A Body Politic Revisited

Calgary Gay History Project Researcher Ayanna Smart recently left YYC to study in Ontario – we wish her all the best, and hope she returns when her studies are complete.  Here are her thoughts on her participation.  – Kevin

For six months last year, I was a volunteer with the Calgary Gay History Project. I was tasked with digitizing back copies of The Body Politic, an LGBT Canadian magazine that ran from 1971 to 1987. The Body Politic was one of the first and most influential Canadian LGBT publications, and was instrumental in helping build this community in Canada. Reading it now, in 2015, was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had all year.

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A Seven Page Feature Article about Calgary’s Gay Community was published in September 1980.

The history of the LGBT community in Alberta and Canada is incredibly eye opening. Coming from the relative safety of the present, one can think of this period in LGBT history as one of painful battles. Seeing it though the eyes of those who were there revealed really positive and powerful attitudes and experiences. I was surprised to see how much optimism there was in the community in the 1970s, though I really shouldn’t have been. Canada’s LGBT community, post-Stonewall, was being established, growing in strength, and was very political. Because of Stonewall, this community had demonstrated evidence of their political and social power to effect change at the small and large scale. The Body Politic helped establish a supportive and politically active queer community.

In a time when people often came out ofter marrying an opposite sex parter, and coming out could easily mean losing family, the queer community was a very necessary place. The community pages and classified ads in the Body politic were full of people looking for ways to connect – to new friends, to new partners, to new social groups. Community groups were popping up everywhere, and the Body Politic made them easier to find. By helping erase isolation and build a community, the Body Politic supported the community and individuals.

The Body Politic, as is clear from the title, was also a highly political magazine. It reported on legal protections for LGBT persons, discriminatory and non-discriminatory employers, and the voting histories of political candidates. Reading through the Body Politic, I saw stories of lesbians demanding support from their unions, gay people demanding non-discriminatory media representation and queer people placing pressure on political representatives at all levels of government. The LGBT community was, at this time, very politically active.

AyannaIn a time when the presence of clubs supportive of LGBT youth in schools is a contentious issue, I am encouraged by the attitude and the work of Canada’s early LGBT communities. Community is a powerful thing, and with it we can change a nation.


Calgary’s Gay History Project Goes to Ottawa!

Tereasa Maillie, Calgary Gay History Project Researcher, went to Ottawa last month to represent our history research collective and drink tea – here is her recap (re-cup?) – Kevin

I had the honour of attending on behalf of the project the Governor General’s History Awards and Forum October 15-17. The Calgary’s Gay History project was a finalist/Honourary Mention in the category of community programming. The awards were organized by Canada’s History, an amazing group of people who are committed to making Canada’s history accessible to all. The awards were presented at a ceremony at Rideau Hall, on October 16th. The 20th Governor General’s History Awards honour exceptional achievements in five areas: teaching, museums, community programming, scholarly research, and popular media.

parliamentI decided that I should not torture everyone with a slideshow of every building and tree on the trip. (Although Ottawa is pretty amazing) I’m breaking through the fourth wall and sharing with our researchers, readers and supporters of the project because there were more than a few things I learned in Ottawa that relate to our project:

First, that people are very excited and pleased that this project is happening. I’ve never received so much support and feel-good moments about the History project in a row. No, it was not a love-in where there were disingenuous moments littered all over the street. Attendees, award recipients and judges were honestly interested in the Calgary Gay History project. They asked probing questions, wanted to know what was next, and shared their own thoughts on the project. The judges for our category all were adamant that we attend, were glad we were there, and made me promise we’d reapply for the GGs.

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Me sitting at Rideau Hall – At Glenn Gould’s piano

The sweetest moment ever was the all too brief handshake and 30 second conversation I had with the Governor General of Canada, his Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston. As an honourable mention, I could not meet him formally as the award winners did. He was being shepherded off when he asked me who I was and what brought me to Rideau Hall. I just said the Calgary Gay History project, and he said with a pat on my arm, “Good. It’s about time. Keep doing the work you are.” Yeah. I got misty.

Second, that there is a huge interest and hunger from outside the LGTBQQ-2 Spirit community for these stories. We often forget that what we are doing is local history for Calgarians and Canadians about Calgarians. This is not a closed circle where only certain people with a special card get in to be a part of.

At the massive dinner in the Museum of Civilization to celebrate the awards, I sat next to a man who served in the Air Force for 25 years and then became a very wealthy airplane manufacture. He was there with his wife, their daughter and husband. I sense he gave a great deal of money to projects in military history. Why would some old, white, straight, rich man take the time to talk to me about Calgary’s gay history? He did. He listened to our story of the project, asked what happened here during the de-criminalization period, and what was going on now. He said at one point that these local histories provide massive insight into the daily lives of Canadians and are part of an overall narrative that we cannot ignore anymore. Again I got misty-eye. (Yes I’m getting old and soft. Love it)

Third, that there are people across Canada doing what we are doing and we can all learn from each other. I met the teachers and other local historians that received their awards. These people go into the classroom and try to make history alive and relevant to their students. They get the kids involved in projects, like the community award winning Coyote Flats Oral History Project. Their oral history program directly involves the students speaking with elders in their community. The project resulted in strong partnerships, mentorship opportunities between seniors and youth, unique hands-on learning for students, and an engaged community appreciating its history. The Gay History project already partners with so many community organizations, but I hope in the future we can work more with youth in the Queer community and get them as interested in their own history as these kids are in Picture Butte, Alberta.

The results then from the trip is a renewal of my own energy for the project, some ideas on programming, and a push to get our book out, as I made promises to many at the GGs that we’d deliver.

(Much thanks to Kevin Allen, the rest of the collective, Canada’s History, and the Governor General Awards Judges.)


We Are Back!

Kevin Allen is now (almost) finished with the federal election so look forward to weekly posts from the research collective until the end of the year.

Lots has happened in the last couple of months.  Catch Kevin’s interview on Yeah, What She Said, Calgary’s only feminist radio program, airing every 3rd Monday each month on CJSW 90.9FM.  Ironically, the pre-recorded interview aired on election day, Monday October 19th!

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Tereasa, and partner Dan, in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. Gosh that statue looks familiar…

Tereasa Maillie represented us in Ottawa, October 15-17, at Canada’s Annual History Forum. She also had tea with the Governor General at Rideau Hall after attending the Governor General’s History Awards.  The Calgary Gay History Project was invited because of its honourable mention for excellence in community history programming.

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The 2015 National Trust Conference Gay History Tour. We are in front of the Cecil Hotel – what, the sign is gone…  Photo: Harry Saunders @harry_historian

Heritage Canada’s 2015 National Trust Conference was held in Calgary.  We were invited to give a downtown gay history walking tour to delegates from all over the country.  The tour on October 22nd was well received by a particularly enthusiastic crowd.