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The Body Politic and Visions of Community
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From gay paper to community cause
The Body Politic's trials

Gerald Hannon's 10th anniversary comment about "the out-of-touch bit" had come of reflection on a moment when The Body Politic's connection to community was put to sudden test -- Friday, December 30, 1977:

They came about five o'clock, a handful of plainclothes officers from Operation P, the special pornography squad, and they had a search warrant. Three hour later it felt as if they had taken half the office with them. Ed Jackson was there, I was at home and I remember calling hour after hour and he would say, "They're still here. They're taking everything, everything."

Charges came on January 5, 1978: unlawful use of the mails "for the purpose of transmitting indecent, immoral or scurrilous material" -- TBP's 39th issue, which had included an article, written by Gerald, called "Men loving boys loving men".

The question of sexual relations between adults and younger people is still unsettled (unsettlingly so) even today. [For extended coverage of a media panic that began just after I finished this paper in November 1995 -- involving Gerald Hannon and harking back to "Men loving boys loving men" -- see Kid-sex hooker prof scandal!.] But it was very hot stuff then. In August 1977 Emanuel Jaques, a 12- year- old shoeshine boy, had been found sexually abused and dead on the roof of a Yonge Street body- rub parlour. Four men were later arrested and the Toronto Sun immediately screamed "Homosexual Orgy Slaying." Earlier in 1977 Anita Bryant had used the child- molester scare to overturn a gay rights ordinance in Miami and since then had taken her show on the road, Canada part of the tour.
(Kid-sex hooker prof scandal: http://www.clga.ca/Material/Records/docs/hannon/ghint.htm)

The collective had kept Gerald's article on ice for six months, and ran it as part of a year- end compendium of 1977 themes: Media, Miami, and Children. Claire Hoy pounced, then Attorney- General Roy McMurtry, and the rest is history. That case went through two trials, countless appeals and a long side-show about the stuff seized by the police. The legal battles ended only in October 1983; the last of that seized material didn't come back until April 1985. But we won.

The Body Politic won only because it was backed by its communities -- clearly plural in this case: heterosexual artists, writers and activists on side as well as many lesbians and gay men. The trials (including one for another charge brought in 1982 for an article on fist- fucking: we won that, too) cost us more than $100,000 -- all but $3,000 of that covered by community donations. But, as Gerald said in that 10th anniversary article, it hadn't always been like that:

When the raid and charges came down there were many voices that said we got what we deserved, that the out-of-touch radicals had done themselves in -- and about time, too. ...we learned that we were isolated in ways that were a cruel shock. We suddenly needed our community and, at a tumultuous meeting called to deal with Anita Bryant's impending visit in January, just after we were charged, it was clear that the community was not a solid force behind us. The tide turned that night, in our favour, but it was due more to an impassioned speech by journalist Joanne Kates than anything we did. The rest of that year the work had to be ours.

And that work got done. George Hislop, talking about it in 1981, said that "the amazing things was that by the time the trial came [January 2, 1979] people had turned completely around. They saw the real issue -- the police were attacking the gay community and trying to destroy its paper. And it does seem to belong to the community now, even if it's under the stewardship of the collective."

Michael Lynch saw TBP's trials as a turning point -- or maybe a linking point:

The first summer after the trial there was a sit-in at [Ontario Attorney-General Roy] McMurtry's office and Dudes Outfitters opened and Ed [Jackson] and I went to both. The real surprise was that people at both events were interested in what was happening at the other. The trial did things like that.

Next: Grouplets galore: The boom in community organizing before 1981


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