August | Richard "Bugs" Burnett
RICHARD “BUGS” BURNETT
With the cancellation of Fierté Montréal Pride’s 2020 outdoor festival and Pride parade, which would have taken place this August were it not for the pandemic, we thought it would be fitting to sit down with a Montrealer who has had a tremendous impact on the LGBTQ+ community, not just here in our marvelous city but across the country.
Meet Richard Burnett, a Canadian writer, editor, journalist and columnist, affectionately known as ‘Bugs’. You think Montreal, you think Bugs. A remarkable human being with an abundance of energy who has been active in the LGTBQ+ community in our fair city for some 30 years.
Bugs’ trailblazing column “Three Dollar Bill” debuted in July 1996 and ran in many alternative newsweeklies and LGBTQ+ publications for 15 years. The column covered queer life and culture across Canada and around the world, and is the only syndicated LGTBQ+ column in Canadian publishing history.
“Three Dollar Bill” ruffled many feathers and Bugs received a few death threats over the years. Today, the complete Three Dollar Bill archives can be found in The ArQuives (formerly called the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives) in Toronto, the largest independent LGBTQ+ archive in the world.
People still stop Bugs on the street to share how his column changed their lives. “It never gets tired,” he says proudly.
Here’s a bit more background on Bugs: Richard was one of the original organizers of Montreal’s pioneering Divers/Cité Festival which put Montreal on the international LGBTQ+ map; he was Editor-at-Large of Montreal’s alt-weekly HOUR for 16 years; was a blogger and arts columnist for the daily Montreal Gazette from 2011 to 2016, and has been a columnist for Canadian LGBTQ+ publication Fugues magazine since 1998.
Bugs is also an arts & culture blogger for Tourisme Montréal (“Bugs knows Montreal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter,” his TM bio states), he is a regular pundit on radio and television, and in 2019 received a much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chambre de commerce LGBT du Québec, alongside our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who accepted a lifetime award on behalf of his late father. Despite these accolades, Bugs says his biggest accomplishment was helping raise his adored brother Skye who is now 27-years-old.
CBC Arts nicknamed Bugs “Mr. Montreal” because of his unconditional love for his hometown and extensive coverage of the city’s legendary parties, events, festivals and nightlife. He shares the moniker with Camillien Houde, the famed mayor of Montreal during the city’s notorious Sin City era. Like Houde, Bugs is a lifelong cheerleader and supporter of Montreal and Montrealers.
Bugs has interviewed numerous celebrities over the years, everybody from Cher to the last-ever interview with the late James Brown. His favorite star remains Joan Rivers, whom he would ring at home from time to time. “She was very kind to me over the years,” says Bugs.
During JETELOVE’s chat with Bugs, we asked what Montreal was like during the HIV/ AIDS crisis. He explained that from 1982 to 1996, queer Montreal was a community under siege: countless gay men died of AIDS-related complications, which fueled AIDSphobia and homophobia, especially within the Montreal police department which regularly raided queer establishments and parties, such as Sex Garage in July 1990. Sex Garage is now widely considered to be Montreal’s Stonewall. During this time, Montreal’s LGBTQ+ community was also alarmed by a series of murders of gay men, notably the March 1989 murder of Joe Rose who was stabbed to death by four teenagers on a Montreal bus just because he had pink hair. It was a very tumultuous time for Montreal’s LGBTQ+ community.
When asked what he loves most about the city, Bugs replies that Montrealers have grown to embrace their city’s queer community. Montreal is now widely considered to be one of the world’s great queer capitals.
“Montreal is where tourists come to let the good times roll,” says Bugs. “There is a wonderful laissez-faire spirit here. Few places are as fun as Montreal in summertime.”
Regarding these trying pandemic times, he observes: “Our city is hurting, I can’t wait until we bounce back. In the meantime, help support local businesses and artists as much as you can. Buy local.”
It is fair to say that this Montrealer has made a huge impact in helping bring awareness and equal rights to the LGTBQ+ community in Montreal and across Canada, and we are fortunate to call him one of our own.
Merci Bugs #Montrealtelove