Anti-Mother’s Day in Calgary

{Please join us for this week’s upcoming Beltline Gay History Jane’s Walk (May 7th at 10am) with special guest artist Bogdan Cheta performing!  – Kevin}

IDAHOT-for_partners_official_handles-2015-ENThis is our second post in advance of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, May 17th: our focus is society’s war on lesbian mothers in Calgary.

Well into the 1990s in Canada, lesbian mothers who had children in prior heterosexual relationships had trouble retaining custody of those children. For most of the 20th Century, Canada’s courts did not favour homosexual parents in keeping custody of their children; most judges viewed homosexuality as a negative factor in child rearing.

Consequently the stakes were high for lesbian mothers in coming out: many suffered isolation, fear, and often kept to the closet. In 1978, the first Lesbian Mothers’ Defence Fund was started in Toronto, and a chapter started a few years later in Calgary.

The Lesbian Mothers’ Defence Fund (LMDF) offered advice, support, referrals to lawyers, and financial help to lesbian mothers struggling to keep or win custody of their children. Advice in child custody cases included: going to court is the last resort; do not leave your children behind; beware of ex-husbands kidnapping your children. The LMDF also advocated for social change in the judicial system, proclaiming that the straight court system failed lesbians.

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Calgary LGBT publication, QC Magazine: Dec. 1995

Club Carousel founder Lois Szabo remembers lesbians in the 60s and 70s utterly broken after the loss of their children – and with no access rights – to embittered former husbands. Marilyn Atkinson, one of the Calgary LMDF organizers, was a mother herself. As a volunteer, she provided peer support to lesbian mothers and women during their custody struggles.

The LMDF was a low-budget, grass roots organization located at the Old Y. Pot-luck suppers and community dances were its main source of funding. In 1982, two Calgary lesbians took pledges to cycle across the county in order to raise money for the LMDF.  It took them four months but they made it to St. John’s that summer after starting in Vancouver.

As the LMDF developed, Marilyn was hired to organize lesbian conferences which proved quite popular with many lesbians coming from afar to attend. The first conference in 1985, was largely funded by the local lesbian community itself. When the conferences finally began to attract public funding, protest was heard.

Maureen Buruill, a lobbyist with REAL Women of Canada in January 1987 wrote a newspaper editorial complaining about her own organization’s lack of funding:

Women’s groups across Canada receive funding from the Secretary of State’s Women’s Program. One example was a grant to the Calgary Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund to set up a “lesbian-gay” workshop collective. This organization also received a grant to arrange a lesbian conference. Why is our tax money given to these groups and refused to a group seeking to preserve family values?

Despite vocal opposition, the LMDF, made a huge difference in fighting for lesbian mothers and moved social justice forward in Calgary.

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