Young gay organizers propel movement in ’60s
Young gay organizers propel movement in ’60s
By Dennis Yeo, Niagara community member
Shame and fear had kept the LGBT community quiet for years. Internalized homophobia was rampant among those who recognized their sexual orientation and except for large urban centres, exacerbated the inability of the queer community to come together. But in the ’60s, things began to change for many groups that had experienced decades, even centuries of oppression—lifetimes spent subservient or in hiding. Feminists demanded the liberation of women from their traditionally restricted roles; university students opposed the war in Vietnam and then attempts to silence their opposition; the Black Power movement provided a place where decades of anger over racism would coalesce. The difference in the late ‘60s was that the youth not only responded spontaneously, they were thinking long term. They organized to build momentum in their movements and to keep it going. An example had been set for the queer community. The time was ripe.
Prior to the explosive response at Stonewall, young gay organizers had begun working toward asserting their power politically. In early 1969, a young American, Jearld Moldenhauer, arrived in Toronto to begin a new job as lab researcher in U. of T.’s Physiology Department. He had been classified 4F, unsuitable for military service because of his homosexual tendencies which disqualified him from most employment in the States. As a grad student, he had been inspired the previous spring by Stephen Donaldson, the organizer of the first gay student group in the States at Columbia University in 1966. Following his example, Moldenhauer founded the second American group, his first, the Cornell University Student Homophile League.
Despite his newbie status in Toronto, based on his initial success at Cornell he founded his second gay group, The University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA), and the first in Canada.* In fact, this was the first group of any kind in Toronto for a gay community.
He simply placed an ad in The Varsity, the student newspaper and fortuitously in more than one way, in the course of his first university “bathroom adventure” right after he placed the ad, Moldenhauer met Charlie Hill, an art history major who went on to become key student organizer for UTHA.
The radical Moldenhauer opted for the word “homophile” rather than “homosexual” to be more acceptable to the general public and to be less fear-inducing to potential members. In a 1970 interview published in The Globe and Mail, he explained that the term homophile “connoted a whole culture that signified “the entire complexity of feelings associated with the love of one human being for another of the same sex, not just the sexual aspects.”
In contrast to the more radical gay liberation politics that reared up a few years later, the University of Toronto’s homophile organization exemplified the homophile movement’s liberal political orientation. In its 1969 constitution, the UTHA main goals were to educate the U of T community and the general public about sexual orientation, to support people experiencing personal or social issues because of their orientation, and to protest against any incidents of institutional discrimination on the basis of homosexuality. Some of the strategies to realize these goals included initiating public and private discussions about homosexuality; combating stereotypes; distributing literature; inviting speakers; maintaining a counselling service; letting people know of their legal and moral rights; and making referrals.
Unlike the response south of the border, UTHA found immediate support from the Student Advisory Council just nine days after the newspaper ad first appeared. A motion to recognize the new group passed without controversy and the minutes of the meeting read, “some discussion then followed and it was generally agreed that this was an important group, especially since homosexuals were a discriminated group of citizens.” SAC’s approval meant that UTHA could qualify for student funding, reserve university space, staff literature tables at university buildings, and other activities. In a typically quiet, Canadian way, a giant step had been taken without a single penny, rock or firebomb thrown and the future of the country’s LGBT community had been inexorably changed.
Jearld Moldenhauer in his own words…
To learn more about the demonstrations during the raucous ‘70s, stay tuned…
His views do not necessarily represent those of OUTniagara.