issues and concerns of the glbtq community.

Among those who supported Hawkes during his fast was John Sproule, a computer programmer, who had recently joined the congregation. Their relationship deepened, and before the fast ended, they had become a couple.

Hawkes has been a highly visible advocate for glbtq rights, speaking at rallies and participating in demonstrations.

In 1994, for example, he was in the gallery of the Ontario legislature when the body defeated the government's same-sex benefits bill. He leapt to his feet, shouting, "This is an absolute outrage! Shame! Shame!" When some two hundred other gay and lesbian proponents of the bill joined the outcry, police moved in aggressively to force them downstairs and out of the building. In the resulting fracas, several people were knocked down--Hawkes among them--but he took the lead in exhorting the group to leave in an orderly manner so that no one would be injured. He subsequently criticized the behavior of the police, saying, "Their attitude in terms of rushing the crowd on the stairs was totally inappropriate. If this wasn't such a gentle community, it could have started a riot."

After years of activism for equality, Hawkes ran for political office, standing for election to parliament as the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate for the Toronto riding of St. George-St. David in 1995. In a hotly contested three-way election, he ran third but still lost by fewer than 1,000 votes.

Seeking equal rights for same-sex couples is a cause for which Hawkes has worked long and hard. He and MCC Toronto became an intervener in Egan and Nesbit v. Canada, a case in which longtime partners Jim Egan and Jack Nesbit sought the same spousal pension for Nesbit that members of opposite-sex couples receive under the Old Age Security Act. The case, first filed in 1988, dragged through the legal system until 1994, when the Supreme Court of Canada, in a puzzling decision, ruled 5-4 that the definition of "spouse" in the Old Age Security Act was indeed discriminatory under the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but by the same margin denied Nesbit a pension.

Hawkes took on the issue of same-sex marriage in December 2000 by announcing plans to marry two couples--one gay and one lesbian--the following month. Provincial officials routinely refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but Hawkes cited a provision in the Ontario Marriage Act that offered an alternative procedure, the reading of banns. In this ancient Christian custom, the names of a couple desiring to wed are read at church services on three consecutive Sundays. If no one raises a valid objection to the union, the marriage is solemnized by a cleric.

Under Ontario law, upon receipt of documentation of the nuptials, the provincial Registrar General was to record the union and issue a marriage certificate.

On the day that the weddings were to take place, Erika Kubassek, a self-proclaimed "prophetess of the Lord" with a history of protest activities, disrupted the regular morning worship service by loudly reciting Bible verses that she claimed condemned homosexuality. When Hawkes asked her to stop, she shoved him, at which point a security guard intervened and removed her from the premises, still shouting and tossing pamphlets.

It was in this atmosphere that Hawkes presided at the double wedding of Elaine and Anne Vautour and of Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell on January 14, 2001.

The church was filled with family and friends of the couples, and more well-wishers gathered outside to show their support. Because of the earlier incident, Hawkes wore a bullet-proof vest under his clerical robes, and several dozen Toronto police officers were on hand in case of trouble, but only six protesters showed up before the ceremony. The demonstrators were not only outnumbered by the police but also by journalists, at least sixty of whom came to report on the marriages.

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