Calgary play explores the life of the last man in Canada jailed for being gay

A new play premiering this week at Sage Theatre explores themes of love and staying true to your beliefs.

Everett Klippert was locked up in the 1960s

The case of Everett Klippert, the last Canadian to be jailed for being gay, spurred the decriminialization of same-sex acts between consenting adults. His life is the focus of a new play, Legislating Love. (Submitted by Kevin Allen/Klippert family)

A new play premiering this week at Sage Theatre shows love can't be legislated.

Written by Natalie Meisner in conjunction with the Calgary Gay History Project and Third Street Theatre, Legislating Love tells the story of a fictional gay historian and her partner as she researches real-life Calgarian Everett Klippert — the last man jailed in Canada for being gay.

Klippert was a well known and well liked bus driver in Calgary covering a route through downtown in the early 1960s.

"He was also everybody's favourite uncle, he did a lot of community service, he was just this all-around, really, really sweet and gentlemanly fellow who was looking to help everybody out," Meisner told The Homestretch.

"The one thing that set him apart though, was he was attracted to, and admitted to being attracted to, other men."

That led Klippert to be charged with gross indecency and sentenced to four years in jail.

"Any kind of intimate act, at all, with someone of the same sex at that time could have you charged and sentenced to jail," said Meisner.

"What would usually happen is if you were questioned, you were forced to deny that you had feelings for someone of the same sex because you could face violence, you could lose your job. The laws at the time didn't protect you at all."

Playwright Natalie Meisner in the Homestretch studio. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

Meisner said Klippert wasn't at all ashamed of being gay.

"He did not seem to feel that what he was doing was wrong and he actually tried to explain to authorities how he felt," she said.

"He said to them, 'put the shoe on the other foot … if you're a gentleman attracted to a woman, how would you feel if you had to take it the other direction?' He was so reasonable and so well spoken about it, that was one thing I thought set him apart."

When he was released from jail in 1964, Klippert moved north, having found work at the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada, later renamed Cominco Ltd., near Pine Point, N.W.T.

Everett Klippert was sentenced to remain in jail indefinitely, but was finally released in 1971. He died in 1996. (Submitted by Kevin Allen/Klippert family )

About a year after he arrived there, police were looking into a suspicious fire, and while questioning Klippert — a routine part of the investigation — he admitted to having had relations with men and was charged with four counts of gross indecency.

"At that time, another really unfortunate thing is he wound up being sentenced as a dangerous sexual offender and this was really odd, this was just for acts that were consensual with other men," said Meisner.

"The only reason they sentenced him this way is he admitted his attraction to other men, so they thought, if he gets out of jail, he will likely seek out contact again."

The fact Klippert kept his sense of humour throughout his dealings with the court system is another attribute that drew Meisner to his story.

"I was lucky enough to look at some of his papers and some of his writings and he kept his faith in human nature," she said. "He would still try to make you laugh or try to find the bright side of things."

Everett Klippert (right) is shown with his brothers in this family photo. (Submitted by Kevin Allen/Klippert family)

Two years after the law had been changed in 1969, Klippert still hadn't been released.

That wouldn't happen until 1971, after two appeals were rejected by both the  N.W.T. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Canada.

He died in 1996 at the age of 69.

The play runs March 22-31 with performances starting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. There will also be an additional matinee at 2:30 p.m. on March 24.

Tickets for the evenings shows are $30 for adults and $20 for students and seniors. Matinee shows are $25 for adults and $20 for students or seniors. Tickets can be booked online.

With files from The Homestretch