Everett Klippert was a beloved Calgary bus driver who, when confronted by police about his sexuality, refused to lie, and as a result became the last Canadian man imprisoned for being gay.
In the play Legislating Love: The Everett Klippert Story, Klippert’s real-life story is interwoven with that of fictional present-day Maxine, who discovers him while researching social policy and navigating her own new relationship with Tonya, a Métis comedian. The result is a poignant examination of queer love through different generations.
Calgary-based playwright Natalie Meisner was commissioned to write a play that looked at queer history and local queer history in particular, and Meisner thought of Klippert. “His story was fascinating and seemed to be a great entry into understanding the complicated and often difficult lives of the people we began calling our Queer Elders,” she says.
Meisner, a professor of English and Director of Changemaking at Mount Royal University, worked with Kevin Allen and Tereasa Maillie of the Calgary Gay History Project, examining court documents, Canadian policy and laws, and archives.
“From there, we were very lucky to have been granted access to Mr. Klippert’s personal papers, diaries, letters, and writings by kind members of his family,” Meisner says. “This personalized the story and brought into focus a way to light up history, to craft it in a way that makes a compelling play for audiences.”
As well, while writing the play, Meisner had the chance to consult with and hear the stories of many Elders and seniors in the LGBT+ community. “It was great to see how the telling of this story made them feel visible in culture,” she says.
Legislating Love premiered with sold-out performances at Calgary’s Sage Theatre last year, has been accepted for the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival, and will be produced as one of 12 downloadable radio plays in the Alberta Queer Calendar Project.
“Members of Mr. Klippert’s family attended the show and were moved by our portrayal of the uncle they loved,” Meisner says. “His story through this play touched so many lives, and we are all really happy to be a part of this as it moves forward.”
The play not only tells the story of a dark period in Canada’s history, but also of resilience in the face of persecution. “This play does not shy away from the hard edge of the way LGBT+ people were persecuted. I witnessed this personally as I saw a beloved uncle who was a wonderful father lose custody of his child, purely for being gay,” Meisner says.
Klippert lost 10 years of his life and much more. “But the thing about him that really captured my heart,” Meisner says, “was that he held onto his humanity and his love for others. He even held onto his sense of humour. In his papers I found a book of limericks that he had written while in jail. The resilience and determination he displayed and love for his fellow humans, even while they were persecuting him, was incredibly inspiring.
“I also loved that he refused to be ashamed in an age where shame was used (and I guess it still is) as social control.”