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Inventory of the Records of The Body Politic & Pink Triangle Press
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Page 4
Historical overview
PT
The Body Politic
Collective, Staff, Volunteers, Working Groups
Pink Triangle Press
Brief Afterwords, 1988 and 1996


The Body Politic

"The Body Politic began as a radical tabloid born of political conviction and a hunger for change. ... Since 1971, [it] has evolved gradually into a Toronto- centred community service newspaper with a strong national outreach, concerned with discrimination, rights and community as the immediate and practical aspects of liberation, oppression and the gay movement. Increasingly, it has also concerned itself with investigating the real lives of gay people, the everyday aspects of their sexuality, loves and lives.

"The Body Politic has made many changes over the years. It discovered, for example, that it was necessary to accept display advertising in order to maintain financial solvency and that it didn't hurt to learn a few simple techniques of magazine management. It learned that serving its community also meant providing basic features like classified ads and entertainment and community events listings. [It learned] that to maintain the right to publish a magazine for sexual liberation requires an ongoing legal defence fund and increasing familiarity with the meatgrinder of the legal system.

"The Body Politic is a testament to survival rather than a Canadian publishing success story (or are they the same thing?)."

Edward Jackson, who had been involved with The Body Politic since 1972, wrote that in 1982 in the Introduction to Flaunting It!, an anthology of articles from the first ten years of The Body Politic's history. (For more on Flaunting It!, see Other sources of information: Published material.)

As it turned out, that was two-thirds of the way through its entire history: the 135th and final issue of The Body Politic was dated Feb 1987. But Ed Jackson's description remains one of the best brief statements of The Body Politic's aspirations and the day -to- day realities it faced as it struggled over 15 years to meet them.

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Collective, Staff, Volunteers, Working Groups

The people who put together the first issue of The Body Politic in Oct 1971 -- it was dated Nov / Dec but released in time for Halloween -- constituted themselves as a collective, a group of people who shared work, decision- making and (at least in principle) equal power in shaping the product of their labour. (For a list of everyone who ever served on The Body Politic Collective, see Appendix 2.)

While the exact nature and definition of the collective changed over time, the operation remained collectively run even beyond the demise of The Body Politic itself. The collective was not formally disbanded until Dec 1987, when it turned over responsibility for the affairs of Pink Triangle Press to its legally constituted but previously token board of directors -- to which seven then- former collective members were promptly elected.

In the beginning no one was paid, but in time the sheer amount of work and the need to get it done dictated that someone be granted a subsistence wage -- in return for the promise to devote his life exclusively to The Body Politic. By Mar 1976 Merv Walker had become the first regularly paid staffer -- earning $3,600 a year. At its largest, in the mid-'80s, TBP's paid staff contingent numbered eight people, some part-time. Pay increased, too -- but not by much: full-time starting salary in 1985 was $12,000.

It was a matter of principle that all paid staff were, or were to become, members of the collective. At times the majority of collective members were paid staff and, even when efforts were made to check its influence, the staff as a body came to wield considerable power over the direction of an enterprise formally answerable to a volunteer collective. This tension was never fully resolved.

But neither staff nor collective members as such made up the majority of people who produced The Body Politic. It began as a volunteer effort, and remained an operation dependent on volunteers for one very good reason: without massive amounts of free labour The Body Politic could not have survived.

Volunteers, however, were not simply pairs of hands. Everyone who ever wrote for The Body Politic (see a list of key writers in Appendix 4) did so for no fee. The vast majority of those who served on the collective -- over time, if not always at any one time -- were also unpaid. Many of those who did not join the collective still played considerable and long- standing roles in administrative and editorial decision-making. (A list of nearly 300 people who served as volunteers up to 1988 appears in Appendix 5.)

The late Seventies saw the evolution of working groups to oversee parts of the operation, and in these groups volunteers almost always outnumbered paid staff or unpaid collective members. The working groups that produced the news, features and review sections of The Body Politic became firmly established and -- within broad, unstated and rarely imposed limits -- developed considerable autonomy from the collective in setting the magazine's editorial direction.

The collective, the staff, and the working groups, therefore, were for much of The Body Politic's history diverse and sometimes divergent focuses of power. And, each on their own, prolific producers of paper -- as this Inventory's listings will show.

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Pink Triangle Press

For nearly its first four years of publication, The Body Politic had no formal corporate existence and, effectively, no owner. Neither the founding collective nor those who joined later ever assumed any personal ownership of the operation -- and in any case there was precious little to own.

This situation, however, was potentially unstable and in time the need for a formal corporate structure became clear. After looking at various options, the collective decided to set up a not- for- profit company as the sole owner of The Body Politic. Pink Triangle Press received its Letters Patent as a "corporation without share capital" on Jul 16, 1975. (For the origin of the Press's name, see Appendix 1.) As required by law the Press had a board of directors, but it played only a nominal role. The collective remained the true governing body.

