By Linda Wegner
The recent Queer City Film Festival held in Regina, Saskatchewan, did not go unnoticed or unchallenged by members of the Christian Truth Activists. On opening night, May 8, 2000, eleven protestors stood outside the main branch of the Regina Public Library where the event took place. On Saturday, May 13, 20 people took part in a second rally.
Regina resident Bill Whatcott, organizer and spokesperson for the activists, alleges film content included material depicting lesbians raping children, men sodomizing dead corpses and “pretty sick hard-core gay porn.” He also alleges that members of the gay community acknowledged the controversial content of the films but contended that the material needed to be shown to the public and discussed.
A major source of concern to picketers was the involvement of SaskTel, the government-owned provincial telecommunications company. Because of a donation made to the Saskatchewan Arts Council (which participated in funding the festival) by SaskTel, it was targeted by protestors and later by participants in several radio talk-shows.
According to Whatcott, the two-day protest was effective in bringing attention to funding issues and in generating nation-wide negative publicity to the event. In his opinion, results of that publicity included an outpouring of indignation by Saskatchewan residents towards the Saskatchewan Arts Council, SaskTel and the Saskatchewan government.
Talk-shows on three local radio stations generated a lot of phone calls, says Whatcott. Although actual figures are not verified, Whatcott believes that listeners were solidly opposed to the funding.
“I would say that [radio talk-show] listeners were probably twenty to one against their tax money going to this thing. It definitely left a sour taste in the mouths of SaskTel,” he continued.
“The protest made it [the festival] the number-one news item in Regina for at least two evenings,” he said. “The Regina Leader-Post newspaper showed the signs I carried … I was quite happy with that.”
“It was the protests that generated all the media coverage,” he believes. “As people learned about it, they started calling the premier’s office and the Saskatchewan Arts Council demanding that these films be defunded.”
Whatcott expressed appreciation for coverage provided by CBC, Global and CTV television and radio.
“I had a friend who was driving through Montreal and he said that he heard me talking on the radio,” Whatcott said. “A pastor in Toronto saw the coverage on CTV so my interviews went right across the country.”
While obviously disturbed about the festival, sources of funding and the lack of censorship regarding film content, he acknowledged that no one from the gay population harassed or threatened him.
“Not even one person called me to express anger,” he said. “I had about six or seven messages on my answering machine from people I didn’t know, but all of them were thanking me for leading the protest.”
Whatcott says the lack of “vicious and threatening messages” is in contrast to treatment he received while leading similar protests in the Toronto area.