Walk, Don’t Run, This Saturday!

The Calgary Gay History Project is honoured to participate in Historic Calgary Week 2014, a program of the Chinook Country Historical Society.  We are reprising the very popular Beltline Gay History Walk that happened during last year’s Pride Week celebrations.

The event “runs” from 7:00 – 8:30 PM, Saturday, July 26th and begins and ends at CommunityWise (formerly known as the Old Y) at 223 12 Ave. SW.  We will be meeting outside the building near the front steps.  As an aside, those steps and porch were recently renovated and have been nominated for the Calgary Heritage Authority’s Lion Awards on July 31st (also an event in Historic Calgary Week).

Doug Young personal papers, Glenbow Archives M-8397-1.

Doug Young personal papers, Glenbow Archives M-8397-1.

In a happy coincidence, I was at the Glenbow Museum Archives today, going through gay activist Doug Young’s personal records and came across his hand drawn map of the Beltline from the mid-80’s.  Interestingly, there were more queer spaces at that time, then we have today.

Looking forward to seeing you at the walk!


Offensive MPs in 1969 – is there a lesson here?

There are 76 (and possibly a few more) countries where homosexuality is illegal in 2014.  One can keep track of developments in these countries by following Erasing 76 Crimes, which reports on the status of their anti-gay laws and their human toll.  In the most egregious cases, politicians harp on about protecting society, particularly youth, from gay wickedness – often from a religious rhetorical bent.

76+ countries where homosexuality is illegal

76+ countries where homosexuality is illegal

The rhetoric of our own politicians 45 years ago was strikingly similar.  What exactly was our strategy that allowed us to move forward in Canada?  We need to learn and share that recipe with queer activists everywhere.

The Trudeau Government’s, Omnibus Bill C-150, the Criminal Law Amendment, Act, was brought to the House of Commons on April 16, 1969.  This bill which passed third reading in May that year, proposed to decriminalize homosexuality, and allow abortion and contraception, along with other new regulatory measures on a number of less dramatic issues.

In the debate that raged for the next three days in the House of Commons, here are some samples of what was said by opposition Members of Parliament (MPs):

“I do not want to have this kind of debauchery in our nation.  I think there is a place for a filibuster.  If people tell me to get on with the job, I will say to them: ‘Do you want me to legalize sexual intercourse with the animals of Canada?” – Eldon Wooliams (Progressive Conservative (PC), Calgary North MP)”

Homosexuals are mostly inclined to pervert youngsters and the Minister opens the door ever wider…  Instead of voting legislation to help homosexuals cure themselves, since they are really sick, the way is cleared for them to act more freely.” – Martial Asselin (PC, Charlevoix MP)

“Once you legalize a disease you must legalize all others.  That would be, Mr. Speaker, something utterly ridiculous.” – Rene Matte (Créditistes party, Champlain MP)

“We are bringing the morals and values of skid row into the salons and drawing rooms of the nation…  We are reversing completely values and traditions which have been the foundation stone upon which our western Christian civilization has been established.” – Walter Dinsdale (PC, Brandon-Souris MP)

“We live in an age that more and more is becoming a permissive age.  Some say there is no God – that each man should be able to live his own life as he will as long as he does in private.  I do not find any support for that philosophy in the scriptures…  the Government is saying to the young people of this country: ‘You are in a new age, you are over 20.’ A lad asked me how homosexuality worked and I said, ‘You will have to consult with the Government.'” – John Diefenbaker (Former PC Prime Minister and Prince Albert MP)

In some of those 76 countries, it all sounds kind of current, doesn’t it?


OUT: Queer Looking, Queer Acting in Halifax

One of the delights in the Calgary Gay History Project is being connected to other queer history researchers across the country.  Last month I was in Halifax for work but managed to squeeze a meeting in with Robin Metcalfe, Nova Scotia’s unofficial queer historian/force of nature.

At that meeting, Robin gave me a copy of Out: Queer Looking, Queer Acting Revisited,  a book that was launched this past February.  It is, in fact, a reprinting of a collection of queer history essays originally published in 1997.  The decision to publish a second edition with new commentary came about for a few reasons.  Robin described a renewed sense of queer activism in Halifax led by a younger generation.  He noted that the community’s locus of activism has shifted from sexual orientation to issues of gender identity.  He also explained that these younger activists have an expressed interest in seeking out queer elders and forming a deeper connection to a history that has been relatively unknown to the larger community.

It is a good read too.  I particularly liked the story of the Turret (1976-1990), Halifax’s gay social venue and bar run by the community group Gay Alliance for Equality (GAE).  The Turret’s success made GAE one of the wealthiest lesbian and gay organizations in North America.   In 1977, GAE has the Tits’n’Lipstick controversy: a mural painted by a gay male artist in support of lesbian pride on a back wall of the Turret.  The mural – not universally loved – ended up getting defaced by angry feminist members of GAE, and eventually painted over.

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Reproduced Mural by Genevieve Flavelle, 2013

The history of the Turret is inspiring.   Robin talked about how young queer activists in Halifax, and in particular the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) Queer Collective, have re-inspired him.   Last year, in collaboration with artist Emily Davidson, they hosted a Turret Resurrection event and redecorated the space based on archived images, held a disco, a cabaret and a community discussion with older activists.  Artist, Genevieve Flavelle even reproduced the 1977 Tits’n’Lipstick mural for the resurrection.

We see profoundly similar trends at work in Calgary – just look at our sold out Club Carousel Cabaret this past  January.  We also are grateful to connect with queer history peers across the country to share our findings, and see our current and past narratives come into focus.

Thank you Son Edworthy, from CommunityWise (part Calgarian, part Haligonian), who connected us to Robin!