Despite having no real effect on operations at the time, non-profit incorporation turned out to be a wise move for the future. A number of other gay papers (The Advocate in the US and Gay News in Britain, for instance), also born as quasi-collective efforts with vague legal ownership, ended up the private property of one or two key players -- who then sold them off for considerable sums and walked away with the cash.

Even through difficult times, Pink Triangle Press could not raise money by selling off shares: there were no shares to sell. The Press remains today a venture without venture capitalists: no one is allowed to own even a part of it.

Incorporation also provided the legal umbrella for ventures besides The Body Politic. The Press took on an independent identity in only small ways at first: selling pink triangle pins; operating a small book mail-order service; and publishing the first North American editions of Andrew Hodges's and David Hutter's With Downcast Gays. (For more on this influential pamphlet, see Other sources of information: Published material.)

For a time a working group called the Press Collective ran these operations. The Press was also the legal parent of the Canadian Gay Archives and publisher of its first bibliographies. Later the Press would also run a commercial typesetting service, PinkType.

But the Press as such was soon to gain more prominence. On Jan 5, 1978, Pink Triangle Press and its three directors -- internally nominal roles filled at the time by Gerald Hannon, Ed Jackson and Ken Popert -- were charged with "use of the mails to distribute immoral, indecent or scurrilous material." The charge followed a Dec 30, 1977 police raid on the office of The Body Politic, precipitated by publication in its 39th issue of Gerald Hannon's "Men loving boys loving men," an article on pedophilia.

The "Men loving boys loving men" case led the Press through two provincial court trials, both ending in acquittals, and endless higher court appearances as those acquittals were appealed by the Crown. The case did not end until Oct 1983, when the Crown let the deadline for its last possible appeal lapse.

By then that case had become only one of two legal challenges to The Body Politic's right to publish. In May 1982 the Press and the entire collective, then nine people, had also been charged with publishing obscene material: "Lust with a very proper stranger," an article on the etiquette of fist-fucking, that had run in Issue 82. That case had gone to trial on Nov 1, 1982. An acquittal came the same day and was not appealed.

The final act in this long-running legal drama closed only when the last of the material seized in the raid of Dec 30, 1977 was returned by the police -- on Apr 15, 1985.

These legal battles created another administrative structure within (though formally to one side of) the Press: The Body Politic Free the Press Fund. Records of the Fund's publicity and money- raising efforts are included in this Inventory, as are trial transcripts, judicial decisions and other related legal material.

Finally among the Press's subsidiary efforts is one that became central. Xtra was launched in early 1984 as a small tabloid, built around community event listings and advertising, and distributed free twice a month in Toronto. The gradual evolution of Xtra into a more substantial publication coincided with The Body Politic's gradual decline as a coherent political voice and a financially stable magazine.

In the end, the existence of Xtra allowed Pink Triangle Press to continue in operation after the collective decided to cease publication of The Body Politic. That decision came on Dec 16, 1986 -- with one last issue, the 135th, dated Feb 1987, dutifully churned out the next month. It was The Body Politic's farewell, its cover an obituary.

Xtra survived. By 1993 it would have siblings in Ottawa and Vancouver and, with them, Pink Triangle Press would become the world's first gay publishing chain.

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Brief Afterwords

For 15 years, The Body Politic was at the centre of the gay movement in Canada, helping shape it, reporting its news -- and at times making news itself. Over time it came to reflect more and more the lives of lesbians and gay men who might never have thought of themselves as part of any political movement -- but who came to know, more and more, that they were part of a community.

The Press built by The Body Politic survives. The people who made The Body Politic also survive (or most of them do; too many do not), and many of them have gone on to other work in their community, facing challenges unimaginable in 1971. Or even 1981.

The records of The Body Politic survive in an archive that it helped create. They remain a uniquely valuable record of a crucial moment in our history, a resource now available to anyone interested in uncovering that history -- or in going on to shape it -- in a world where the lives and work of gay men and women can never again be forgotten.

Rick Bébout
March 31, 1988

As I work on this 1996 version of the Inventory, Pink Triangle Press is celebrating its 25th anniversary. More accurately, this month marks 25 years since the birth of the Press's predecessor, The Body Politic. But 25 is a number too good to pass up.

While the Press goes on, this Inventory remains primarily a record of its first 15 years and of its founding publication, now gone for almost a decade. Many more of the people who made it happen are gone now, too. I, like many of those who survived, went on to that other work -- the challenge of AIDS so pervasive now that its absence, in 1981 or even 1971, is what seems unimaginable.

I'm proud of that later work; proud too of the work the Press has gone on to do. But even now I have to agree with what founding collective member Herb Spiers said in 1981: "I've never ceased to feel that the thing in my life I can take the greatest pride in has been my association with The Body Politic."

Or, rather, with its people. In revising this Inventory I wanted to do something I didn't do enough of in 1988: to name those people. As many of them as I could. And, I hope, to pass on a lesson from their lives: together -- without credentials, without permission, without much money but with lots of intelligence and passion and strength -- you can do it. You can change the world.

October 31, 1996

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