While a great deal of LGBTQIA+ Liberation history comes from the US, Canada has had its own fair share of historical moments for queer people. While Canada as a country has federally accepted and legalize gay marriage in 2005, Canada still has an incredibly daunting history of homophobia and violence towards Queer people. A discretionary note: Much of my research stems from Out North by Craig Jennex and Nisha Eswaran, who have accessed the ArQuives: Canda’s LGBTQ2+ Archives (formerly known as The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives,) to create a framework and background of knowledge that supports this publication. It is important to note and acknowledge that the ArQuives is located within Toronto, so its information is often dominated by stories and histories that take place within Toronto. This is not to take away from the potential and the histories that take everywhere else in Canada. Eswaran and Jennex do take efforts to supplement the information by branching out to other publications and records in different parts of Canada. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge how throughout history, the voice and stories of White men are often brought more to the spotlight, and this acts no differently when we speak about Queer history. “The ArQuives’ collection documents the histories of urban, white, middle-class gay men more thoroughly than it does those of rural queers, people of colour, trans people, and lesbians – absences we do our best to race back to racist immigration policies and the historically patriarchal nature of public queer community building.” (Jennex, Esswaran pg.14)
There are many places in where I can start when starting the discourse and discussion of Canada’s Queer History, but where we should start is by acknowledging the oppression that the LGBTQIA+ community has had to resist against the government and its agents. We must constantly acknowledge the fact that government and the agents that work under it has disproportionately targeted and committed violence against members of LGBTQIA+ community, Indigenous people, People of Colour, and Trans people; and that continues to this day. Out North opens with talking about the night of December 30th of 1977, where members of the Metropolitan Toronto Police and the Ontario Provincial Police raided the offices of The Canadian Gay Archives and one of Canada’s first gay publication office, The Body Politic. The police seized twelve boxes of the Archives holdings in order to charge the Pink Triangle Press with the crime of “distributing immoral, indecent or scurrilous material.” This instance of homophobia committed against The Body Politic came about when Clair Hoy of the Toronto Sun had singled out an article within The Body Politic, that received government grants. This article of Boys Loving Men Loving Boys received many forms of backlash, and even receives a call out to withdraw their funding and to exclude sexual orientation from the Human Rights Code. This was followed by the raid and investigation that the Toronto Police and Ontario Police had enacted to find specific evidence to support charges under the Criminal Code. This raid only one part of a long history of police raids that targeted the LGBTQIA+ community. There were several other raids that have taken place, Such as the Bathhouse Raids of the 1981.
One the most harrowing events of Canadian Queer History took place on February 5th, 1981, almost 200 police officers had raided five different bathhouses in Toronto in Operation Soap. The police had charged 286 men in a largest mass arrest since 1970 The police had also caused more than $35,000 in damages when they used crowbars and sledgehammers to break down doors, smash glass and mirrors, and break equipment. The weeks following the raids, there was an increase in the physical attack on gay men around the Toronto gay village. The total cost of the raids that had taken from taxpayer money was approximately $10 million. What transpired from this event was what essentially was called “Toronto’s Stonewall” as 3,000 angry demonstrators had chanted “No more shit!” and “Stop the cops!” became rallying cries from the outrage of the Bath Raids. The demonstrators marched toward 52 division and on to the Ontario Legislature at Queens Park, they damaged police cars that were blockading Yonge Street. There were several other demonstrations that took place afterwards to protest what had happened at the bathhouse raids. Around this time, there was a provincial election taking place that would hope to flip the NDP ridings in the area to establish more PC (Conservative Party,) within Ontario, there were many campaigns that would openly protest and organize themselves against “gay and feminist issues.” This was not the only instance of bathhouse raids or charges placed on gay men within these establishments, as many were happening in the years before. There had bene constant pressure on gay business and establishments that were received from the police to close, several bars and stores had suffered from charges and raids and crackdowns that were delt out.
