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Sage Theatre examines the persecution of Everett Klippert and the struggle for self-acceptance in Legislating Love

“There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” said Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1967.

Now, in 2018, it seems unfathomable that this could have been the case, but the practice of trying and convicting homosexuality for “gross indecency” — a crime punishable by imprisonment — continued in Calgary until 1969. Everett George Klippert was the last person to be convicted of this in Calgary, his sentence of two years being upheld even though the law changed shortly after he was incarcerated. Now, Sage Theatre is presenting local playwright Natalie Meisner’s Legislating Love, which is a look at the circumstances around the conviction as told, primarily, through a history professor attempting to learn more about Klippert’s life, and, through parallels in her own life, learns how the stigma and reaction to homosexuality pervades to this day.

“There isn’t a lot of information about (Klippert),” says Kathy Zaborsky, who plays the historian, Maxine. “This historian has a lot to grapple with because there’s just these really cold pieces of paper, so who was this guy? That’s her mission, and in this mission she also has to confront her own feelings of shame and her own feelings of not wanting to be who she is.”

Maxine’s life is consumed by her research on Klippert, but her own personal issues with being gay begin to surface upon meeting and falling in love with Tonya, an unashamed Métis lesbian standup comedian played by Jenn Forgie.

Klippert’s undoing wasn’t so much that he was an unsavoury character — quite the opposite. It was his honesty and loyalty that led to his incarceration. “He was honest about it,” says Zaborsky. “He wasn’t looking to be an activist in any way, he just didn’t want to live dishonestly. So when the police brought him in for questioning he admitted that he was attracted to men.

Forgie further explains, “You could look at it as, ‘There’s your mistake,’ because (admitting it) is what did it. There were lots of insinuations around him — is he a pedophile? — and he could have said nothing … he was well-loved.”

The contrast between the two lovers embodies shame vs. pride, with their present-day relationship somewhat mirroring that of Klippert and his love interest, played by Matt McKinney. Zaborsky acknowledges the parallels.

“Everett Klippert has a relationship in this play with the gentleman that I am interviewing, so in terms of those parallels fuelling each other, absolutely. So what’s happening in their relationship is mirroring in some ways what is happening in ours. And my uncovering of those things (is) mirroring what is happening in my real life right now and it’s that thing about life happens when you’re looking the other way, because I’ve got this huge load of doing reverence to the story as Max the historian. But that’s the time when I meet the woman of my dreams, when I don’t have room for that, but also it’s the best time, and that’s how life happens all at once.

Forgie continues the thought. “Also the hiding their shame, their clandestine meetings had to be and so we are, or at least most definitely Tonya, is like a pull out of that to, ‘This is who we are, this is who I am, deal with it.’ And I like that Max gets to have, not the voice, but the internal homophobia that goes on as well in the world, so there’s the internal self-loathing and it happens not just in the queer culture but also in Métis culture because one of the biggest things about a lot of Métis people’s journeys is this: ‘Do I fit, where do I fit, how do I belong?’ That’s the same language that a lot of queer people have – ‘How do I fit in this world, how do I fit in this life?’ ”

And although it’s a story about Klippert being persecuted for being homosexual, it also has a more universal theme. “In some ways,” says Zaborsky, “it’s like a story of growing up and being who you are. For Max, that’s always been a struggle, and that is the goal for this character.”

Playwright Natalie Meisner had long wanted to write about Klippert, and it was through a collaboration between Third Street Theatre and the Calgary Gay History Project that it came together and is now being presented by Sage Theatre. Legislating Love runs until March 31 at the West Village Theatre.

(Photo of Kathy Zaborsky and Mark Bellamy in Sage Theatre’s Legislating love courtesy Sage Theatre.)

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Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at kari@theyyscene.com.

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