We want Candy!

Newly minted CBC Ra­dio host Candy Pal­mater is loud, proud and crush­ing First Na­tions stereo­types

NOW Magazine - Pride - - Front Page - By SU­SAN G. COLE su­sanc@now­toronto.com | @su­sang­cole

CANDY PAL­MATER host of The Candy Show on CBC Ra­dio 1, week­days 1 to 3 pm. cbc.ca.

CBC’s newly minted ra­dio host knows how to seize the mo­ment. She’d been on the job for just two weeks and then had to go on air barely a day af­ter the Or­lando shoot­ings.

Lis­ten to her June 13 mes­sage on The Candy Show (the pod­cast is avail­able at cbc.ca/ra­dio). It’s vin­tage Pal­mater – pas­sion­ate, pointed and still re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive.

She did ac­knowl­edge the im­mense tragedy but re­minded her au­di­ence that the lit­tle things hurt, too – like the way a small East Coast rag tweeted that she got the job be­cause she and her pro­ducer were “les­bos.”

“I thought about young peo­ple who want a ca­reer in broad­cast­ing who’d see that tweet and say to them­selves, ‘Oh, I can’t do that be­cause I don’t want to be bul­lied as an adult,’ she says, in her husky voice – per­fect for the air­waves – over the phone from Toronto’s CBC build­ing. “And then that per­son is si­lenced. So we have to call out the thin-edge-of-the-wedge events be­cause that’s where the hate seeds start.

“So I told lis­ten­ers, ‘What thrills me is that this coun­try is filled with open-hearted peo­ple who love ra­dio. We have a shared cu­rios­ity, and you don’t care who I love and you and I are go­ing to let love rule.’ And then I spun Lenny Kravitz’s Let Love Rule.”

Pal­mater in­sists that over her nearly 20-year ca­reer as a comic and mo­ti­va­tional speaker – and now on her af­ter­noon broad­cast – her mes­sage has been con­sis­tently one of “love and kind­ness – and try to find a way to ac­cept your­selves.”

She learned early what a dif­fer­ence love can make. She was born when her par­ents were in their 40s and had al­ready had six kids, af­ter her father fi­nally got sober.

“He was 46 and she was 43, and they wanted one more chance at a baby. She wanted to spoil a child, and my father wanted to do one right.

“Peo­ple often ask me how it is that as an In­dige­nous per­son I’ve bro­ken down all th­ese bar­ri­ers, and I can tell you 100 per cent how: It’s be­cause from the first mo­ment I can re­mem­ber, I was told that I was smart and beau­ti­ful and that I mat­tered. I was loved and I be­lieved it.”

But don’t let all that pos­i­tiv­ity fool you into think­ing she’s a soft touch. She’s been push­ing for equal­ity and fair­ness since she was – get this – 10. The New Brunswick-born star fought for the right to serve mass in her Catholic church.

“I did not un­der­stand why I had to have a pe­nis to ring the bell and wash the priest’s hands,” she re­calls, an edge sneak­ing into her tone. “And I made a big stink about how I was go­ing to Sun­day school ev­ery Sun­day and the boys who were serv­ing mass didn’t. And they let me serve mass.

“Af­ter­wards, when the priest said, ‘ See you next week,’ I said, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to do this ev­ery week. I just wanted to make a point.’”

At that ten­der age, she had the mak­ings of a de­cent lawyer and de­cided that was the ca­reer path she wanted to take. While she was in law school, she worked at Tim Hor­tons and helped or­ga­nize a union drive there. (She still re­mem­bers the regulars’ or­ders 20 years later.)

“It never crossed my mind that peo­ple have the kind of money to bull­doze the store down. I was a lit­tle naive. I kept telling my col­leagues – some of them rais­ing kids on $4.35 an hour, then the min­i­mum wage – ‘They can’t fire us. I know. I’m in law school.’ And then they shut down the store and bull­dozed it.”

Af­ter she got her law de­gree, she fig­ured out pretty early on that she wasn’t cut out for that pro­fes­sion.

“It fit me like a bad suit. I al­ways de­scribe it as if I drank the Kool-aid at law school. I kept think­ing I had to work at a firm. If I’d started work­ing at le­gal aid or the El­iz­a­beth Fry So­ci­ety, maybe I would have been more into that. But I was push­ing pa­per around and work­ing for rich peo­ple. And so I jumped. Peo­ple told me I was crazy, but at this stage in my life I re­al­ize that if peo­ple are not telling me I’m crazy, then I’m on the wrong path.”

Six months later, she met the love of her life, a woman who helped her leap into a whole new iden­tity.

“I left the law and I left a man at ex­actly that same time. And then I met my wife [Denise Tomp­kins]. It was a low time for me and I cried daily. A lot of les­bians would be, like, ‘Cry­ing over a man? What the hell?’ But she nursed me, and I started my come­back as an en­ter­tainer.”

Tomp­kins also be­came her man­ager and has col­lab­o­rated with Pal­mater for more than 16 years.

“I lost friends when I came out, but look at what we’ve built. I’m an In­dige­nous, queer, menopausal, plus-sized woman and I get to do a two-hour show ev­ery day on na­tional ra­dio. None of that would have hap­pened with­out her. So when peo­ple make off­hand judg­ments about queer love, I say, ‘God almighty, you have no idea the strength of it and what it can build.’”

“To peo­ple mak­ing off­hand judg­ments about queer love, I say, ‘God almighty, you have no idea the strength of it.’ ”

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