Throughout Queer history within Canada, there was a multitude of organization that came to be. The Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT) formed in December 1970. Branches of the Gay Alliance Towards Equality (GATE) formed in Vancouver and Edmonton. Gays of Ottawa in 1971, Le front de liberation de homosexuels (FLH) opened in Montreal in 1971, and in Winnipeg, Gay for Equality (GFE) formed in 1972, and the Zodiac Friendship Society also formed in 1972, located in Edmonton. In Toronto, Jearld Moldemhauer cofounded University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA) and had started collecting histories of gays and lesbians documents and had eventually started GLAD Day bookshop, the world’s oldest Queer bookstore, which began in his backpack, selling book at meetings, rallies, and parties. Even GLAD Day was subjected to targeted raids from the Metropolitan Toronto Police. With each. Of these organizations, we can see Canada’s own queer print media presence starting to burgeon, and with this, was an acknowledgment of the existence of queer people, that they were demanding that we be recognized and given equality. Charlie Hill made an impassioned speech, “Today marks a turning point in our history,” at Parliament Hill in 1971 to do just this, to proclaim that “We’re labelled sinful, criminal, and fired from our jobs. No Longer!” and other powerful remarks like “We’ve come here to assert our pride in ourselves. / Gay is Proud and Gay is good. Let’s say it wherever we go.”
A key turning point in Canadian Queer history is when homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 with the implication of The Criminal Law Amendment Act, where stated, that both or all parties must be over 21 and consenting. This allowed Queer people to exist within. Behind closed doors but were still considered to committing Sodomy if it was displayed outside of the home, so homosexuality was still criminalized under many cases. It wasn’t until 1987 that the Criminal Code repealed the offence of gross indecency. Still, the law criminalized sodomy. We still see the Queer community still having the odds stacked against them until in 1999 where the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that same sex common law couples were entitled to the same benefits and obligation as opposite sex couples, however there were still limitation on how the benefit of the Canadian Pension Plan spousal benefits were access and if same-sex couples could access them. It wasn’t until 2003 where Bill C-23 had a class action lawsuit filed against it for discrimination, and it was ruled that it did, in fact, discriminate towards same sex couples on the grounds that the CPP denied benefits to same sex couples. It was unanimously decided in 2007 that he denial of spousal benefits to same-sex couples was in direct violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With this bill being called into question, the Queer community then question the ban on same-sex marriages. It started in July of 2002 with Ontario’s Superior Court question the ban on same sex marriages, this then cause a chain reaction throughout the nation, and other provinces started to follow suit. This then culminated on July 20th, 2005, where Bill C-38 – an “Act respecting certain aspect of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes” – received Royal Ascent and became law. This then allowed Canada to fully recognize same sex marriages.
Canada furthers its progress within LGBTQIA+ rights when the House of Commons passes Bill C-279, which extended its protection to Trans people. However, many conservative (the 137 of which who voted against the bill,) attempted to frame it as a “bathroom bill” to allow predatory men into women’s washrooms. While there was continued legislative support for Queer rights, there has always been continued violence towards queer individuals with continuous rising anti-gay rhetoric. This also attributes itself the continued violence towards Indigenous people and the People of Colour that suffer at the hands of government agents such as the police and the RCMP. With the large number of Indigenous women that have gone missing, the constant resurfacing bodies of Indigenous children found in Residential Schools, and the violence towards Black and POC’s, we must continuously hold Canada and our government officials responsible and accountable for their actions and inaction. Canada as a nation lies to boast its friendliness and acceptance of the differences that makes up this nation, but we must continuously recognize that as a state, it has committed atrocities and still continuous to do so. We can celebrate the lives we lead and feel more freer to lead today, but we must not forget that it all came with bloodshed and tears. We must continue our work to stand for Queer, Trans, and Black and Indigenous People of Colour and to strive for equity from our government.
Stay Queer friends.
Check out these resources!
Out North: An Archive of Queer Activism and Kinship In Canada Craig Jennex and Nisha Eswaran. By the ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2+ Archives. 2020.
Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada: A Selected Annotated Chronology 1976 – 1981. Donald W. McLeod. Coach Press House, Toronto. 2017.
Queerstory: An Infographic History of the Fight for LGBTQ+ Rights. Tiller Press. 2020.