Toronto comedian and activist Derek Forgie got inspired to start Heterosexuals for Same-Sex Equality (HSSE)—a gay-rights group founded by people who identify as straight—from the unlikliest source: 100 Huntley Street. On a particular episode in 2003, the hosts and guests were denouncing gay marriage seemingly on the behalf of all straight married couples in Canada. “I didn’t feel this was a fair representation of my country,” Forgie says, “and I vowed to prove it in numbers.”
Even though Forgie felt passionately about starting the group, he took his time and did some networking and research to make sure the gay community didn’t think it was inappropriate for heterosexuals to try to promote gay rights. “My number one fear was,” he says, “are we something that is incorrect, uncalled for, and insulting?” So he sought advice from many people, including Torontonians Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, the first gay couple in the world to be issued a government marriage certificate (their journey is depicted in their book Just Married). The overwhelming sentiment from everyone, including Bourassa and Varnell, was that the group could make significant strides for the cause simply because its members would be less intimidating to people who are homophobic. So, after four years of careful thought and preparation, Forgie and his friends officially launched HSSE in July 2007.
Heterosexuals for Same-Sex Equality members at the 2007 Pride Parade.
In the short time since its inception, the group’s steering committee of ten people, which includes Tessie Burton—Forgie’s wife of five years, high school sweetheart, and fellow member of sketch comedy troupe Press, Release, Repeat—has already begun giving free “Straight Not Narrow” acceptance seminars at high schools in Northern Ontario, where Forgie and Burton are from. They’ve also been to demonstrations, and this year marks their third appearance in the Pride Parade. With the help of their Heterosexuals for Same-Sex Equality Facebook group, word is spreading (more than 3,500 members and counting).
While the group’s name might suggest that HSSE is made up of only heterosexuals, that’s not the case: the group welcomes anyone and everyone who believes in gay rights to join and support them in “bringing our message of tolerance and understanding to society by correcting misinformation…which negatively affects civil rights surrounding same-sex issues.”
In order to bring their message to more people and begin other efforts such as communicating with government, the group needs two things: the first is to increase their number of supporters to show how many people feel as they do about same-sex issues. The second is to raise funds to cover travel expenses and materials. On Tuesday, May 19 at 8 p.m., HSSE will be holding their third annual comedy fundraiser Straight Ahead Laughs 3 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre hosted by Andrew Johnston and featuring Toronto comedians Debra DiGiovanni, Winston Spear, Levi MacDougall, and Nathan MacIntosh; comedy burlesque acts The Cinnamon Hearts and Miss Cherry Temple; and Forgie’s very own sketch group Press, Release, Repeat. Tickets can be bought online at T.O. Tix, by phone at 416-975-8555, or in person at the Buddies box office. You can also march with HSSE in this year’s Pride Parade on Sunday, June 29 at 2 p.m.
All photos courtesy of Derek Forgie and HSSE.