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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Wilde City Press is celebrating Gay History Month with authors offering a series of posts. Here’s mine…

I celebrated enthusiastically with the rest of those who love equality when veteran basketball player Jason Collins came out in April of this year. It was a brave thing to do, even if Collins was in the twilight of his career with no contract for the following season. (And I’m not aware of any contract interest in Collins for the coming season.) His coming out was billed as the first for an active major league athlete, but that isn’t strictly true.

From 1976 to 1978 Glenn Burke played for the LA Dodgers, and came out to his teammates and the club owners while an active player. Everybody knew. When asked, team captain Davey Lopes said nobody cared. In 1978 Burke was traded to the Oakland A’s, where he sustained a knee injury before the 1980 season, when Billy Martin was manager. Martin did care. He was notoriously homophobic, frequently using “faggot” in the locker room as an insult. That injury was the end of Burke’s career. The A’s sent him to the minors, and and then released him before the end of the 1980 season. Burke died of AIDS-related causes in 1995. He was 42.

But between between Burke’s coming out and Collins’, there was one other that provides the real arc of my piece, and it’s the one I want to focus on. It was a huge turning point: the short life of Brendan Burke, who came out with his whole career still ahead of him.

In November 2009 Brendan Burke, son of Brian Burke, then the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, came out publicly, having come out to his family two years earlier. At the time, Brendan Burke was a sophomore at Miami University in Ohio, an athlete and student manager for the his school’s hockey team, the RedHawks. His team supported him fully, and the press coverage was consistently supportive, almost as if the sportscasters had been waiting for permission to state their support in the issue. Burke gave them that permission.

The NHL and the NHLPA (Players Association) were emphatic that the NHL was ready for out gay players. Toronto PFLAG championed Burke’s story as an object lesson in the importance of family support for someone coming out.

Just months later, Brendan Burke was killed in a car accident–February 5, 2010. He was 21. The full roster of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Miami RedHawks attended his funeral. On February 6, the RedHawks named Burke honorary first star of their game against Lake Superior.

His high school erected a statue in his honor, and USA Hockey established the Brendan Burke Internship, an annual award given to a recent college grad pursuing a career in hockey operations. The CBC made a documentary, “The Brendan Burke Legacy”. The Stanley Cup even appeared in that year’s Chicago Pride Parade, when Brent Sopel used his personal day with the Cup to honor Burke.

Brendan’s older brother Patrick, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, helped create the You Can Play project in March of 2012. Please check out their website, and if you can, donate.

“We have players from around the world, and a lot of those players are from countries that are seen as more progressive on LGBT issues,” he said. “So I don’t think it’s unreasonable or strange to think that the N.H.L. and the N.H.L.P.A. are driving this, in part because our players tend to be more comfortable with this issue.”

While I’m still looking forward to the day when a watershed change in social awareness of queer equality issues doesn’t require the death of a Matthew Shepard or a Brendan Burke, I’m grateful for the response to their tragedies. And truth be told, I’m proud of the NHL and NHLPA for being the first major league organizations to go on record as being unequivocally welcoming of out gay players.

Late last week I submitted my latest novel, The Companion, to Toby Johnson at Lethe Press. He’d said earlier this year that he wanted to see the full when it was ready, so off it went. I can attend GayRomLit in Atlanta next week with my desk clear (figuratively speaking only!)

Jim Frey, whose workshops I’ve attended for several years, is adamant about having a clear premise for a novel. I’m a believer. Somehow, having a one-sentence cause and effect statement describing the story keeps me on track while I’m writing. It’s my litmus test as to whether a scene is superfluous or relevant to the story: does it support the premise? If yes, then it belongs. If no, then I need to cut it out.

For The Companion, which is a metaphysical mystery/romance (how’s that for an obscure niche?! It seems to be the one I’m wired to occupy) I settled on “Courage leads to self-understanding and love.”

The story is about Shepherd Bucknam, Shepherd a daka (erotic coach) living in current-day Los Angeles. He’s haunted by recurring nightmares he believes predict his violent death. When his protégé is murdered he becomes involved with Marco Fidanza, the investigating officer. The trauma of his friend’s murder and the heat of his developing relationship with Fidanza plunge Shepherd deeper into his spiritual journey, forcing him to face the terrors following him from a past life before he can break free and love fully in this one.

I’m feeling pretty good about the story. I’ll find out whether Lethe feels it’s a good fit for them.

This year has been one of unprecedented productivity for me, and I’m thrilled about that. Two fiction titles in 12 months: Enigma, and The Companion. It took me nine years to complete The Darkness of Castle Tiralur, but that included about five years when I ignored it, first in favor of drinking and then in favor of recovery. Then Traveling Light took about five years from start to finish, writing in my spare time. After I retired from day jobs it took me only two years to write Blood Royal, and now these two titles in one year.

I don’t really think I want to produce faster than that, but if I can write one solid novel or a couple of short stories a year, I’ll be satisfied. I know some authors write a lot faster than that, and more power to them, but I’m not in a race with anybody.