|The Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives / Materials / Records / Related documents|
|Chronology from Flaunting It! 1964-1982|
|Introduction from Flaunting It! / Appx 1,000 words|
Victories and defeats
Every movement for social change leaves signposts of its progress. Some are major and some are modest, and it is easy for more recent travellers to forget that the road itself was barely passable a decade ago. A history of the first ten years of the Canadian gay movement will someday be written; the following selected chronology of significant events makes no attempt to perform that task. What it does offer is a preliminary map, an outline of the past.
The compilation of the chronology has depended to a large extent upon the documentary news coverage provided by The Body Politic, beginning with its first issue in November 1971. As a magazine of continuous record of gay political activity in the Seventies, TBP is a valuable resource.
Certain threads of related events persist throughout this chronology, themes given priority by movement strategists and themes forced into prominence by religious or state opposition to demands for full emancipation by homosexuals. Among these themes: gay and lesbian visibility, the importance of organizing, the growth of a strong lesbian and gay community, the public struggle for gay civil rights, access to public services and to the mass media, law reform, right-wing reaction and police repression, gay resistance.
The perception of the necessity for gay and lesbian visibility as a precondition for further change has determined much of the gay movement's strategy. To emerge from the "twilight world," to come out of the closet, was an affirmation that gay is good. It was the proud assumption of a homosexual identity. It has been, in many ways, the gay movement's central political act and it led naturally to the formation of a policy of public struggle for gay civil rights as an overriding priority.
It accounts for the continuing significance of protest pickets and demonstrations during the Seventies. Although early gay demonstrations were small in number, they represented a unique declaration of visibility on the part of the individuals involved, a factor absent from comparable gatherings of political protest. For gay people, denied access to the mass media with its enormous powers of propaganda control, prevented from participating openly in the decision- making apparatus of the state, public demonstrations were the only way to be heard, the only way to be seen.
The pressure to include "sexual orientation" in provincial and federal human rights codes became the primary focus of activities for both provincial and national gay rights coalitions. The many manoeuvres, sideways shuffles and tiny steps forward in this tedious struggle dominate the following chronology, becoming increasingly half- hearted in the Eighties as more immediate issues loomed.
To demonstrate the need for legal protection required proof that discrimination against homosexuals actually existed. The Body Politic played a key role in publicizing a number of job discrimination cases: John Damien, fired as a racing steward from the Ontario Racing Commission; Barbara Thornborrow and Gloria Cameron, dismissed from the Canadian Armed Forces for being "sexual deviates"; Doug Wilson, prevented from teaching at the University of Saskatchewan; Constable Paul Head, forced to resign from the Ontario Provincial Police. These were some of the individuals who chose to go public. It's anyone's guess how many more had quietly accepted their fate and did not fight back.
[Chronology entries related to the cases noted above: John Damien: numerous, from Feb 6, 1975; Barbara Thornborrow: May 9 and Jun 20, 1977; Gloria Cameron: Apr 2, 1977; Doug Wilson: Sep 1975 to Jan 1976; Paul Head: Mar 6, 1978, Mar 21 and 31, 1980, and Oct 14, 1981. Related stories appear in issues of The Body Politic dated a month or two after the dates shown here; for John Damien they continue until the paper's final issue in Feb 1987.]
The understanding that the liberation of homosexuals would only come about through the efforts of homosexuals themselves fueled the growth of an autonomous gay movement, more slowly an autonomous lesbian movement and, eventually, a stronger, self- identified community. Although there had been a few earlier attempts at organization in the Sixties, the real flurry of gay organizing began after 1969. Year after year, organizations sprang up in each province until, by 1982, only Prince Edward Island was without a public gay presence.
Year by year, gay and lesbian organizations have become more diverse: lesbian mothers, gay academics, gay and lesbian youth, gay fathers, gay counselling services, business councils, sports clubs, defence committees, support groups like parents of gays and spouses of gays, and many more.
In recent years the news pages of The Body Politic have become increasingly preoccupied with accounts of institutionalized reaction to the new visibility of lesbians and gay men. Attacks on the gay community first became an issue with the campaigns of born-again Christian Anita Bryant and with stepped-up police harassment in the watershed years of 1977-78. They were given a high media profile with the trial of The Body Politic in 1979 and the Toronto municipal elections in 1980. Police raids on gay bars and baths, under the cover of the bawdyhouse laws, seized more and more attention in the first years of the Eighties.
The result of this police harassment has been a developing gay resistance. Nothing, in fact, has strengthened the gay and lesbian community more. Earlier police inroads into the lives and sexual practices of gay people had usually taken the form of arrests of individual men, often isolated, usually closeted. By contrast, the bawdyhouse laws, whose use was not even anticipated by the early movement, became an insidious weapon for interfering with the social spaces where gay men gathered.
Attacks on the collective life of the community, however, made a genuine collective response possible, as the reaction to the February 1981 police raids on Toronto bathhouses amply demonstrated.
The list of events in the following chronology is selective. Frequently used abbreviations include: ADGQ -- Association pour les droits de la communauté gaie du Québec, CGRO -- Coalition for Gay Rights in Ontario, GATE -- Gay Alliance Toward Equality, NDP -- New Democratic Party, TBP -- The Body Politic.
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