The ArQuives Digital Exhibitions

Gay Liberation

After the Criminal Code Amendment that decriminalized homosexual acts came into effect in 1969, Gay Liberation organizations sprang up across the country. In the face of tremendous social pressure to remain in the closet, gay liberation encouraged gays and lesbians to ‘come out of the closet’. Chris Bearchell (CGRO) speaks about their goals: “Discrimination became a reality as gay people emerged from the closet in larger numbers. We wanted to organize people in opposition to that discrimination, in part to bring them out in even greater numbers, knowing that that was a necessary precondition for the creation of a gay community and a gay political movement.”


Pride and Resistance 1971-77

Part one captures some of the spirit of 1970s Gay Liberation politics through a montage of images including: the first demonstration in Canada by gays and lesbians (Ottawa, August 1971) organized by Toronto Gay Action, the first Toronto Pride (1972), images from the pages of Canada’s only gay liberation newspaper of the era (The Body Politics, TBP, 1971-1986), the first anti discrimination cases mounted by John Damien and Barbara Thornborrow and the 1 st Gay Liberation National conference in Ottawa (1975).

Pride and Resistance 1977-1981

Part two focuses on the backlash to the emerging lesbian and gay movement in the mid ‘70s to early 80s. Anita Bryant brings her homophobic ‘Save the Children’ campaign to Canada and police repression against gay community establishments intensifies culminating in the bath raids on February 5 th 1981, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history since the War Measures Act in Quebec. The Ontario legislature refuses to pass legislation to include non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the Ontario Human Rights Code. The gay community responds with growing anger and organization.

Stand Together, Part One: Men of the Shadows

Part one from the documentary Stand Together (director, Nancy Nicol, 2002) examines the National Security Campaigns in the 1950s, 60s and 70s when the RCMP conducted undercover investigations seeking to identify homosexuals working in the public service. Considered as a threat to national security by the RCMP, thousands of gay men and lesbians were removed from their jobs or forced to inform on others. By 1968, files were established on some 9,000 people thought to be gay. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act provide a window into the undercover investigations by the RCMP. The RCMP used informers and patrolled bars and parks. Agents hid behind newspapers in the Lord Elgin Tavern to spy on patrons. The RCMP developed the now infamous “Fruit Machine” to identify gay men. Following the decriminalization of homosexual acts in 1969, undercover investigations broadened to include surveillance of early gay liberation organizations. Gay liberation activists talk about police surveillance and their organizing work.

Gay Liberation