“We’re fed up!”
“We’re fed up!”
By Dennis Yeo, Niagara community member
Even before the ‘60s officially gave way to the new decade, there were signs of what was to come. The first meeting of the University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA) took place on Oct. 24, 1969. It was the first post-Stonewall gay organization, and the first gay organization formed at a Canadian university. The pioneering group sponsored lectures from prominent international activists, challenged discrimination against gays and lesbians in Canada’s public service, protested police surveillance in Toronto, and highlighted prejudice in the media.
UTHA was Canada’s first university-based lesbian/gay organization and set the stage for similar groups to form at other Ontario universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s.It inspired the launch other advocacy groups in Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa (1970); Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Edmonton (1972); Newfoundland Labrador, New Brunswick (1975). The group disbanded in 1973.
The “gay lib” movement gained momentum in Canada early in the decade and protests were the order of the day. On Aug. 28, 1971, the first one for gay rights, “We Demand,” a small demonstration in Ottawa by 80-200 participants demanded an end to all forms of state discrimination against gays and lesbians. Vancouver held its own demonstration soon after.
The petition, written by Herb Spiers, a founding member of Toronto Gay Action and member of the Body Politic Collective and signed by Cheri DiNovo and Brian Waite on behalf of the August 28 Gay Day Committee, was read aloud to just a few witnesses including the press and one policeman. Although the law had “changed”, attitudes had not and so oppression of homosexuals continued, and according to the petitioners, were exacerbated by the practices of the federal government.
The petition made recommendations to redress the grievances of the queer community. Because Bill 150 was full of nebulous terms that left too much to the discretion of police, the petition demanded that Bill 150 be amended to include a list of clearly defined offences and that penalties for illegal sexual conduct be comparable to those for heterosexuals.
Also included among the demands:
- Delete other ambiguous language (i.e., gross indecency) to avoid another Everett Klippert situation.
- Determine a uniform age of consent, set at 21 at that time for homosexuals and 14 for heterosexuals.
- Change the Immigration Act to allow homosexuals to become landed immigrants. (Homosexuality was even grounds to deny gay tourists entry into Canada in 1971!).
- Require the government to revise its position that homosexuals were security risks because they were vulnerable to blackmail so the potential to rise in the ranks of the civil service was not limited by sexual orientation.
- Amend the Divorce Act which equated homosexual acts to illegal acts and to end the practice of favouring hetero- over homosexual parents in custody cases.
- Allow homosexuals to serve in the Armed Forces because consensual sex was no longer illegal under the Criminal Code and gays could therefore meet all requirements.
- Discontinue RCMP probes to identify homosexuals anywhere in the government and to destroy all records pertaining to past investigations.
- Extend legal rights to homosexuals so we could no longer be excluded from areas like adoption or access to public housing, and discrimination against us in areas like employment and renting apartments.
- Require public officials including the police to help change society’s negative attitudes towards us.
These demands were initially ignored and few paid attention to what most saw as a bunch of social misfits, or worse. How was such a dismissive reaction received by the 2SLGBTQ community in the ‘70s? Stay tuned….
His views do not necessarily represent those of OUTniagara.